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Abridged version of Mayo Staff online article
Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity
You know exercise is good for you â€” but do you know how good? From boosting your mood to improving your sex life, find out how exercise can improve your life.
By Mayo Clinic staff
Want to feel better, have more energy and perhaps even live longer? Look no further than old-fashioned exercise.
The merits of regular physical activity â€” from preventing chronic health conditions to promoting weight loss and better sleep â€” are hard to ignore. And the benefits are yours for the taking, regardless of age, sex or physical ability. Need more convincing? Check out seven specific ways exercise can improve your life.
1. Exercise improves your mood.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day?
Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed than you were before you worked out. You’ll also look better and feel better when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem. Regular physical activity can even help prevent depression.
2. Exercise combats chronic diseases.
Worried about heart disease? Hoping to prevent osteoporosis? Physical activity might be the ticket. Regular physical activity can help you prevent â€” or manage â€” high blood pressure. Your cholesterol will benefit, too. Regular physical activity boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly by lowering the buildup of plaques in your arteries.
And there’s more. Regular physical activity can help you prevent type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer.
3. Exercise helps you manage your weight.
Want to drop those excess pounds? Trade some couch time for walking or other physical activities. This one’s a no-brainer. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn â€” and the easier it is to keep your weight under control. You don’t even need to set aside major chunks of time for working out. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk during your lunch break. Do jumping jacks during commercials. Better yet, turn off the TV and take a brisk walkâ€¦
4. Exercise boosts your energy level.
Winded by grocery shopping or household chores? Don’t throw in the towel. Regular physical activity can leave you breathing easier.
Physical activity delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. In fact, regular physical activity helps your entire cardiovascular system â€” the circulation of blood through your heart and blood vessels â€” work more efficiently. Big deal? You bet! When your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you’ll have more energy to do the things you enjoy.
5. Exercise promotes better sleep.
Struggling to fall asleep? Or stay asleep? It might help to boost your physical activity during the day. A good night’s sleep can improve your concentration, productivity and mood. And you guessed it â€” physical activity is sometimes the key to better sleep. Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. There’s a caveat, however. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you may be too energized to fall asleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you might want to exercise earlier in the day.
6. Exercise can put the spark back into your sex life.
Are you too tired to have sex? Or feeling too out of shape to enjoy physical intimacy? Physical activity to the rescue.
Regular physical activity can leave you feeling energized and looking better, which may have a positive effect on your sex life. But there’s more to it than that. Regular physical activity can lead to enhanced arousal for women, and men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than are men who don’t exercise â€” especially as they get older.
7. Exercise can be â€” gasp â€” fun!
Wondering what to do on a Saturday afternoon? Looking for an activity that suits the entire family? Get physical!
Physical activity doesn’t have to be drudgery. Take a ballroom dancing class. Check out a local climbing wall or hiking trail. Push your kids on the swings or climb with them on the jungle gym. Plan a neighborhood kickball or touch football game. Find a physical activity you enjoy, and go for it. If you get bored, try something new. Are you convinced? Good. Start reaping the benefits of regular physical activity today!
TAP agrees ~ If you’re moving, it counts!Â 5 minute increments are a great start to feeling stronger and rebuilding a stronger America…one citizen at a time.
What Is Mind-Body Exercise?
Now, more than ever, mind-body exercise programs are hot.
From 1998 through 2002, yoga and tai chi participation increased by 95 percent in the United States, according to American Sports Data (ASD) Inc. (ASD 2003a). By 2002, an estimated 11.1 million Americans were practicing tai chi or yoga and 4.7 million were doing Pilates (ASD 2003b). New participants are attracted partly by savvy marketing but also by the lure of programs that might offer them peace of mind as well as fitness gains.
In the midst of all this growth and excitement, is it clear what mind-body exercise really is? We think that it includes yoga and tai chi, but not weight training or swimming. Are we justified in making that distinction?
A Little History
The term mind-body exercise comes to the fitness industry from the field of mind-body medicine. According to the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, mind-body medicine is based on the “inseparable connection between the mind and body–the complicated interactions that take place between thoughts, body and the outside world.”
Today’s strong focus on mind-body medicine had its beginnings as early as the 1940s and 1950s, when Hans Selye, MD, popularized the concept of stress and the “fight or flight” response in modern medicine. The field has evolved steadily since the early 1970s, which saw the emergence of body therapies, along with pioneering studies on the psychological impacts of exercise. That same decade, Herbert Benson, MD, from Harvard University, coined the term relaxation response to describe the fact that changes in states of mind could effect changes in the body. Benson’s research documenting the relaxation response was based on studies of people who engaged in transcendental meditation. His findings provided research-based evidence that mental changes resulting from meditation could bring about beneficial physiological changes. Since then, medical evidence for the support of mind-body medicine, which includes mindful exercise techniques, has been growing. *Research has shown that mind-body practices can benefit both the nervous system and the immune system by restoring balance after the stress response has been aroused.
People with borderline hypertension, in particular, have experienced remarkable benefits from engaging in mindful techniques and, in some cases, have even been able to discontinue drug therapy. When such techniques involve physical movement–as is the case with yoga and tai chi–researchers find that participants also experience improvements in physical conditioning, such as cardiovascular conditioning, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and balance. However, the primary reason for practicing these physical activities was traditionally not to achieve fitness gains, but rather to develop harmony of mind, body and spirit.
Labeling these techniques as mind-body activities was not meant to imply that conventional exercise was not mindful. In contrast, the term indicated that what was quintessentially important about such activities was that they were rooted in the category defined as “mind-body” by the medical research community.
Defining Mind-Body Exercise
In the 1990s, in keeping with this background, the IDEA mind-body fitness committee defined mind-body exercise as “physical exercise executed with a profoundly inwardly directed focus.” According to Ralph La Forge, MS, former chair, the committee identified five characteristics of mind-body exercise:
The committee noted that any mind-body style of exercise typically has one or more of these qualities. But can”t a runner run with inner mental focus? Doesn’t a weightlifter pay attention to breathing and form? How is a mindful swimmer any different from a mindful tai chi practitioner?
The difference seems to lie, ultimately, in the particular state of mind that practitioners bring to–and develop from–mind-body practices. This state is something more than concentration or mental attention but is not easy to define, just as a meditative state is not easy to describe in words. The lack of vocabulary, however, does not mean the state of mind does not exist. Technologies today can measure alterations in brain patterns and changes in blood levels of cortisol, showing that a change in state of mind can lead to physiological changes.
“Until we have a better understanding of precisely what the “mind-body focus” consists of, how will we incorporate it [into conventional fitness activities]?” asks La Forge. “At this point, I am not entirely sure that there is a measurable health-related value to incorporating a mind-body focus in conventional fitness activities. It sounds very logical and impressive, but what is the outcome?”
Others, however, question the notion of a separate mind-body category. Clinical and sport psychologist Jim Gavin, PhD, who teaches at Concordia University in Montreal, says, “I think it is misleading to even speak about mind-body exercise as if it is something qualitatively different from other forms of exercise. It makes more sense to consider all exercise forms as representing degrees of emphasis along a continuum ranging from “integrated to unintegrated.” The issue is whether the exerciser consciously, deliberately and with some effort brings mental awareness to the “here and now” experience of exercising or playing a sport. A weightlifter can be very mindful (focusing breath, concentrating, clearing her mind), and someone doing yoga can be quite “unintegrated” in thinking about his date last evening as he ritualistically goes through his asanas.” Others would reply, however, that an “unintegrated” yoga practitioner would not be practicing yoga in the way it was intended, so the question arises: Would that person have an authentic practice? By contrast, an “unintegrated” weightlifter would still be practicing legitimate weight training. In other words, the mindful component is not essential to the authenticity of weight training.
Keeping an Open Mind
Clearly, we still need to learn more about the “mind-body state of mind.” In 2000, researchers at the Stanford University Prevention Research Center reviewed existing studies of mind-body therapies in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders with implications for the elderly and found “a dearth of randomized controlled research conducted in the U.S.” Researchers concluded that “there is a lack of studies with which to determine appropriate dosage and understand the mechanisms by which many of the practices work. Anecdotal evidence, some controlled research, clinical observation, as well as the cost effectiveness and lack of side effects of the mind-body treatments make further investigation a high priority.”
La Forge, moreover, points out that “one contaminant in research evaluating the addition of a mind-body component to conventional exercise is that when exercise is somewhat hard, perhaps approaching lactate threshold, the subject produces a number of metabolites, such as lactic acid, and other substances that “wash out” some of the potential cognitive effects of a mindful or meditative component.” This is a significant point, since mind-body exercise, by its very definition, is inseparable from its cognitive component, which is the key to creating the beneficial physiological effect. “It needs to be acknowledged that all action involves some form of mental activity–and therefore can be hypothesized as having “major to minor” impact on cognitive/psychological processes,” argues Gavin.
“If deliberate and intentional focusing of mind (while exercising) on breath, body scans, mantras or immediate experience can be seen as a key ingredient to mind-body exercise, then we need to stop creating a hierarchy of “more” or “less” mind-body exercises, and begin teaching people what to do with their minds in whatever they are doing.” Perhaps, as we learn more about exactly what they should be doing, that will happen more. This assumes, however, that all people seek a mind-body integrative experience, which may or may not be the case.
The future for teaching professionals of both mind-body and conventional exercise is particularly exciting. Researchers continue to unravel and identify with greater precision the exact relationship of our mental state to our physical well-being. At the same time, researchers are discovering more about the importance of physical activity for our mental well-being. The time for a true understanding of the complexity of the merger of mind and body is upon us. In the words of Zen Buddhist philosopher D.T. Suzuki, “Body and mind are not two and not one.” -Shirley Archer, JD, MA, CMT, is a health and wellness educator, an international presenter, and a certified yoga and Pilates trainer based at the Health Improvement Program at Stanford Prevention Resource Center.
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