The Benefits Of Exercise

If all the benefits of exercise could be squeezed into a pill, it would be considered a miracle drug–the “rejuvenation pill.” Everyone would want it and would be willing to pay thousands of dollars for the extraordinary advantages–which come with no side-effects! No one would want to be without it. So why don’t more people get off their behinds and exercise?

Newspapers, books, television shows, and magazines extol the benefits of physical exercise and activity as a means to physical fitness and a longer life. In every town and city in the United States you can find bike paths, jogging trails, health clubs, gyms, racquet clubs, tennis courts, aerobics classes, dance studios, martial arts classes, and community recreation facilities. You would surmise that the country is caught up in a frenzy of fitness. Although it is true that our population values exercise more than ever before, it is also true that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in this land of abundance and affluence. One-third of the population is overweight. In Black and Hispanic cultures and in low-income groups, 50 percent of the women are obese. Life doesn’t have to be that way–and you don’t have to be in the “fat people” category.

Regular exercise brings more than an improved physique. Exercise can help you sleep better, manage stress more effectively, strengthen your heart, prevent osteoporosis, burn calories, decrease your appetite, improve your skin, and bolster your self-esteem–and even more! WOW! Physical activity, combined with good nutrition, can actually slow the aging process itself. Let’s look more closely at the rewards of exercise.

Exercise conditions your body to function more efficiently. The physical benefits of exercise are

Improved circulation, a stronger heart, and improved lung capacity: Aerobic activity works the heart muscle, increases blood flow, and makes the lungs pump harder–strengthening the entire cardiovascular system.

Healthier skin: Exercise increases circulation, bringing blood flow to the skin surface, carrying nutrients and flushing away toxins. Your skin looks younger, has a glow, and is healthier.

Prevention of osteoporosis: Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, strengthen bones and slow down bone loss due to aging.

Increased metabolism: Exercise burns calories and keeps the metabolic rate high for hours, even after the activity has ended.

Increased muscle tone: If you are dieting and reducing your food intake without exercising, you are losing muscle instead of fat. Muscle burns many more calories than fat, by a ratio of thirty to one. In order to retain muscle, you must exercise. Muscle weighs more than fat, but the tissue is denser and takes up less space, so you look slimmer as you build muscle tissues and burn more calories stored in fat.

Rehabilitation from muscular-skeletal injuries: Under the supervision of a sports physician or physical therapist, targeted exercises and movement can facilitate repair of damaged muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Sometimes even old injuries can improve with the proper exercise.

Exercise also gives you these psychological benefits:

Relief from stress and mild, transitory depression: Studies show that people who exercise have less stress. Exercise is a healthy way to work off frustration and anger. It gives “time out” from the demands of work and family. Increased circulation pumps oxygen to the brain for clearer thinking. Activities involving the whole body activate neurological activity across both hemispheres of the brain, which can have a calming effect.

Regulation of brain chemistry: A study by Nora Volkow, reported in the November-December 2004 issue of Psychology Today (McGowan 2004), found that the brains of obese people are deficient in dopamine–a chemical involved in motivation, pleasure, and learning. The deficiency creates a “craving for stimulation” that prompts overeating and other addictions. As the addictive response develops over time, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with judgment and inhibition, stops functioning normally. The antidote is prolonged, regular exercise, which causes the brain to release endorphins and elevates dopamine levels. Endorphins are the brain’s own “feel good” chemicals (the release of endorphins causes the “runner’s high” experienced by distance runners).

Increased self-esteem: Meeting a physical challenge–like finishing a ten-kilometer race or hiking a mountain trail or swimming twenty laps in a pool–brings the exhilaration of accomplishment and an enhanced sense of competence and mastery. Some people enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship of team sports and the shared fun of group activity. Some enjoy the improved grace that comes from activities involving precision movement like dance, swimming, or gymnastics. Exercise can enhance your sense of self-worth.

There is no pill, no medical treatment, no cosmetic preparation that can equal the benefits of regular physical exercise. Given these fantastic benefits, you can’t pass it up! Exercise is absolutely essential to your health and well-being!

How to Get Started on an Exercise Routine

If you are not yet into an exercise routine, here are some ways to get started on a sensible regimen that will transform your mind, body, and spirit! The key to success is to set reasonable, incremental goals for yourself, so that you build strength and stamina slowly and safely over time. Follow these guidelines to developing an exercise routine:

Consult with your physician first: Get a complete physical exam and ask your physician about the types of exercise that are safe for you.

Choose a mix of activities: Ideally, you want an exercise routine that includes stretching exercises for flexibility, aerobic activity for cardiovascular fitness, and resistance exercises for strength and toning.

Consider a trainer: For optimal results, consult with a personal trainer who can help you design an exercise routine based on your age, physical condition, and fitness goals. A trainer is especially important if you plan to use weights or exercise machines. A personal trainer can help you start out at the proper speed and level of resistance, show you the proper postures and movements, and teach you how to avoid injury.

Get the right gear: Make sure you are wearing the proper clothing for your activity–that might mean footwear, protective knee pads, gloves, helmet, or a jogging bra or athletic supporter. If you use equipment, it should be in excellent condition and well maintained.

Warm up and stretch: At the beginning of your routine, spend about five minutes warming up–for example, walking in place or freestyle dancing–to get the blood circulating to your muscles and to loosen up your joints. Then stretch slowly until you feel some resistance and hold each stretch for a count of ten to twenty seconds. Warming up helps avoid muscle sprains.

Start slowly and pay attention to your body’s responses: During the first days and weeks of a new exercise routine, be careful and don’t push too hard. Limit your initial workouts to a few minutes of light activity–or to a few minutes more than you usually do. If you feel fatigue or pain, stop and rest and try again tomorrow. Build strength and stamina over several weeks or months, and increase the demands on your body gradually.

Make it fun: Do exercise you enjoy. Exercise alone in the privacy of your home or with a friend or go to a gym or join a class. If you think your routine is getting dull, build in some variety. Exercise to music, walk with your pooch, bicycle with your child, watch TV while you work out, take dance lessons with your spouse–the list is endless.

Chart your progress: Put a chart on your refrigerator that shows how many sit-ups you do each day or how many miles you walk or how many minutes you spend on the treadmill. Or just put a big gold star on the calendar for every day you exercise. Soon you will like what you see!

Integrate movement into your daily routine: You’ll get more from exercise (and burn additional calories) if you move around and stay active during the day. If you sit most of the day, take breaks at least every hour and stand up, stretch, take a few deep breaths, and walk around for a few minutes.

Make an appointment with yourself for exercise time, and give that time top priority. Keep the appointment, as if it were an appointment to receive a million dollars or meet with world leaders or interview for your dream job or go on a date with someone you adore. Get into a daily routine, so you actually begin to look forward to exercising. Don’t miss it for anything except an emergency. Don’t let others talk you out of it. Make exercise time sacred and nonnegotiable. Exercise is for you, to make you feel good and look good, and you are worth it!

Source by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D

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