A critical component of any wellness program is that of regular exercise. There, I said it. Now let’s talk about it. In order to maintain the integrity of the body, physical movement is essential.
Exercise Is Critical
Exercise is necessary. Motion is life. The quantity and quality of exercise can be a significant factor in determining the overall effectiveness of any attempt to improve the quality of life. That said the same rules apply to choosing exercise as apply to selecting a dietary approach. Once you’ve given your attention to the intention of exercising, you can use the other tools touched on throughout my various articles to adopt and refine an approach that will work for you.
The foundation for your program should consist of something that interests you. Choose something that you enjoy, something that you can incorporate and commit to consistently. Once again, anything is better than nothing when it comes to regularly exposing your body to some form of movement however, there are four characteristics you should look for in any well-rounded approach to exercise.
Elements of an Effective Exercise Program
While evaluating potential exercise programs, be sure to look for things that contain elements of strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance. The strength component will ensure a stable ratio of calorie burning lean muscle tissue, while maintaining healthy bone density.
Flexibility will help to reduce the accumulation of muscle imbalances, which produce undue structural stresses on the major joints of the body. Endurance (or cardio) will provide increased oxygen and removal of waste products from all the cells in the body by augmenting circulation. It will also help to accelerate the delivery of vital nutrients, while encouraging the use of stored fat for energy.
Most importantly, it will increase your resistance to heart attacks and strokes by strengthening your cardiovascular system. Additional benefits include a reduction in food cravings, improvement in hormonal balance, increased energy, and a well-toned, aesthetically pleasing, lean physique.
Balance will help to provide stimulation to the fine stabilizing muscle groups that tend to be ignored during daily activities and routine exercise programs. Stimulating these muscle groups will contribute to equilibrium and coordination. Functional muscle strength will improve such that your activities of daily living can be performed with ease.
All of these goals can be achieved with some combination of interval training and strength training. As always, changing your routine periodically will discourage boredom while encouraging gains in vitality, energy, mood enhancement, and sleep. The laws governing exercise physiology are universal and can be applied to anyone’s situation, regardless of age or current physical condition. They just need to be adapted to your specific set of circumstances.
The Benefits of Walking
Perhaps one of the simplest and most beneficial of all possible exercise choices is that of walking. Remember, one of the goals in developing a comprehensive program for longevity is the greatest return for the least investment. If a little voice says, “Go for a walk,” it might be your brain telling you what it needs.
Two studies reveal how the simple act of taking a walk each day may offer significant protection from a major health problem. Cognitive decline is a symptom that signals the possible onset of Alzheimer’s disease (the leading cause of dementia among aging adults). The Journal of the American Medical Association published two studies that address the effects of light exercise on cognitive decline in older women and dementia in elderly men.
Harvard researchers conducted the first study. Questionnaires were used to assess physical activity levels and exercise patterns for more than 18,700 women, aged seventy to eighty-one years. Questionnaires covered a minimum of nine years, and were followed up with two telephone interviews with each subject to assess cognitive health measures, such as memory and attention span.
Researchers noted much better cognitive function and less cognitive decline were both strongly associated with “long-term regular physical activity, including walking.” They found that women who walked two to three hours at an easy pace each week “performed significantly better on these tests of cognition than women who walked less than one hour per week.”
Even less cognitive decline was noted in women who walked six or more hours each week. These results parallel another benefit of regular walking among women.
A previous six-year breast cancer study that included data on more than 74,000 women over the age of fifty, found that women who exercise regularly have lower breast cancer rates. Only a couple of hours of brisk walking each week may provide enough exercise to reduce breast cancer risk.
The second study looked at the association between walking exercise and the risk of dementia in men aged seventy-one to ninety-three. They collected three years of exercise data on more than 2,200 men.
At the outset of the study, none of the men had been diagnosed with dementia or conditions that would prevent them from walking (like stroke or Parkinson’s disease). Over several years, two follow-up exams were conducted to assess neurological health. Almost 160 of the men developed dementia during the study period.
Results show that men who walked between a quarter-mile and one mile per day had a lower risk of dementia than those who walked less than a quarter-mile each day. In this study, more was clearly better because men who walked less than a quarter-mile per day had nearly twice the risk of dementia, compared to those who walked more than two miles each day.
Why Does This Work?
What is it about taking a daily walk that might prevent cognitive decline and dementia? It could have something to do with cholesterol’s association to Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research has suggested that high cholesterol levels may increase the level of a certain protein that is abnormally processed by people with Alzheimer’s disease. This abnormal processing sets off a chain reaction that causes a peptide to accumulate and form tangles that can kill brain cells.
A Georgetown University Medical Center study showed how high cholesterol levels significantly increase the rate at which these tangles are formed. In addition, the researchers concluded that high cholesterol also increases the production of a different protein that transports cholesterol out of the cell. And while that’s a normal function, in this situation, it results in an unfortunate increase of free cholesterol, which has a toxic effect on nerve cells.
Of course, daily exercise is one of the best and safest ways to control cholesterol levels. None of the researchers speculated on why regular exercise through walking might have helped prevent cognitive decline and dementia, but it seems likely that reducing cholesterol levels may have come into play.
Remember, the functional integrity of the nervous system is dictated by use, not age. Furthermore, the simple process of nutrients in and waste products out maintains the viability of these and every cell in every system of the body.
Remember, everything works, and there are no panaceas. However, there are some universal guidelines that apply to everyone. Compliance with a system that works is critical when attempting to resolve issues involving physical fitness.
Research shows that regular physical activity can promote psychological well-being and aid in reducing feelings of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. On a day that you’re feeling a bit tired, down, or stressed, consider taking a brisk walk.
Leading a physically active lifestyle can also help maintain a healthy weight and prevent weight gain. Balance the calories you take in as food and beverages with the calories that you use through physical activity.
People with higher levels of physical activity are at lower risk for developing chronic disease. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of or help manage chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and osteoporosis. It can also help prevent or reduce falls.
In summary, when evaluating potential exercise programs, be sure to look for things that contain elements of strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance.
- Motion is life.
- Exercise is essential.
- Choose something you like and can commit to.
- Cross-train regularly.
- Look for exercise that combines flexibility, strength, balance, and endurance.
- Take time to relax and recover.
Exercise 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 an activity you enjoy, and go for it. If you get bored, try something new. If you’re moving, it counts!
Regular exercise can also improve your mood, combat chronic diseases, help you manage your weight, strengthen your heart and lungs, promote better sleep, put the spark back into your sex life and even – be fun!