Exercise is considered to be one of the most important health-promoting behaviors. One of the 3 "pillars of health" that prevent major chronic diseases. Exercise promotes all-over wellness and protects against mental illness.
Benefits of Exercise
Most of us know that exercise has general health benefits; healthy circulation, weight management, protection against bone loss, to name a few. But little is said about the benefits of exercise in maintaining brain health.
Chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, is a major contributor to brain disorders such as Alzheimer's, depression, even possibly bipolar disorder and psychotic disorders.
Oxidative stress accumulates in visceral fat (the fat on internal organs) and so is a constant source of pro-inflammatory agents into the bloodstream. Exercise releases agents into the bloodstream that clear up this byproduct of oxidative stress.
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and thereby promotes nerve growth. This results in better concentration, mood and learning ability.
Overcoming Barriers to Exercise
There's no shortage of things to get in the way of exercising, but it's so important. Do what you can to eliminate/ reduce barriers in your life.
responsibilities: parenting, work, school activities, housework. Include your kids if possible; try their activities. Find something that's close to work, or en route in normal daily travels, let your kids do their own homework while you go to the gym, cut corners with house work, recruit help from family members, let things go till later.
beliefs: it's hard/uncomfortable, not important, it's too late for me to get in shape. Give yourself credit for anything you do, whether it's parking farther from the entrance, a 20 minute walk on your lunch break. Try things in small doses, modify activities for comfort.
Fatigue: You feel too tired. Normal day to day routines can leave us feeling tired, but when feeling tired is from stress, exercise might be the best cure. Especially in combination with drinking enough water, exercise can re-energize and refresh. Exercise can clear your head and help you be more efficient at work.
poor fitness level: obesity, arthritis,old injuries. Build slowly, cross train with strength and flexibility building activities.
Injuries: Old or recent injuries can limit ability to participate and cause loss of body confidence. Rest Ice Compression Elevation initially. Begin range of motion as soon as swelling goes down. Give the injury plenty of time to heal and focus on rebuilding confidence in the injured area.
self-image: weight, ability level, sense of competence, comfort with body. Start with activities within your comfort level with similar people, bring a sense of humor and encouragement, set short and long term goals.
medical conditions: conditions that could worsen with certain activity or caution needed. Discuss ideas with your doctor, condition slowly, listen to your body.
What is exercise and what counts?
These authors define exercise and physical activity as: Structured exercise training could consist of aerobic exercise, resistance training, or a combination of both. In contrast to structured exercise training, physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscle contractions resulting in increased energy expenditure.
Anything counts. Walking further across the parking lot, going to garage sales, swinging on a swingset in the park, volunteering to walk dogs at the humane society. Strive for one hour each day doing SOMETHING. Just get started.
Some examples of simple but fun exercise:
Swing on a swingset in the park.
Walk on the beach in water up to your knees.
Walk in the sand.
Go off the diving board.
Go for a bike ride.
Practice pitching a baseball.
Vacuum (not fun but functional)
Play racquetball or hit a tennis ball against a wall.
Learn to skate. Adult group and individual lessons are available. Find a class here.
Push yourself, just a little. Vygotsky who wrote about play and learning talked about the Zone of Proximal Development and a task called scaffolding. The Zone of Proximal Development is a range of ability that is about 10% beyond an individual's current ability. Scaffolding is arranging tasks in a sequence that supports growth in ability. Set up a plan for yourself to build your ability by setting goals. For more information on goals and goal setting, click here.
Modify activities, build yourself up, protect yourself. You can take more risks if you're wearing appropriate protective wear. You can lower your risk of injury by conditioning, you can adapt the activity. I once saw a young man on crutches the day that the skate park in Ann Arbor opened. He was in the bowl trying different moves on a skateboard supported by his crutches. I don't know if he stuck with it, but if he did, he would have probably come up with some unique moves and gotten quite good.
Self-determination theory states that motivation is on a continuum from extrinsic to intrinsic with a range of incentives in between. Extrinsic incentives, such as rewards or requirements, work well for jump-starting a new routine but need to be replaced with more intrinsic incentives such as having fun, feeling better, increased competence, sense of belonging. The more intrinsic or self-determined, the more likely the goal will be met or behavior sustained.
Identify long term life goals and choose exercise accordingly. Set short term goals that will help you build up to your goal.
Try sampling a variety of activities, giving some a second or third try before settling on one or two.
Make it fun. Play creates a state of absorbed involvement said to trigger a relaxation response similar to meditation. Research shows that fun will induce an individual to exertion that is longer and more intense than if the activity is not fun.
Caring for your body
To get the most out of any exercise program, you need to be in optimal condition. Here are a few rules I recommend for whatever you take up.
1. cross train. Do weight training and stretches at least once a week as part of your routine. Do something that complements your main form of exercise, gets at whatever tends to be overlooked.
2. Warm up. Three minutes of aerobic activity followed by stretching and a gradual build up to peak activity will help prevent injuries. A warm-down followed by more stretches is a good idea.
3. Eat well. Foods rich in vitamins and antioxidants will supply your body with the materials needed to repair and build connective tissue. Avoid foods that contribute to inflammation by raising blood sugar. Check out recipes on this page for healthy eating ideas. Eat a light snack 30-60 minutes before an activity.
4. Avoid weekend quarterback syndrome. Train consistently with rest periods. Condition more days than not and allow yourself an occasional day off.
5. Guard your sleep schedule. Avoid being out too late on weekends if you have to get up early during the week. Feeling tired is one of the biggest deterrents to exercise. Also, sleep is needed for tissue repair and to protect muscles and tendons from excess wear and tear.