Welcome to the third in my series of blogs on good health. Again, the necessary ingredients for me have been a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and stress management. This blog is about exercise.
There are approximately 640 skeletal muscles and 206 bones in the human body. Recent research by scientists explains that the human body was built to outrun most animals, even horses when it comes to long distance. Apparently, our ancestors used to chase prey long distances over the African savannah until the prey became over heated and collapsed. Long distance movement of our bodies is in our genes and evolutionary history. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/health/27well.html. See also the research article by Lieberman and Bramble that can be linked to from the New York Times article link provided here.
Notwithstanding this amazing physical capability, most of us sit on average 8 hours a day at our jobs, we sit during the ride to and from home, sit at dinner, sit to watch television and then go to bed. My guess is that we are generally sedentary for at least 20 hours a day. Research shows that even those of us who exercise every day are still at risk of reducing our life spans from all of that sitting. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/05/02/are-you-sitting-yourself-to-death.
Obviously our world is much different from that of our ancestors. Most of us pay the bills and feed our families by sitting in an office chair a good part of the day rather than chasing antelopes across the savannah. But, we’re still designed to move. It reminds me of what it would be like to have a high performance sports car. If I had one, I wouldn’t keep it parked in the garage all of the time. I’d want to take it out on the road and drive it, because that’s what it was built to do.
That’s why when I refer to exercise I’m not only talking about scheduling an hour or so a day to move my body, but finding ways to move throughout the day. I walk instead of ride whenever possible. For example, I work in the city. Once I’m there, I travel on foot to wherever I need to go. Not only do I get to move during the work day, but get some fresh air and avoid the crowded subway system. It’s a win-win for me. When I’m in my office, I always make a point of getting up every one to two hours to walk around. I work on the fourth floor so my routine is to take the stairs down and then back up several times a day. It takes all of five minutes and I’m still working as I do it, because my brain stays engaged on whatever work problem or issue it is that I’m dealing with. My spouse and I have a treadmill and recumbent bike in our home. Instead of sitting on the couch in the evening to watch television or read, we often bike or walk while doing so. On weekends, we hike, swim, bike and paddle. The bottom line is that I move instead of sit whenever I’m able to create or seize the opportunity to do so.
As for high intensity exercise, my body craves and needs it. I build into my schedule at least an hour to an hour and a half a day, six days a week, of cardio and strength exercises. Among my regular routine, I run, box the heavy and speed bags, lift weights, use exercise DVDs such as those by Jillian Michaels, use the elliptical or treadmill, or ride the recumbent bike. I also do a lot of the tried and true exercises that most of us learned as kids that require no equipment and little time investment. Things like pushups and pull-ups pay dividends. I covet this time to myself to get lost in the activity of just moving, sweating and pushing my body. That’s why I keep it fresh with lots of variety and exercise alone. I’m as disciplined about doing my daily exercise as I am brushing my teeth or sleeping. My body needs it to be healthy and stay in good working order for hopefully a long life. I don’t view exercise as an extra thing to do if I have time or feel like it. I make the time no matter what, especially when I don’t feel like exercising.
The reason that I’m so disciplined about it is because exercise has made surviving a world filled with loads of stresses so much easier physically, emotionally and mentally. Not only has it made my body strong and fit it helps wash away the stresses of the day and brings me calm and clarity. Anxiety and depression run in my family and like to nip at my heels. I keep it in its place with a healthy diet and lots of exercise. Research shows that exercise changes body chemistry in very healthy ways including calming our moods and even helping us to think better. See the following articles on brain health and exercise. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=all. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=all.
I know firsthand what it feels like to come home from work all stressed out and 20 minutes into a run feel total bliss. My mind calms as it’s flooded with the endorphins produced by running. In this state of total relaxation, the stresses and worries that I carry around fade away. It is sweet mindful quiet as my trusty body carries me along sweating out toxins and worries while making me stronger physically, emotionally and mentally. I guess you could say that I’m addicted. I’d have to agree.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not an expert in physical fitness and can only speak to what has worked for me. My advice should you want to get started with your own exercise routine is to have a conversation with your health care provider, consider making an appointment with a trainer, or maybe join a gym. Exercise is supposed to make your body better, not worse. So you’ll want to make sure that whatever exercise you desire to do, you know how to do it properly in order to avoid injury. It’s also important to understand the difference between the pain that comes from a muscle sore from finally being worked and pain from an injury. And, don’t beat yourself up if there are things you can’t do. Do what works for you and your body. Find a way to safely exercise in spite of any physical limitations you might have. I suspect that my days of being able to run are probably limited because of a permanent back injury that I suffered years ago. It already limits my running. I’ve gradually started to incorporate other types of exercise into my routine because when the day comes that I can’t run safely, I’ll do something else. No matter what, I’ll keep moving. I move to live happy and healthy.