Regular, systematic, vigorous physical activity strengthens all of the major body systems and, along with diet is the foundation of good health.
1. Feel better
The most immediate benefit of physical activity is that you feel better. The mind and other body systems are closely connected. What goes on in your mind affects what goes on in other body systems and vice versa. If you want to feel better, start moving with vigour on a regular and systematic basis.
Whether you’re suffering from metabolic, musculo-skeletal or psychological dysfunction, physical activity of the right dosage is going to make you feel better.
When it comes to the black dog of clinical depression physical activity has a greater beneficial effect after one year than a year’s supply of Prozac. (Find that hard to believe? Read psychiatrist David Servan-Shrieber’s book Healing Without Freud or Prozac or John Abramson’s book, Overdosed America.
Abramson refers to depression as the ‘exercise deficiency disease’. He goes on to say that ‘short-term treatment with an antidepressant medication relieves symptoms but appears to decrease the likelihood of patients making the positive life changes necessary to prevent symptoms from recurring.’ If that’s not good enough for you go to the journal, Psychosomatic Medicine 62:633-638, 2000 and read the results of the study ‘Exercise Treatment for Major Depression’.
The feeling good experts haven’t yet worked out how to prescribe exercise with any accuracy. So, for the first time in the annals of medicine, go to the Aerabyte (http://www.aerabyte.com) website and see for yourself for yourself an exercise prescription that includes frequency, time and intensity – based on heart rate.
Here are my aerobic activity recommendations for people with any body system dysfunction, particularly obesity, depression, high blood pressure and diabetes.
2. Stimulate the elimination system
The main players in the body’s elimination system are the lungs, perspiratory system, lymphatic and blood systems, liver, digestive system and the kidneys.
Cool down an over stimulated sympathetic nervous system
We live in an age when more and more people have over-stimulated sympathetic nervous systems, particularly people cooped up in offices all day. The fight response that starts with the mind and then works through the endocrine system produces muscle tension, constricts blood vessels and alters a range of body functions.
3. Overcome insulin resistance
The major cause of adult onset diabetes is insulin resistance in the muscles due to lack of regular, vigorous physical activity. Whilst physical activity will not cure a dysfunctional pancreas it will go a long way toward enabling diabetics to manage type II diabetes without medication.
4. Cool down and over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system
When you get stressed, the sympathetic nervous system pumps our adrenaline and cortisol. Between them they have a deleterious effect on all manner of body systems. Blood vessels constrict – your blood pressure goes up. Blood flows from your gut and your brain to your skeletal muscles getting you ready for flight or fight.
Aerobic exercise washes these chemicals out of your system.
5. Warm up an under-stimulated parasympathetic nervous system
The gentle exercises, yoga, tai chi and walking have the effect of stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and causing muscles to relax and blood vessels dilate. Endocrine function is restored to more normal levels. You feel better
6. Strengthen the immune system
Vigorous physical activity stimulates corticosteroid production and the increase of white blood cells. When the immune system is strong, you are more resistant to colds and flu. You have an enhanced ability to deal with allergic reactions and you’re less at risk of cancer.
7. Lower incidence of high blood pressure
Elevated blood pressure is directly related to motion starvation. For the greater proportion of people, training aerobically, with vigour for 40 minutes each day will restore blood pressure to normal.
8. Increased aerobic efficiency and capacity
You can expect a rapid improvement in aerobic efficiency once you start to train.
9. Reduced risk of heart attack
Cardiac dysfunction usually comes at the end of a long chain of metabolic dysfunctions. The status of all these systems is improved by regular, systematic and vigorous physical activity.
10. Clears the respiratory tract
Ever person with a regular aerobic training program knows that physical activity has a wonderful effect on clearing the respiratory tract. One wonders how it gets ‘cleaned up’ under normal circumstances without the stimulation of the lungs and warming of the body.
11. Reduced blood sugar and cholesterol levels
A key ingredient in a glucose and cholesterol lowering program is regular and systematic vigorous exercise.
12. Stimulates the bowel
Anyone who runs or exercises with vigour knows that the digestive system works better. One has to wonder at where the gas discharged during activity goes when there is no activity!
13. Fewer headaches
There is an epidemic of headaches in this country. It is the most popular symptom of poor health that people experience (and ignore). Headaches have many causes. However, what we know is that people who are fit and healthy don’t get them. If you want to have fewer headaches, do what fit and healthy people. They train.
14. Eat less
Strange as it may sound, when you exercise regularly, systematically and vigorously you are less inclined to overeat and/or search out those extra high fat/starch/sugar snacks.
15. Reduction in body fat
It is a tough assignment in an affluent society expecting to stay at your ideal weight without a regular fitness training program. Once the activity level drops you can be certain that sooner or later you’ll start stacking on the weight. A reasonable body fat for a man is less than 20% fat, and for women less than 30%.
16. Ease musculo-skeletal dysfunction
In affluent societies there is an epidemic of musculo-skeletal dysfunction caused by a skeleton that’s out of alignment. It‘s muscles that pull bones out of alignment and it’s muscles that can pull them bask into alignment. All you need is the right set of flexibility and strength exercises.
17. More oxygen to the brain
Physical activity ensures that your brain gets more oxygen. You feel better.
18. More energy
There is a universal law which says that if you want more energy you need to use more up.
19. Stimulates the endocrine system to release of a range of ‘good’ chemicals
When you exercise with reasonable vigour for about 30 minutes or more, your endocrine system clicks into gear. One of the better known effects is the release of endorphins (that is, naturally occurring opiates) from the brain brings about a naturally occurring high: – you feel better. You have more energy and vitality.
20. Increased libido
Regular vigorous physical activity has a wonderful effect on improving libido. A lowered libido is a symptom of poor general health. It is dramatic evidence that a number of body systems are not working properly, from the head down. Increase your aerobic fitness and you’ll end up lean as a greyhound and toey as a Roman sandal!
21. Slows down development of osteoporosis
Weight bearing exercise is essential for maintaining and increasing bone density.
22. Sleep better
When you are vigorously physically active you need less sleep and you sleep better.
23. Break down the emotional and physical vicious cycle
Whereas it is widely recognised that emotional states affect the body (psychosomatic), it is also the case that physiological states affect the emotions (somatopsychic). This is why one of the best things you can do when you’re depressed and miserable is to exercise. The main benefit of physical activity is that you feel better.
24. Looking after your Self
Being involved in regular physical activity is the most potent symbol of your ability to give back to your Self.
If you can learn the discipline of regularly and systematically exercising your body, it stands you in good stead for disciplining yourself to do other things in your life.
You experience an elevated mood state when you interrupt your normal daily routine with physical activity. It’s like having your own little escape from reality
27. Social engagement
One of the great benefits of physical activity is being with other people. People often feel better when they are doing things in the company of other people. The secret of many a successful fitness program is having the mutual support of a buddy.
Exercising on your own provides an opportunity for introspection. As Thoreau said about his walks in the forest, ‘I never found the companion that was as companionable as solitude.’