How sad that we’ve learned to associate exercise almost exclusively with weight loss. Sure, we may know in a vague way that it promotes a better quality of life or helps prevent cancer or heart disease. The truth is that exercise can help improve not only whatever ails us, but contribute to longevity as well.
So say the experts in “The new science of exercise” by Mandy Oaklander (Time, 9/12/16, pp 54-60). The good news is that, though the recommendation still stays at “150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly and twice-weekly muscle strengthening,” shorter intervals—10 minutes at a time!—seem to be just as beneficial as longer ones. Here are some of the ways that activity keeps us healthy:
- Got pain? Depressed? “Increased blood flow to the brain creates new blood vessels and triggers the release of chemicals that dull pain and lighten mood.”
- Wish you had more energy? “Moving quickly makes the heart pump more blood to the body’s tissues, including the muscles…helping them better withstand fatigue.”
- Want to reduce your chances of getting osteoporosis? “Repeated weight-bearing contractions make muscles grow and put pressure on bones, increasing their density.”
- Seeking to slow down aging? “Exercise may protect telomeres, the tiny caps on the ends of chromosomes” which “appears to slow the aging of cells.”
Exercise isn’t simply doing a “workout.” Anything that keeps your body moving counts: grocery shopping and pushing around a cart laden with food, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, gardening such as digging or pulling weeds, shoveling snow, housecleaning, and even fidgeting or doing the opposite of what your parents and teachers told you to do, sitting still. Think movement, not necessarily some formal routine. Also consider how to change your beliefs (they’re just thoughts, after all) to make being active something pleasurable in your life (hint: Stop saying, “I hate to exercise.”).
Because humans tend to focus on short-term rather than long-term benefits such as health improvement, you may read the above and not feel much motivation to become more active. Here are two great short-term motivators. First, after you’re done with an activity, notice your energy level and how good your body feels (assuming you didn’t overdo). Second, stop and enjoy feeling proud that you took great care of yourself.