Everyone knows of the many benefits of exercise. The news is all around us, from health segments on your evening news to the covers of glamour magazines. Exercise is health, and great expense is directed toward achieving it. From the latest elliptical machine to some ab-crunching gadget, diet books to weight-watching meal delivery service, fitness sells.
Anyone living in the modern world has heard of the benefits of exercise, from improved heart function to more stamina on the square dance, from clearer cognition to better weight maintenance. Then why don’t more people exercise? Many believe they are unable to exercise because they cannot jog or lift weights. Some common conditions that make it challenging to pursue physical fitness can include arthritic or damaged joints, neuro-degenerative disorders (such as Muscular Dystrophy), even limb loss.
What is exercise? If you truly study the concept, it means to physically exert oneself, the contracture of various muscle groups. But the muscles crossing any joint don’t actually have to move the joint. An exercise that involves no motion is termed an isometric one, in which you are tensing a muscle group, without any motion. As you can tighten your stomach muscles, you can also tense your biceps without bending your elbow.
Many alternative forms of exercise are available.
For example, tai chi is practiced by millions across the globe. Studies to date demonstrate its health benefits in both physical and spiritual directions. Originally a form of martial arts, it is now practiced also for its meditative aspect, as well as for promoting improved heart health. Gardening and walking are simple activities that many enjoy. They are also good alternatives to traditional exercise. Do not overlook them just because they are easy, or because you enjoy them. If you do any of these gentle exercises regularly, you will improve your overall health.
You can find yoga in most every Y and community center in the U.S. Yoga practice may build strength, fitness, flexibility, and even enhance self-awareness and your mind-body connection. Hundreds of different “schools” of yoga exist, with most typically including some breathing exercises, meditation, and assuming certain postures, also known as asanas, or poses. These are intended to stretch and flex various muscle groups. Many appreciate yoga’s benefits in disease prevention, i.e. health maintenance. Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy.
When it comes to being physically active, sometimes you need to think outside the box. Seek out activities requiring movement in some form, even if it might not typically be considered exercise. The activity must simply raise one’s heart rate or require physical exertion. For healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. If someone is participating in more vigorous activity, DHHS recommends 75 minutes a week. A combination is best.
Being physically inactive is not only abnormal, it is also pathological because the old adage “use it or lose it” is really true.
Our bodies evolved to require the stresses inherent in physical activity to grow and function properly. Our bodies never evolved to cope with persistent inactivity. In prehistoric times, it was essential for survival to be physically active. It would be fair to say it is part of our evolutionary tree, our deepest roots. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherer types who walked miles every day, along with all the climbing and digging. Even farmers had to toil long and hard, although agriculture certainly transformed our diets.
Exercise, in some way, shape, or form, is vital for developing a strong and healthy circulatory system, durable bones safe from osteoporosis, a vigorous immune system, and a properly functioning brain. Almost every organ and body system benefits from regular exercise and is compromised by its absence. Physical inactivity is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. It is now obvious our lack of motion, in a very real sense, has contributed to the increasing prevalence of high blood sugar levels and pre-diabetes.
Modern times have transformed our activities tremendously. Few residents of modern society perform physical activity, and more rare is the job requiring physical labor. Many have little interest in exercising in their off hours. Yet the benefits are real. Men who are unfit but then improve their fitness lower their risk of a heart attack by about 50%.
Obviously, I feel required to issue a warning. If you have any severe health problems, you would do well to consult with your doctor. Describe your plans. Unless you have an extremely serious medical condition, your health care provider should laud your efforts. Exercise is good medicine, and for just about everything. A pertinent question, of course, is how much? And what kind? There is some form of exercise for everyone; it’s just a matter of finding out what works for you.
What really determines which of us attains fitness as an adult?
Or becomes obese, and develops diabetes? How much control over your fitness do you have? With such immutable ingredients as one’s own genetic constitution, over which we clearly have no control, we all have inherited strengths and limitations. But, for the time being, you have whatever genes were passed on to you. Make the best of them and make the best you possible.
We know fixing our health care system will be difficult. Yet, there is an inexpensive, readily available answer, and one highly effective in prevention. Utilizing this method will even help rein in our skyrocketing health care costs. Start exercising. As a culture, we need to, certainly more than at current levels. It is what we have evolved to do. So get fit by getting active!
Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.