Exercise has been recognized for both its physical and mental health benefits. An ongoing fitness routine can keep us looking and feeling younger and healthier. It can lower our susceptibility to illness, prolong our quality of life and assist us in living longer.
Though most of us are aware that inactivity is a major factor in weight gain and obesity, heavyset people can actually be healthier than some of their thinner peers. Many who are genetically slim and or successfully maintain a low weight, but don't exercise, may appear trim and healthy on the outside, but can carry visceral fat as well as other weaknesses on the inside.
The American Heart Association advises 30 minutes a day, five days a week of a combination of moderate and brisk activity. There are several forms of physical activity, including cardiovascular exercise (indoor cycling, dance, yoga) which increases the heart rate and blood flow for an extended period of time. Other methods are strengthening (weight training, resistance, yoga, Pilates) and balance.
An absence of physical activity has a profoundly negative effect on our physical and mental health.
Cardiovascular Health: The strength of the heart, lungs and blood vessels will decline if we do not exercise. Without physical activity, blood vessels become thicker and less flexible, while the blood also becomes thicker. This combination increases your risk for blood clots that can be very dangerous and even deadly.
Circulatory Health: Heart strength is crucial in moving fresh blood and oxygen to our organs, assisting the body to maintain optimum circulation, cleansing the build-up of toxins in the body. We must move, raise the heart rate and keep things flowing healthfully.
Hormonal Health: The endocrine system, which regulates the body's hormones, is also affected if there is little to no activity. The hormone insulin regulates the level of glucose in the blood stream. It binds to cells and absorbs sugar from the blood to use for energy. A sedentary lifestyle means that muscle cells don't use insulin efficiently. As a result, bodies become less responsive to insulin, which can lead to Type-2 Diabetes.
No matter what level of intensity, nearly ALL exercise has the ability to improve our physical and mental state.
This even includes slower modalities, such as restorative yoga, meditation and Thai Chi. The effects of a regular exercise routine are very powerful and have more healing qualities on the health and wellness of the body than most know.
Mental Health: Exercise can lower tendencies of feeling stressed, depressed and anxious by yielding changes in the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It supports the body to manufacture serotonin and norepinephrine, which decrease feelings of depression. It produces endorphins, breeding more positive feelings and reducing sensitivity to pain and discomfort.
Chronic Pain: Exercise has been said to help alleviate certain types of pain. People with persistent pain have reported that being active helped to reduce their discomfort and has, in fact, improved their quality of life. Biomechanically sound fitness helps to ease pain related to physical conditions such as back pain, fibromyalgia, persistent tightness, joint discomfort, neck and shoulder tension, headaches and inflammation.
Energy Boost: Exercise can increase energy levels in people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and many other illnesses. Getting the heart pumping and producing endorphins has shown to be more effective in combatting persistent fatigue, depression and pain than many other treatments.
Strength and Bone Health: Exercise builds and sustains strength in both the muscles and bones. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to injuries and even disabilities. Regular physical activity is essential to preserving the musculoskeletal system throughout the years. It will also support building bone density, aiding in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Improved Brain Function: Exercise can improve brain function, memory and thinking skills. It increases the heart rate, promoting the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. It stimulates the production of hormones that can enhance the growth of brain cells. Regular physical activity is especially important in older adults since aging, combined with stress, fosters negative changes in brain structure and function. It supports memory and learning and can increase mental function in older adults, which can actually reduce changes in the brain that can cause Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Better Skin Appearance and Cellular Health: Exercise stimulates blood flow and induces skin cell changes that can help slow the appearance of aging. Oxidative stress; an imbalance of free radicals and the body's ability to detoxify their harmful effects, are connected to aging and affect both body and skin. They can damage the internal makeup of cells, weakening the vitality of the skin. Regular, moderate exercise can increase your body's production of natural antioxidants, which help protect our cells from oxidative stress.
Better Sleep: Not only can regular exercise help to achieve a more relaxed existence, it also supports more restful, undisturbed, deep sleep. Even those with sleep disorders can experience marked improvement in their quantity and quality of sleep. The energy depletion that occurs during exercise stimulates a higher level of physical and mental healing during sleep, which is invaluable.
Improved Sexual Health: Sexual performance has been known to increase with steady exercise routines. Both men and women have experienced boosted sex drives, higher levels of sexual function and greater sexual pleasure, improving sex lives all around.
We can no longer afford to turn our heads away from this information and neglect our bodies. Many of us work too hard, play too hard and ignore the most important thing we own, our physical beings. Let this be the moment we say NO to deterioration and illness and GET MOVING!
Below is a sample of what 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week can look like.
Monday – Semi-brisk walk, 15 minutes away from your home or work place, and then 15 minutes back.
Tuesday – Put on some of your favorite music on and dance around your house while straightening up and cleaning.
Wednesday – Begin a balance practice! Improving your balance takes time and practice. Good balance can help prevent falls and accidents and helps us stay fit throughout our lives.
Stand on one foot for one minute and then the other for one minute holding one finger to a wall, sink, sofa, desk, etc. Repeat 15 times throughout the day. Here are some ideas of how this can get done in a day: 1) while brushing your teeth, 2) while waiting for your coffee to brew or tea to steep, 3) waiting for the bus or subway, 4, 5 & 6) get up from your desk or work station 3 times during the work day, 7) while standing at a red light, 8) while waiting for your lunch, 9, 10 & 11) 3 times while talking on the phone, 12) while in line at the grocery store, 13) while waiting for an elevator 14) when you arrive early for an appointment, 15) while brushing your teeth before bed.
Thursday: TAKE THE STAIRS! Climb 20 flights of stairs throughout the day. Spread it out over a day, and feel free to climb even when you are on an escalator. Climb slowly and breathe deeply watching that your knees track between your second and third toe. Pull your belly in toward your spine during the climb.
Friday: Put your legs up the wall while laying the head, back, and bottom on the floor for 5 minutes. Let your bottom rest where the floor meets wall and stack the legs up so your hip/leg area is in a 90-degree angle. This allows the blood flush from your feet, back to the heart without the heart having to work so hard.
After 5 minutes, slide the legs back down to the floor and rest on your side in a fetal position for another 5 minutes before sitting up. Then come to a seat, in a cross-legged position, with or without a boost up from on a folded dense blanket, stack of towels or yoga block (about 5” to 10” depending on the tightness you feel in your hips and thighs, so you’re relaxed and comfortable). Scoot the thigh tissue out from under your bottom one at a time, so your sit bones are settled firmly on your seat. Lift your spine up and long, belly in, crown of the head reaching up toward the ceiling, and breathe deeply for 5 minutes with eyes open or closed.
Following your breath, repeat in your mind, “I’m breathing in… I’m breathing out”. Allow your thinking mind to settle and be still. If your mind wanders, just come back to following the rhythm of the breath. When this is complete take your time and come to stand. Stretch both arms up, lean the arms over to the right letting the weight fall into your left leg stretching out the left side of your body. Come back to center with arms up and reach them over to the left allowing the weight to settle into your right leg, stretching out the right side of the body.
YAY, you did it!
Rest on Saturday and Sunday, and begin again on Monday!
Mix it up! Switch days! Carry a water bottle in each hand, to add weights to your routine. Keep on keeping on and for goodness sake, keep your body healthy, whole and complete, now and forevermore!