Movement as Medicine
One of the very best things you can do for yourself is MOVE. Countless studies show that people who exercise regularly have lower blood pressure, fewer strokes, and are less likely to suffer a heart attack than those who are sedentary. Recent studies show that regular exercise:
- Reduces a person’s risk for as many as thirteen types of cancer, including two of the top ten deadliest forms: colon and breast.
- Helps treat, prevent, and even reverse diabetes
- Aids in weight loss
- Puts you in good spirits by reducing depression and anxiety
- Helps stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s
- Keeps you toned and strong, making it less likely you will suffer from back pain or be injured doing ordinary activities
- Improves the quality of sleep (important for your mood, mental sharpness, and overall health)
- Increases stamina and energy levels
Who can exercise, who should exercise?
Anyone and everyone can and should exercise. Obviously, if you’ve been a devoted couch potato for years, you should check with your doctor before embarking on an ambitious exercise program. Make sure your heart and joints can take it. And, of course, if you have a physical limitation or injury that might be exacerbated by a particular exercise, don’t do that one.
Be smart. But don’t get hung up trying to think of ways exercise might be bad for you — it isn’t. Remember that walking is an exercise. Start slow, be careful, and build up.
Which should you do, cardio or strength training?
How about both?
Exercises in the cardio or aerobic category are those that get your heart rate up, your blood pumping, and make you breathe harder. Walking (not strolling) at a steady pace, running, swimming, bicycling, spinning, rowing, stair climbing, and sports that require you to move (like tennis or racquetball) are all good choices and will:
- Increase your lung capacity
- Decrease your resting heart rate
- Improve your ability to use fat as an energy source (and help decrease body fat)
- Increase the amount of blood your heart pumps
- Send more blood to your brain (which removes toxins and helps with cognitive abilities)
- Reduce stress
- Improve stamina and increase energy, and
- Generally make you feel (and look) better.
Weight lifting is the most obvious form of strength training, but Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, and resistance bands all help build muscle. Strength training builds muscle mass and bone density. It also:
- Improves balance, helping you avoid injury (especially as you age)
- Increases strength, making all your physical activities and tasks easier.
- Boosts your metabolism because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
- Helps you sculpt your body and address specific areas. When you lose weight, you take up less room in the world, but you don’t get to choose where it comes off. Strength training, however, can help you address weak areas (your core or lower back, for example) and tone up so that you just look better.
Exercise and dieting
There are as many diet books as there are people who want to lose weight. Every diet works if you can stick to it – the catch, and every dieter knows this, is keeping the weight off after you’ve lost it. If the diet you’ve chosen is too restrictive or just too weird (e.g., on days that end in Y you can only eat cabbage and pickled onions) you are likely to gain back all the hard earned weight you’ve lost.
Both cardio and strength training will help you burn calories and keep your metabolism churning while you diet. Aerobic exercise reduces stress and improves your sleep. Being less stressed helps alleviate the urge to eat for reasons other than hunger and to overeat. Better sleep allows the hormones that regulate various metabolic processes a chance to do their thing.
During dieting, strength training will help you maintain the muscle mass you already have and even increase it. And yes, it’s true, muscle does weigh more than fat – but it also is more compact and burns more calories than fat. So you might gain a few pounds of muscle, but you’ll lose mostly fat and the result will be an overall leaner and stronger body that is more efficient when it comes to using the food you eat for energy.
You can join a gym, hire a personal trainer, take classes, etc., or just walk out your front door in a pair of comfortable shoes and take a good long walk right now —for free.
If it’s been a while since you were physically active start slow and gradually add distance (if you’re walking or biking, for example) or time (if you’re climbing stairs, swimming, or playing a sport) or both.
Get a friend or neighbor to join you for walks — the time will go faster and you’ll encourage each other. And you’re more likely to get out there, even on cold mornings or mornings you’d rather sleep in, when you know someone else is depending on you to be there.
If you’re already pretty active you can jump right into increasing the time and intensity of whatever you’re doing and start mixing it up.
Sticking with it
Keep it interesting. It’s easy to get in a rut if you do the same thing every day. So change it up – walk for three days in a row, then take a run, go for a swim, or ride your bike. Doing a variety of exercises over the course of a month will keep you from becoming bored and will also mean you get more benefit from your activities because your body won’t grow too accustomed to any single exercise.
How much exercise should you get?
A good place to start is 30 minutes of activity at least five times a week and add to that as you can. If your work schedule means you have to stick to a specific time and type of exercise all week, change it up over the weekend.
Most doctors and experts agree that 30 minutes a day should be your minimum goal and that you should engage in strength training two days during the week. Again, if you’re not used to exercising, start slow and easy and build up.
And somewhere in all this running, hiking, walking, swimming, weight lifting, Zumba, tennis, and windsurfing, remember to leave a little time for stretching. If you can stretch for a few minutes every morning and every evening before bed, you will stay limber and avoid tight, uncomfortable muscles.
Including a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day can improve your health, sleep and outlook on life – so get up and start moving!