The Rewards of Exercise
by Patricia Fry
(Published by Vibrant Life 2003)
Are you still making excuses for not exercising? Do you continue to ignore the fact that walking (running, biking, aerobics, dancing, swimming) is good for you? What benefits do you normally equate with regular workouts? Weight loss? Muscle toning? Breathing fresh air? An improved cardiovascular system?
What if I told you that exercise also helps you maintain a better outlook on life, makes you smarter and keeps you from catching a cold? Would you reconsider going out and working up a sweat?
Sandra McCray is founder and executive director of the Colorado HealthSite, a Web site dedicated to healthy living (http://www.coloradohealthsite.org). She says, "The number of high quality studies describing the benefits of exercise has increased dramatically in the last five years." Following are ten little known, but potentially life-changing advantages for people who are willing to get physical.
Regular exercise increases stamina. Go from couch potato to budding athlete and just watch your energy level soar. You'll have more endurance whether you're working, gardening or playing soccer with the kids. Those strenuous weekend chores will seem like a walk in the park. And you'll notice an increase in your physical agility, coordination and balance.
Working out makes you smarter. Yes, exercise can boost your brain power. One study shows that mental agility scores improve when testing is conducted on a treadmill. Think about it, the brain needs oxygen in order to function. The blood supply carries oxygen throughout the body. When we're physically active, the blood flow is increased to all parts of our body, including the brain.
Physical activity promotes a healthier lifestyle. It's almost impossible to carry on an unwholesome lifestyle when you're doing something as good for yourself as daily exercise. Not only will you tend to embrace a more regular schedule of eating and rest, but you may find yourself shunning sugary snacks and reaching for more fruits, and vegetables.
You sleep better when exercise is part of your day. I know people who exercise regularly just so they can enjoy a good night's sleep. If you have problems sleeping, try walking, swimming or bicycling every day around mid morning or early afternoon. Avoid a vigorous workout in the evening as this can agitate sleep disturbances
Exercise wards off illness. Carol Krucoff, with her husband, Dr. Mitchel Krucoff, is co-author of, Healing Moves: How to Cure Relieve and Prevent Common Ailments With Exercise, (Three Rivers Press/Random House, 2001). She says, "If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation. Many health experts now feel that the single most important behavior you can adopt for good health (other than to quit smoking) is to get regular physical activity."
She further maintains that there are hundreds if not thousands of studies that suggest exercise may help prevent a huge variety of ailments from heart disease and breast cancer to erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis, diabetes and the common cold."
Exercise as a cure for the common cold? It's an interesting concept—one that some employers have actually tested. They ask half of their employees to walk regularly during the day and the other half are supposed to remain sedentary. What they've found is that the employees who walked regularly during the study had fewer sick days than those who did not.
But how much is too much or too little? How does one get started in an exercise program? According to Carol Krucoff, "The simplest prescription for exercise for health is the one from the U.S. Surgeon General: Accumulate 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. A 30 to 45 minute walk every day will help boost your immune system significantly, lower your risk of chronic disease and make a dramatic difference in how you look and feel."
Physical activity is a mood elevator. Carol says, "The mood boost of exercise is clear to anyone who has lifted his or her spirits with a simple walk in the fresh air, a dip in the pool or a game of catch. Now a growing body of research supports the common wisdom that exercise strengthens both body and soul."
She reports on an intriguing study. "This study was done at Duke University Medical Center and found that a program of regular walking was as effective or more effective than medication in helping people with mild to moderate depression. In addition to numerous studies indicating that exercise has an ?anti depressant' effect, some suggest it may also combat anxiety and help people with panic disorders."
But how do you get interested in exercising when you're depressed? Krucoff has a suggestion, "Find something you enjoy—any form of movement—gardening, ping-pong, walking... whatever brings you joy. Perhaps there's something you liked to do as a child like dancing or playing ball. Some people are motivated by exercising with a friend; others want to be alone. A lovely motivation is an animal—walking your dog."
McCray would like to see doctors prescribe exercise to their patients. She says, "With all of the talk about preventative medicine and the need to control health care costs and with all the studies showing the beneficial effects of exercise on the prevention of depression, stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity and diabetes, it is a no-brainer for doctors to recommend exercise to their patients."
Working out helps you work through problems. Exercise as a problem-solving tool? Why not? I often use my daily 45-minute walk to break through writer's block, figure out a direction for my next article or book, determine how to respond to an issue with a client or to rehearse a speech for a presentation.
When your body is active, your mind is often still. This is an excellent time to put it to work on a particular task.
Activity is a stress reliever. Have you ever released pent up tension by going out in the garden and pulling weeds? Walking or jogging is also a great way to relieve stress and vent frustrations.
Feel tense? Simply start moving. Walk, run, dance, jump rope—it doesn't matter what activity you choose—just move. Don't think about anything except your body, the air you're breathing and your surroundings. You may be surprised at how relaxed and rejuvenated you will feel upon completion of your activity.
A regular exercise routine helps to improve self-esteem. When you are doing something you know is good for you, you feel better about yourself. When you find yourself sticking to your decision to exercise regularly, you develop a sense of pride. You realize you are accomplishing something important. Couple the activity with better eating habits and you have even more to feel proud about.
And when you notice that you are less winded when climbing the stairs to your building, you have lost a few inches around your waist, your skin is looking better and you are smiling more, your self confidence will rise dramatically.
One interesting study showed that teenagers who are active in sports had a better sense of well being than their sedentary peers. The more vigorously they exercised, the better their emotional health. Think about it, do you know anyone, young or older, who is athletic and who doesn't have a good self-image? We have better posture when we feel good about ourselves. We relate to others better when we feel better about ourselves.
I know a young women who began playing softball when she was 12. A shy, retiring youngster, she walked with her shoulders rounded and rarely looked others in the eye. At 17, she still plays softball and she has matured into a much more confident person. She stands tall. She relates well to people of all ages. She's not super outgoing and probably never will be, but she certainly has more confidence than she did before becoming an athlete.
Exercise fosters creativity. One has only to start walking in the fresh air to realize the value of exercise in the creative thinking process. McCray says, "I get some of my most creative ideas while I'm exercising. Exercise seems to free my mind of the daily worries that capture all of us and allows my creative side to bloom."
I, too, often arrive home after my power walk overflowing with new ideas for articles. Sometimes it helps to adopt a ritual—place all of your worries and concerns in a pot outside your office door before heading out on your exercise destination.
Is exercise important in our lives? According to McCray, "We should take responsibility for our health, which means choosing healthy behaviors, including exercise." Lest anyone should think he or she is exempt, she adds, "It's important for all of us to remember that it's never too late to start an exercise program."
Patricia Fry is the author of A Writers
Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press,