In the hectic modern world, it can be easy for exercise to become an expendable aspect of everyday life. Even if you don’t mean them to, other factors often register as higher priorities: school, work and career demands, for one thing, but also romantic, platonic and familial relationships, as well as other personal interests and social occasions. In this way, it’s understandable that making room for physical exercise can grow to be a hassle, as working out at the gym or heading for a run are activities that require time, energy and dedication that just might be better utilised elsewhere.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it doesn’t take into account two highly significant factors. Firstly, that exercise doesn’t have to be a dreadful burden – it’s a highly adaptable and multi-faceted activity that can be altered to meet the needs and interests of the individual, and thus become enjoyable in its own right. Secondly, despite popular opinion, exercise in and of itself isn’t just a way in which to drop a couple dress sizes. Primarily, what regular physical activity aims to do is to preserve the health, fitness and wellbeing of the body as it ages over time, by keeping muscles, limbs and organs functioning as well as possible. The bottom line is, if you learn to treat your body well and change your frame of mind when it comes to exercise, you’ll be making a smart investment in your own future – but it’s important to start as soon as possible.
Clear Health Benefits of Exercise
Things are very rarely as black and white as they appear, but this does seem to be the case when it comes to regular physical activity. While everyone knows that exercise is good for the body, and being a couch potato is generally bad, what does this really mean? It all boils down to the great number of health benefits that accompany regular physical activity, and the many health hazards that result from an entirely sedentary lifestyle. Just as physical exercise aids the body, physical inactivity hinders it. Check out some of the following statistics to clue up on why engaging in regular physical activity is always a win/win situation.
- Cardiovascular disease
Also known as heart disease, cardiovascular disease affects one in every six Australians, and kills one Australian every twelve minutes. Statistics show that 31% of these deaths in 2011 were largely preventable, however, so the important thing to note is that regular physical exercise does help to decrease a person’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Physical inactivity and obesity are two of the highest risk factors in developing a heart problem, along with smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- Healthy Bones
Engaging in a regular fitness regime is not only good for the muscles, but also for the bones. Specific types of exercises help to increase bone density and improve bone strength, such as weight bearing exercises like jogging or dancing, and progressive resistance training exercises that involve lifting hand or ankle weights.
Regular physical activity significantly helps to protect against osteoporosis, a common condition in which bones become brittle and fragile, leading to a higher risk of fractures. A study conducted by Dr Montserrat Otero found that following a programme of physical exercise based on low-intensity strength exercises over a period of six months led to significant muscular and limb improvements in women suffering from osteoporosis.
- Neck and Back Pain
You might be surprised to hear it, but performing certain exercises do help to relieve stress and tension in the neck, as well as upper and lower back pain. Even women experiencing back pain during pregnancy should engage in gentle workout exercises to keep their bodies mobile.
Exercises that stretch and strengthen the neck and shoulders are the best way to improve pain in those areas, while those experiencing back pain should attempt simple exercises that allow the back to remain in an upright and neutral position. Try ankle pumps and heel raises while lying on your back, or otherwise wall squats with your back supported by a wall.
- Sitting Less
If you work in an office environment, it’s all too easy to find yourself sitting around the entire day. The lack of movement and activity that results from a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a myriad health problem, such as obesity, poor nutrition and insulin resistance, which can increase your risk of developing diabetes.
Even if you need to sit at a desk during the day, it’s important to balance out the time you spend sitting with physical activity that stretches and exercises your limbs and muscles. Try taking a break from your computer every hour or so and going for a brief but brisk walk, taking the stairs outside and circling around the block.https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/active-living/Documents/PA-Sitting-Less-Adults.pdf
There are even basic exercises you can practice right at your desk, such as shoulder rolls, elbow stretches and foot pumps, to relieve tension in your body. Also, consider changing the way in which you commute to work, such as cycling instead of taking a car, or getting off a stop earlier on public transport and walking the rest of the way. When it comes to daily physical exercise, every little bit counts!
Weight Loss and Exercise
While fad diets that guarantee permanent weight reduction continue to flood the media, the truth is that having a daily intake of healthy foods and engaging in regular physical exercise remain the only proven methods of actual, sustainable weight management. Many people who participate in fad diets are seeking weight loss largely for the sake of appearances, but appearances aside, obesity is a genuine health hazard, one that has been a steadily growing concern in Australia for the last thirty years. One alarming statistic shows that approximately sixty per cent of Australian adults were classified as overweight or obese in 2011-2012.
The correlation between regular exercise and losing weight is based on the amount of calories you consume, versus the amount of calories your body needs to function. Everything you eat contains a certain amount of calories, just as every physical activity you perform uses up a certain amount of calories, so all the calories you don’t burn are stored in the body as fat. Therefore, the key to achieving a healthy weight is balancing the calories you eat with the calories you use up – and burning calories is where physical exercise comes in.
Those who are seeking permanent weight loss may want to consider increasing their lean muscle mass through resistance training, not just burning their body fat through regular exercise. People who build up their muscle strength are able to burn calories faster than people who have less muscle, as the body utilises a great deal of energy from food consumed to sustain muscle mass. Therefore, the stronger your muscles are, the more energy your body devotes to them, which results in less calories being stored as body fat and a greater degree of weight loss.
Remember that having some kind of routine (whether a daily or weekly one) of physical exercise will help you, not only to steadily lose weight, but also to keep it off in the long run. You may even want to consider looking into personal training, in order to formulate a health and fitness regime that will be tailored to benefit your individual body and approved by a professional.
Aerobic versus Anaerobic Fitness
These are two types of exercises that target and strengthen different areas of the body. Aerobic exercise uses oxygen from your muscles to burn carbohydrates and fats to produce energy, which builds endurance. Anaerobic exercise requires no oxygen and only burns carbohydrates to produce energy, which builds strength. These two categories correlate directly to two types of training: endurance training and strength/resistance training. Endurance training is aerobic, as it exercises the heart and lungs and boosts your body’s stamina, while strength/resistance training is anaerobic, as it builds up your muscle mass.
A good solid exercise regime for the average adult should include both kinds of exercises, ostensibly two thirds aerobic exercise and one third anaerobic exercise. The reason that anaerobic exercise should be practiced less often is because it places a greater strain on the body than aerobic exercise, which only temporarily increases your heart rate and respiration. Anaerobic exercise, however, can be extremely physically exhausting as it forces muscles to work harder than they’re used to in order to build strength.
Aerobic fitness refers to those activities that involve exercising large muscles and are practiced for an extended period of time, such as walking, jogging, swimming, aerobic dancing and cycling. Those who engage in aerobic exercise should be sure to complete all the three parts of the activity: the warm-up (3-5 minutes of lower intensity exercise to warm up your muscles), conditioning (the main body of the activity, wherein aerobic exercise is conducted for a specific amount of time, such as 30-45 minutes), and the cool-down (3-5 minutes of lower intensity exercise again, to lower your heart rate).
Anaerobic fitness involves using weights or machines to strengthen muscle mass and tone. This typically involves lifting a specific amount of weight a certain number of times, known as a repetition – for example, 12-20 repetitions with lighter weights to tone muscles, and 8-12 repetitions with heavier weights to build and strengthen muscles. Anaerobic exercises should be performed with a day or two of rest in between workouts, to give your muscles the time to recover from such strenuous activity, but the rules do tend to vary depending on the individual. If you’re unsure when it comes to anaerobic fitness, make sure that you consult a professional, as what works for one person might place too much strain on another’s body.
Mental Health and Exercise
If you think that forcing yourself to do exercise is only going to make you feel more down in the dumps, guess again – it’s actually far more likely have the opposite effect. You may have heard of endorphins, which are also colloquially (and inaccurately) named “happy hormones”. As nice as that would be, endorphins can’t actually make you happy, but they are powerful chemicals that circulate the body, work to improve natural immunity and help reduce the perception of pain. Physical exercise enhances the movement of endorphins, as well as increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that affects our libidos, appetites and moods, and researchers have found that regular physical activity does alter serotonin levels in the brain to increase feelings of wellbeing.
In the same way that regular physical exercise can have a positive effect on mental health; lack of physical activity has been shown to negatively influence mood and wellbeing. Those who lead sedentary lifestyles are more likely to develop depression that those who are regularly physically active. A study published in 2005 and based on individuals weighing approximately 150 pounds (roughly 68 kilograms) found that going for a brisk 35-minute walk five times a week had a significantly uplifting influence on people who were experiencing mild to moderate depression symptoms.
Regular physical exercise can also help to relieve stress symptoms. When we perceive ourselves to be in a threatening situation, our bodies are flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, so one of the best ways in which to defuse these hormones is to start moving. Assistant Professor Monika Fleshner from the University of Colorado, who has conducted several studies looking at how exercises changes physiological responses to stress, reported that people who exercise regularly are less likely to get sick after facing stressful situations, and exposure to mental or physical stress increases susceptibility to illness and disease.
If you’re feeling anxious, sad, depressed, or just generally under the weather, engaging in physical exercise can be a great way in which to attempt to feel better and boost your wellbeing. Start at a level and frequency of physical activity that you find comfortable, then try to build your way up into a steady routine. Choose a range of fun activities and exercises to pique your interest, and even recruit a friend or family member to come along with you, as some of the most enjoyable work-outs are those that double as social occasions.
Ultimately, the key to success when it comes to engaging in regular physical activity isn’t necessarily the exercise itself – it’s the determination and dedication that fuels it. Like with any other long-term goal, staying motivated is of utmost importance in helping you to persevere in whatever exercise routine you’ve formulated for yourself.
Whether you aim to go for a brisk half-hour walk a few times a week, or you’ve made the choice to swim laps for an hour at the local pool every three days, encouraging yourself to stick to that decision and rewarding yourself for reaching milestones, big or small, will help you settle into the routine naturally and feel more accomplished in the long run.
There are a number of ways in which you can inspire yourself to stay motivated, and different things work for different people. Often, the best way to approach exercise with a motivated attitude is to shift your perspective of it, to see it as a fulfilling activity that is both practical and enjoyable. Many people find that exercising in groups or pairs helps them to focus on their goals together through mutual encouragement, determination and positive feedback.
It’s also important, when devising an exercise routine, to be realistic in your expectations of your own capabilities, especially if you have other significant commitments in your life. If you’ve never exercised regularly before, it’s unlikely you’ll fall straight into the routine from the get-go, so make sure to set small goals you know you can achieve at first, then slowly build up to more intensive exercise sessions.
Studies have also shown that the more you exercise, the more you actually want to, and in this way the whole process becomes much easier and more enjoyable. You’ll also gain a lot more confidence in yourself and your abilities, which will only further increase your motivation. A research experiment conducted on specially-bred, exercise-compelled mice in 2003 found that exercise addiction does activate the reward centre in the brain. Dr Justin S. Rhodes, who led the study, reported that those mice who were blocked from running had high levels of brain activity that indicated they still had the strong drive and motivation to run, even after six days of doing just that.
The Final Word: Make Exercise Practical and Sustainable
The old adage “do what you love, love what you do” is a good sentiment to keep in mind for people who are interested in getting fit and healthy. If you want to start regularly exercising to boost your mental and physical wellbeing, choose to think of exercise as a rewarding and enjoyable activity, and you’ll find yourself much happier to devote your time to it.
Be sure to come up with a realistic plan that includes short-term and long-term goals, and monitor your progress regularly. Don’t berate yourself or lose hope if you fall short, either – just keep your eye on the prize and keep challenging yourself to fulfil your routine. It’s also important to consider the role your daily food intake plays in achieving a healthy weight and body, and how you plan to balance out what you eat with how often you exercise. If you stay motivated, dedicate yourself to your goals and project a positive outlook, your body will ultimately reap the rewards of all your hard work.
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