We all know that exercise is good for us. Unfortunately, most think of exercise as the way to achieve our ideal weight; the way to have the body that we have always dreamed of. There are, of course, many benefits to exercise. Interestingly enough, weight loss is not usually one of them. The biggest impact one can make in tipping (or not tipping) the scale is to eat a healthy, whole-foods diet with reasonable portions sizes.
Let’s consider some of the actual benefits of exercise:
1. Cardio-Vascular – getting the heart pumping faster also gets the blood flowing. This reduces the risk of heart disease and is, in fact, the key to maintaining heart health.
2. Bone health – Weight-bearing exercise prevents bone loss. Anything that makes you work against gravity – such as hiking, jogging, dancing, tennis, weight-training, climbing stairs, push-ups, squats and lunges will help keep bones strong.
3. Immunity – our lymphatic system, which is our immune system, works with our breathing and with muscle movement. The more you move, the less likely you are to suffer from colds or the flu. Be aware; however, that immune function is temporarily diminished after intense, extended workouts (i.e. 2 hours or more)
4. Joint and back pain – keeping movement in our joints is essential in reducing the effects of osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease). Obviously, the more mobility in a joint, the less stiffness. This is true of our muscles as well. Low-impact aerobics, swimming, yoga and tai-chi are all great fun and keep our joints and muscles supple.
5. Anxiety and Depression – There has been a more than 400% increase in the use of prescription antidepressants since 1988; yet exercise has been proven to be just as effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise calms the neurons in our brains by releasing the neurotransmitter GABA. This helps us deal with stress better and is also helpful in getting a good night sleep. Having said that, exercise right before bed can act as a stimulant for some, making it harder to get to sleep initially.
6. Balance – especially needed as we age; but useful at every age. While all of the exercises mentioned above can help with balance, it is a great idea to add specific balancing exercises to one’s routine. Test yourself. Can you stand on one foot and for how long? Hold onto a chair or the wall while you practice, if necessary.
7. Preventing muscle loss – If you can’t carry groceries or open a jar or push yourself up out of chair, it will be hard to maintain any kind of independence as we age. Again, weight-lifting or weight-bearing exercises are best to keep from losing muscle. It is also essential to consume adequate daily protein in order to have the building blocks from which muscles are made. 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men has been recommended in the past. We are learning that seniors should consider almost doubling these amounts to avoid accelerated muscle loss.
As you read through the article, hopefully you noticed different types of exercise mentioned. Doing the same thing all the time is not as beneficial as mixing things up. Some days your exercise should be more intense. It is just as important to have exercises that are lower in impact and concentrating on balance and stretching. Make it fun and most importantly – find your WHY! It will help motivate you on those days when you would rather do anything else.