Shake off the political blues and holiday stress by getting your move on.
Lets call this the perfect storm of reasons to begin exercising.
Not only have we just barely survived the most contentious election of our lifetime, leaving people —check one or all of the following — depressed, angry, suspicious and/or gleeful, most of which can easily lead to overindulging, and we’re now in the midst of the season to overindulge.
And while it may seem that I’m focusing on weight, I’m not. I am focusing on the almost miraculous ability of exercise to reduce stress and appreciably elevate your mood.
Exercise as medicine
Reducing stress and improving your mood via exercise are accomplished by the increased blood flow to the brain, which creates new blood vessels as well as triggering the release of chemicals that improve our moods and even reduce pain.
Don’t throw that Prozac away quite yet, but consider that recent research does indeed link exercise to less depression and increased facility with memory and learning, two of the brain’s basic functions. Scientists are so convinced of its benefits, they now say that the very best way to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s is to adopt a regular habit of exercising.
And that’s not all. While the concept of exercise as medicine goes back to the time before medicine (think Hippocrates in 400 B.C.) it is only recently that science has taken a very hard look at how exercise actually impacts the body.
They know, for example, that exercise protects telomores, which are the minuscule caps that protect our chromosomes, actually slowing the aging of our cells.
Scientists also know that exercise is very good at repairing what might be wrong with our bodies. The increased blood flow caused by aerobic exercise helps our muscles stay healthy, which in turn creates a whole bucket of benefits — less fatigue and more stability and overall ability to function in off-the-couch activities.
That same blood flow assists in healing a host of injuries, from that cut finger to a bum knee.
A massive study on the horizon
And soon we’ll know more.
The National Institutes of Health plan to begin a big and bold study in 2017 that will take a group of 3,000 sedentary people of all ages and engage them in an exercise program.
Before and after they exercise, the group will have blood, muscles and fat tested. This will shed more light on just how exercise changes the body.
And, as in all efficacious testing, a control group of non-exercisers will be tracked as well.
The scope of this study is so broad, scientists believe it will conclude with information that leads them to understand just how exercise impacts every molecule in the body.
Hopefully, that information will lead to changes that will make a huge dent in what is being called, “exercise deficit disorder.”
Gym classes have been cut from school curriculums. Elementary school children are particularly at risk — only about 15 percent of schools require physical exercise or PE at the three-times-a-week level that many of us experienced growing up and what would go far to meet minimum requirements for fitness.
And, children are not encouraged to engage in outdoor play. It's no surprise that obesity rates have climbed every year since 1999.
What we do know
So what do researchers now know and recommend to get the basic benefits from exercise?
The minimum amount of aerobic exercise each of us needs per week is 150 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to join a gym to achieve that.
Break it up. That’s three 50 minute walks with Fido where you lead and he follows. The pace will be good for the dog, too.
Living in a dog-free zone? Think gardening, as in raking or digging with a shovel or pushing the lawn mower. Or, housework. Dragging the mop across the tile floors or vigorous vacuuming are good. All of the activities that cause the heart to beat faster and you to break a sweat count.
Spend time each week in some sort of strength training. Three-times-per-week is ideal. Why? Strong bones and muscles prevent falls, illness and pain from arthritis.
Now, I know many of you are thinking about how you hate to lift weights or you don’t want to — God forbid — build six-pack abs. But as with cardio exercise, be creative.
Don’t take the offer from the Publix check-out person to take your groceries to the car. Do it yourself and lift those bags in and out of the trunk at the store and at home. That’s weight lifting.
Other exercises like pilates or yoga (down load an app) require you to lift your own body, which counts, too.
And, when all else fails, come on over to my house. I’ve got a 45 pound senior dog who needs to be carried in and out of the house several times a day. I’m sure hoping that counts!
About the author
Kristine Nickel is a marketing communications consultant and former marketing and public relations executive. For more than 30 years, she has relieved her stress by writing features for publications across the country.