Exercise Benefits Body, Mind

By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, March 3, 2015 –

At the beginning of the year, gyms and fitness centers are filled with individuals who have made resolutions to get healthy. Studies show that more than half of these people will have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions by June.

Exercise should be a way of life — not just about losing weight or making a resolution that falls by the wayside. Here are some ways in which exercise contributes to a healthy body and mind:

1. Exercise helps decrease disease and other health conditions.

Regular physical activity can help control or prevent a number of conditions. Exercise can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, keep blood pressure in check and lower cholesterol levels. Research also shows that just 2 to 2½ hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week can help control glucose levels and lower rates of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Studies also show that physical activity is associated with the reduced risk of colon and breast cancers.

2. Exercise improves mood and boosts energy.

Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. It helps produce endorphins, brain chemicals that act as natural pain killers and elevate mood. You might have heard the term “runner’s high” before, which is a feeling of optimism, relaxation, and energy after a good workout. This high is the result of increased endorphins.

3. Exercise can improve brain function.

Research has shown that exercise impacts the brain in numerous ways. The hippocampus, the part of the brain essential for learning and forming memories, is highly activated during exercise. Recent studies have also shown that with regular exercise, white matter in your brain becomes more fibrous and compact. The more compact your white matter, the faster and more efficiently your brain functions.

There is also evidence that regular physical exercise can improve cognitive function (a person’s ability to process thoughts) and brain plasticity, which is important in learning, coordination, memory and motor skills. A more plastic brain can reorganize itself and strengthen connections between nerve cells and different brain areas.

Here are some helpful tips to get started:

1. Find an accountability partner: It helps to have someone to meet at the gym, exchange motivational texts with, and share workout ideas/routines with.

2. Make it a competition: Set up a competition at work or with friends. It could be as simple as keeping track of points for 30 minutes of exercise each day.

3. Schedule it: Depending on your schedule you may have to get up earlier to get a workout in. If you are already an early riser with no time to spare in the morning, it might be better to work out on the way home from work or after the kids go to bed at night.

4. Set goals and rewards: If you exercise 5 out of 7 days for two weeks or beat a personal record in running, lifting, etc., rent a movie you’d like to see or treat yourself to something new.

5. Exercise for a cause: There are lots of affordable run/walk events that also help out a great cause. I have personally participated in walks for March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Suicide Awareness, and St. Jude.

6. Mix It Up: Find an activity you like. If running or walking is not for you, try yoga, Zumba, swimming, cycling, boxing, etc. Over time even activities you enjoy can become monotonous. Switch it up and try a new activity, class or workout video once in a while.

Once you are in a routine, the benefits of exercise for body and mind will be obvious. Get started, set small goals, reward yourself and stick with it. You can do it!

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