People exercise for different reasons: some are motivated to lose weight; some do it because it was recommended by their doctor; others do it professionally; still others do it because it makes them feel good. I exercise regularly for three reasons:
1. To lose weight or maintain weight depending on my status at the time
2. To become fit and healthy
3. To compete for medals
Prior to 2013, I ran at least three times per week for a half an hour to an hour on afternoons. In 2013, as you may be aware if you have read my previous posts, I was shot during an attempted robbery. Neither my car nor possessions were lost but I lost about a year of my life (could have been my life itself) undergoing surgery and recuperation.
I am convinced that recuperation was faster than expected by the doctors because of the level of my physical fitness before the incident. I recall even while at the hospital, as soon as I began walking again, I started to do laps, walking slowly of course, from my bed to the end of the ward, approximately twenty feet in length. At first I could only make it halfway to the door before having to return to my bed. I gradually increased that to at least three or four laps.
I even lifted water bottles as weights on occasion, as I tried to keep my muscles active! I regularly and faithfully did the exercises recommended by the hospital’s physiotherapist. I was limited by the level of nutrition I was receiving and by the wide assortment of drugs I was being administered – from painkillers, to antibiotics and antidepressants as well as antihistamines. The idea is that you need to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, even if it is just to use the stairs more often for instance.
Even though it is about a year and a half since the incident, I am now in the process of trying to regain some level of fitness. I do this because I started regaining some of the thirty pounds I had lost. It also helps me as I work out alone; this gives me time to think while I run or walk. My mind is clearer after running and I experience bouts of euphoria after an especially good run. By getting back into a routine, I feel more in control of my life. I sleep better and I have more energy and feel fitter. You can choose your favorite workout routine to address health and fitness; it could be walking, running, swimming, dancing , cycling or any of your favorite sports!
These reasons are universal reasons for exercise, any type of exercise; not just running or walking. But, there are even more benefits associated with exercise. Research has shown exercise to be linked to a plethora of health benefits. It must be noted that here we are talking about regular and sustained efforts at physical activities, not a sporadic attempt without commitment to the cause. Some of the desirable outcomes associated with exercise are listed below.
• Shown to extend average functional lifespan: this indicates a slowing down of premature aging
• Boosts the production of the healthy HDLs (high density lipoproteins) and decreases the level of unhealthy triglycerides: overall reduction in cardiovascular risk including heart disease, stroke and metabolic syndrome for instance
• Strengthens bones: weight bearing exercises and the use of resistance machines introduces positive stress on the bones and may even encourage bone growth which in turn combats osteoporosis
• Develops more conditioned muscular system: this improves body alignment and affords better protection for the internal organs. This also assists in controlling type II diabetes : as the strength and size of muscles increases, the use of glucose or sugars in the body becomes more efficient
• May help to prevent or combat arthritis
• Burns calories helping to control weight
These possible outcomes of exercise are all physiological benefits. There are also psychological advantages associated with consistent physical activity:
• It improves cognitive function. Exercise seems to promote neurogenesis or the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus or that part of the brain which is responsible for memory and learning. (neurons are cells in the brain which transmit information by electrical and chemical signals)
• It assists in combatting depression and in mood enhancement. Exercise stimulates the production of “feel good” chemicals or hormones in the body and is simply fun
A short, incomplete list of these hormones and/or neurotransmitters is given below:
• Endorphins released cause you to feel exhilarated and reduce the effects of pain, creating a feeling commonly referred to as the ‘runner’s high’
• Dopamine is the hormone responsible for pleasure: working out is one way of increasing dopamine levels in the body
• Higher levels of serotonin in the body due to exercise work synergistically with endorphins to increase happiness and restful sleep
• Norepinephrine (noradrenalin) and epinephrine (adrenalin) work together in the “fight or flight” mechanism in the body; together they increase: heart rate; release of glucose from energy stores; and blood flow to muscles
There are three main categories of exercise which need to be addressed:
aerobic or cardiovascular training; strength or resistance training; and flexibility training.
Particularly as we get older, it becomes increasingly important that we start, or become more committed to, an exercise program which caters to each of these categories. Of course the earlier we begin the greater will be the health payoffs.
Aerobic or cardiovascular training immediately brings to mind a marathon runner: this type of training builds endurance and increases the heart rate while strengthening the heart. Typical exercises would be walking, jogging, running, swimming or hiking. The rate or intensity of your workout would depend on where you are at on the fitness scale: the less fit you are the slower your rate or lower the intensity of your workout; approximately thirty minutes per day for at least three times per week is recommended.
Strength or resistance training conjures images of a muscular individual with a streamlined and well-oiled body. The use of body weight or isometrics or weight lifting or even resistance machines helps to develop the strength and size of muscles. This results in added stability of the skeletal structure as well as more efficient use of glucose stores.
Flexibility training and yoga are almost synonymous. As we grow older our muscles and joints become more rigid; less flexible. To combat this stretching exercises are highly recommended along with several nutritional supplements ( to be discussed in a forthcoming post). Yoga, Tai Chi and other stretching exercise classes are beneficial to any age group and any gender.
Before beginning any program though, if you are over forty or you have any health challenge, you need to consult a physician. Additionally any program adopted must be part of the selected lifestyle choices you make for health: this implies avoiding alcohol, smoking and other drugs, proper nutrition, positive thinking, use of recommended supplements and medications and consciousness of your stress levels in different situations so that you may be able to bring down those levels when necessary.
A word of caution is necessary: excessive exercising is undesirable as it places undue oxidative stress on the body with increased levels of undesirable free radicals and compromises the immune system.
The addictive effect of the endorphins released during exercise is similar to the effect produced by opiates such as morphine; however, exercise seems to be not as addictive as morphine.
Are you sufficiently stimulated by exercise and its multiple health benefits to become or to remain committed to exercise?