19 December 2007

The Many Benefits of Exercise, Part 1:

In today’s society we exert ourselves less than ever before. It’s hardly surprising given the circumstances. We simply live in a society that encourages a lazy lifestyle. Lifts instead of stairs, cars instead of walking, running or cycling, you get the idea. When coupled with the ready availability of food, well, problems abound and their not hard to spot!

Essentially the modern definition of exercise is identical to “activity”, although it can certainly get a little more academic than I have just described it as. Yet the word exercise specifically has become a nasty word caught up with matters of obesity, weight gain, sex appeal, success and the list goes on. These associations aren’t very positive, are highly competitive and lead the majority of society to feel guilt at not meeting a largely unobtainable media ideal. People dread exercise more and more as it becomes something associated with sweat and pain. While not all people have a negative internal definition of exercise, it seems that many do. If you believe you are one of them I suggest you read "Exercise and Motivation".

Regardless of whether we enjoy exercise or not (an important question in itself, but not the one being debated here, again refer to the link above) it has been scientifically proven to be one of the most beneficial things we can do for our own health. Yes part of the benefit can be related to what every one thinks about when we think exercise, namely weight control. However, there are even more important aspects to exercising than simply fat levels.

Exercise helps physically through the manipulation of hormones, controlling energy balance, improving the immune system and so on. However it does more still, helping psychologically through feelings of wellbeing and protection from depression. Yet still further exercise has been proven to help with intelligence and stopping both mental and physical decline. Diseases can be averted, cancer curbed and all because people do a little exercise. Part of the greatest irony is that it doesn’t even have to be much. The more you do the less return you get. So the greatest return is for those who go from doing nothing to doing just a little exercise every week. Of course the more you do the fitter and healthier you are, but even us mere mortals who are not professional athletes and don’t get paid to stay fit can obtain great benefit from just a few short exercise sessions every week, particularly if your willing to jack up the intensity a bit. See "Exercising Efficiently, the Intensity Debate” if you wish for for a more in depth look at the impact of exercise intensity.

I will be following this post up with two posts, the first relating to the physical benefits and the second with the more psychologically based benefits, only so as to split it up and stop it being too much for one go. In the meantime, start looking for an exercise or activity you can do and really enjoy, you’ll thank me for it one day.

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