Why we need to exercise…
…and why we don’t do it!
Maintain a Healthy Weight: Any form of physical activity helps to burn calories stored in the body from the food we eat. In order to lose weight, we need to burn calories. However, exercise not only helps us lose weight, but maintain our weight as we grow older. As we age, our metabolism decreases, and so we need extra physical activity just to maintain our weight. This is why most people put on weight as they age, even when they stick to the same diet that they have always had.
Perhaps even more important, a recent study shows that exercise preferentially reduces abdominal fat. This is important because abdominal fat is closely related to metabolic syndrome, a change in metabolism that can end up having effects on mood and anxiety.
Heart and Lung Health: An inactive lifestyle is one of the major causes of heart diseases. While a lot of heart conditions occur when we are older, it is necessary to start exercising at a young age to keep our hearts strong as we age. Cardiovascular exercises like running, swimming, cycling, and aerobics are especially good for the heart, hence the name ‘cardiovascular’. These types of exercises help to maintain your blood pressure, reduce the bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol in your blood, reduce the risk of diabetes, and increase your endurance level so you don’t easily run out of breath.
We’re used to hearing about exercise fending off heart attacks. If you’re physically active, your heart gets trained to beat slower and stronger, so it needs less oxygen to function well; your arteries get springier, so they push your blood along better; and your levels of “good” HDL cholesterol go up.
It’s also not much of a surprise that physical activity helps prevent diabetes. Muscles that are used to working stay more receptive to insulin, the hormone that ushers blood sugar into cells, so in fit individuals blood sugar levels aren’t as likely to creep up.
Exercise also prevents onset of some cancers: breast, colon, endometrial, perhaps ovarian cancers have been shown to be prevented by exercise. Some research suggests that it takes quite a lot of exercise to make a difference: four to seven hours of moderate to vigorous activity a week. Other studies have found that if you’ve had colon cancer or breast cancer, physical activity reduces the chances of it coming back.
Sexual Health: Exercise improves circulation and circulation helps reduce symptoms of inorgasm, erectile dysfunction and keeps our muscles supple so that we can perform and respond more readily to sexual contact.
Additionally, research indicates that fit people tend to have a better sex life than those who aren’t physically fit.
Build and Tone Muscles: Exercise helps to build strong muscles and bones through both cardiovascular and strength training. Strength training is any form of exercise that requires muscle resistance so even when you involve your body in motion that requires some resistance, you are strength training. Muscle mass strengthen our level of metabolism, and as we grow older we need an increase in metabolic rate to maintain our weight. Also, muscles help to prevent diseases, and improve balance.
Reduce Stress and Improve Mood: Exercise increases the release of a hormones that establish and maintain a more positive mood and help us feel relaxed and when we exercise we have a higher energy level and sleep better. Exercise usually helps people not only fall asleep, but helps to deepen sleep as well so we feel well rested during the day.
It changes the brain in ways similar to antidepressant medications. In old age, physical activity may delay the slide of cognitive decline into dementia, and even once that process has started, exercise can improve certain aspects of thinking.
Most evidence suggests that the choice of the kind of activity is far less important than whether to be active at all. About half of adult Americans don’t meet one of the most oft-cited guidelines, which calls for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (a fast walking pace) most days of the week — and you can accumulate that total in bouts of 10 to 15 minutes.
Clearly some of us are less athletic than others — and some unathletic individuals were simply born that way. Twin studies suggest that about half of the difference in physical activity among people is probably inherited. And researchers are making headway in identifying particular genes that may influence how we respond to physical exertion.
But genetic explanations for behaviors like exercising only go so far. Many other influences come into play: family, neighborhood, cultural attitudes, historical circumstances. Research has shown, not surprisingly, that active children are more likely to have parents who encouraged them to be that way.
Ways to Increase Exercise:
Current research supports the standard advice to get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. So in that spirit, we’ve made several suggestions for ways to become a little bit more physically active.
- Take the far away spot. Walking from the farthest corner of the parking lot will burn a few calories. If it’s a parking garage, head for the roof and use the stairs.
- Walk to the next stop. If you take a bus or train, don’t wait at the nearest stop. Walk to the next one. Or, at the end of your journey, get off a stop early and finish up on foot.
- Adopt someone as your walking, jogging, or biking buddy. Adding a social element to exercise helps many people stick with it.
- Be part of the fun. Adults shouldn’t miss a chance to jump into the fray if kids are playing. Climbing on the jungle gym (be careful!) and swinging on a swing will strengthen muscles and bones and set a good example.
- Put on your dancing shoes. Exercise doesn’t have to be done in a straight line. Dancing can get your heart going and helps with balance. Dance classes tend to have lower dropout rates than gyms.
- Clean house. Even if you have a cleaning service, you can take responsibility for vacuuming a couple of rooms yourself. Fifteen minutes burns around 80 calories. Wash some windows and do some dusting and you’ve got a pretty decent workout — and a cleaner house.
- Grow a garden. No matter how green the thumb, the digging, the planting, the weeding, and the picking will ramp up your activity level and exercise sundry muscles.
- Use a push mower. Even if you have a large lawn, pick a small part of it to mow in the old-fashioned way. You get a nice workout, you’re not burning any gas, and it’s usually quieter. The same reasoning favors the rake over the leaf blower.
- Think small. Small bouts of activity are better than knocking yourself out with a workout that will be hard to replicate.
- Be a stair master. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator whenever you can. It’s good for your legs and knees, and your cardiovascular health will benefit from the little bit of huffing and puffing. Don’t overdo. One flight at a time.
Why don’t more people exercise?
1. We have difficulty putting ourselves first:
Most people, by the time they have mood problems they think need treating, have children and/or jobs. These are essential responsibilities, right? You can’t put your needs ahead of these kinds of needs without serious trouble. We give our children most of our time and attention. In the long run, of course, our children are better off with a mom or dad who are physically fit.
2. Exercise is not a daily habit:
Beginning an exercise program means that we have to change our daily habits. Exercise needs to become a routine thing, not an extra. We have to plan so that exercise is not based on a repeated decision. The schedule should be reasonable and fit into our other required daily routines.
3. All the benefits don’t happen right away and the results can easily be missed for a while.
Many of the benefits of exercise are subtle. So even when they’re happening, they’re pretty easily missed: increased strength and stamina, better weight control, improved mood take time to develop. And the well-known benefits like lower heart disease risk and osteoporosis protection are invisible, especially to our decision-making brains. Exercise can lengthen our lives and improve our executive functions as we age.
Comparing aged individuals, with an average age of 67, who were active versus those who were less active, a research team from the University of Illinois found that those who are active have better mental skills and memory, and even the brains stays more active as well. A research group of elders who exercise regularly were found to have increased their brain size compared to the sedentary control group in the brain regions known to shrink when people have mood problems. Exercise may be able to help the brain “re-grow.”
It can be easier than you think:
Most people can still walk. Walking has the absolute best record for easy access. The Harvard Bipolar Program leader, Dr. Sachs, says “here’s your exercise program: go to the door, look at your watch. Walk 7.5 minutes in any direction, then turn around and walk home. Do that 5 days a week at least.” And that’s it. As I recall he calculated the average American would lose 5 pounds a year doing that, as opposed to gaining about that for the average sedentary person.
Mindfulness training, using relaxationa and other meditation techniques can help us maintain our focus and increase our level of self-care. With our stress reduced, it is easier to establish new habits and we can more readily observe the subtle benefits that begin to acrue.
Finally, be patient.: keeping weight off generally gets easier over time.
That’s the result of a study published in Obesity Research, where researchers found that for people who had lost at least 30 pounds — and kept it off for at least two years — maintaining that weight loss required less effort as time went on.
So if you crave the results reported by successful “losers” like these — improved self-confidence, a boost in mood, and better health — cultivate patience. You will find your way to better health and weight loss success.