Stay Active, Stay Healthy

Exercise plays a vital role in relaxing the mind, boosting energy levels and improving the quality of life

ExerciseExperts recommend that we should take our car for spin once in while to keep it "active" if it is not used for a prolonged time. Not doing so causes it to rust and deteriorate. Our bodies too are miraculous machines, which must be kept active to keep them in perfect condition.

If we are active to the right extent and follow a proper diet, our bodies stay healthier and our life experience is richer.

To keep our body fit, tuned and functioning efficiently, we ought to make a determined effort to be active. We need to make exercise a part of our daily life by getting off the couch and eliminating sedentary habits. Regular exercise reduces the risk of disease and illness by as much as 20-50 per cent. How much exercise is necessary to improve health? As little as 30 minutes of exercise five days week can make a big difference to your wellbeing.

Dangers of inactivity

The merits of exercise are hard to ignore – and so are the dangers of inactivity. If you lead a sedentary life, you are prone to developing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and symptoms such as low energy levels, lethargy and mood swings.

Merits of exercise

Physical activity helps you look and feel better. Your posture, stamina and energy levels improve. Regular exercise also helps combat depression and stress. Take a look at what exercise does:

  • Reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Lowers blood pressure levels
  • Decreases bad [LDL] cholesterol and increases good [HDL] cholesterol levels
  • Reduces the risk of osteoporosis
  • Promotes weight-loss
  • Helps de-stress and improves quality of sleep
  • Improves posture
  • Improves agility, balance and flexibility
  • Improves immunity levels.

Three common exercise myths

  • Aerobic exercise makes you tired.As you become physically fit, you will find that you have more energy and your levels of fatigue and stress will reduce.
  • Exercise is time-consuming.All you need is 30-60 minutes of exercise five times a week. If you find exercising 30 minutes at a stretch difficult, break it into two 15-minute sessions. Make exercise a part of your routine.
  • The older you are, the less exercise you need.Everyone can, and should, exercise – age does not matter! And you can always tailor an exercise programme based on your preferences, goals and fitness levels.

Selecting an exercise

The key to staying consistent with exercise is to select an exercise programme that is enjoyable - one that fits in with your personality, lifestyle and fitness goals.

But, first, it is important to establish your goals. What is it that you would like to gain from your exercise routine? Is the aim to improve general health, get your body into shape, de-stress, or lose a few excess pounds?

Forms of exercise

Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercise burns calories, promotes blood circulation and strengthens the heart. A low-impact routine that places minimum stress on the joints is safe and effective. Good choices include walking, swimming and cycling.

Strength training

Weight-bearing exercise plays an important role in maintaining bone density and keeping the body strong. An effective routine would include exercises that target the major muscle groups of the upper, mid and lower body. Good choices include weight bearing exercises like push-ups, sit-ups or exercising using weights, machines, or resistance bands.

Flexibility training

Flexibility exercises help to keep the body supple, flexible and free from muscular stress. Good choices include yoga, Pilates, stretching exercises and T'ai Chi.

Exercise and diseases

Some debilitating conditions can be managed better with regular exercise.

Arthritis

Arthritis refers to a group of conditions characterised by inflammation, pain or tenderness that causes stiffness in one or more of the body's joints. It tends to commonly affect the major weight bearing joints such as the hips, knees, spine, shoulder and neck.

Don't get into a vicious cycle of inactivity

The commonest mistake is avoidance of exercise. This, in time, leads to stiffness, reduced strength and compromised cardiovascular fitness. Inactivity weakens the body, leading to a vicious cycle that accelerates deterioration of the body.

What kind of exercise is best for those with arthritis?

Stretch everyday

The most important exercises are stretching exercises to preserve the range of motion and flexibility around each joint. Even inflamed joints can be put through a gentle stretch routine with the assistance of a therapist.

Strength train

Strength training exercises using light weights is an excellent way to build bone strength. Do these exercises only when pain and joint inflammation are under control, in consultation with your physician.

Low impact cardiovascular exercise

In the past, treatment of arthritis excluded aerobic exercise for fear of increasing joint pain. Aerobic exercise is, however, safe and effective when the joint inflammation is not acute. Low impact cardiovascular exercises such as swimming, cycling and walking are wonderful ways to improve fitness.

Simple self-help measures

  • Carrying a lot of body weight puts immense pressure on the joints. So get on a healthy diet to lose those extra kilos.
  • Get the right kind of footwear. Well-fitting supportive shoes increases comfort and safety while walking.
  • Warm baths, ice packs or heat pads can help soothe joint pain.
  • Learn to listen to the body's signals, and know when to stop or slow down movement. Pain can increase by over-use or oversight.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone-weakening disease that develops gradually and makes bones fragile and susceptible to fracture. This especially affects women as they begin to lose bone density after the age of 30.

Weight bearing exercises can improve calcium deposition in the bones. Regular exercise reduces the occurrence of ailments such as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis myths

  • The more exercise you do the stronger your bones will be.Over-exercise can cause wear and tear of bones and weaken the bones. In women, over-exercising can lead to amenorrhea, a condition in which the number of yearly menstruation cycles decrease, leading to brittle and fragile bones.
  • Regular exercise alone is adequate to increase bone strength.Bone strength depends on consistent weight bearing exercise in addition to regular intake of adequate calcium. Both these elements play a vital role in increasing bone density and strength.
  • You can never know when your bones gain strength.Though you cannot see your bones becoming stronger, you will certainly notice the increase in strength of your bones when you exercise or play a game. For example, when you play a game of tennis, you will notice the increase in bone strength when you easily handle the impact of the game.
  • Weight-bearing exercises are for fit and athletic individuals.Weight-bearing exercises are for all fitness levels and ages. Walking — a simple weight bearing exercise — is one of the best exercises for bone development.
  • All types of exercises help increase bone strength.Weight-bearing exercises are recommended to specifically improve bone strength. They not only improve calcium absorption in the bone but also stimulate bone formation. They improve balance and coordination to reduce the risk of falls or injuries.

Heart disease

Contracting 100,000 times a day and pumping 5 to 6 litres of blood each minute, the heart is the most important and busiest organ in the body. Shaped and sized similar to that of a clenched fist, this small organ performs tremendous work.

How does exercise strengthen the heart?

The heart is a muscle and just like other muscle, it works better and more efficiently when it is fit. Exercise makes the heart fitter and stronger, helping it to pump more blood with each heartbeat. A well-conditioned heart can pump a large amount of blood with fewer heartbeats. Exercise makes the heart more resistant to stress, heart attack and heart disease. During exercise, blood is pumped at a much faster rate – as much as 20 times the normal volume of blood.

What is the best type of exercise for the heart?

Aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming, running and bicycling are ideal for improving functioning of the heart. They make the heart work harder to pump blood and therefore more oxygen is delivered to the body's cells. A minimum of 30 minutes of exercise five times a week is essential.

How can exercise prevent heart disease?

Physical inactivity is a major cause of heart disease. Exercise can reduce excess body weight, reduce total cholesterol levels, increase the good [HDL] cholesterol, lower high blood pressure - all of these being potential factors for heart disease if not addressed.

Obesity

Obesity is associated with several health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease and hypertension. Diet plus exercise is the ideal way to lose weight.

Diabetes

Diabetics are at a greater risk for numerous health problems, including kidney failure, nerve disorders, eye problems and heart disease. Regular blood sugar monitoring, proper diet, exercise and appropriate insulin medication are ways to effectively control diabetes.

Why exercise?

Exercise is important because it improves glucose regulation. The timing of exercise, the amount of insulin injected and the injection site are important factors to consider before exercise.

Hypertension

High blood pressure causes the heart to work too hard. It increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Which exercises are good to control hypertension?

Exercise is an important aspect in controlling high blood pressure. Regular low-impact aerobic exercise can reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 10mm Hg. Endurance exercises such as low-impact aerobics, walking, cycling and swimming are recommended. The frequency recommended is 4-6 days a week of 20-40 minutes duration. Exercise should begin with a gradual warm-up lasting for 10 minutes.

Which exercise should hypertensive individuals avoid?

Heavy resistance weight training exercises are not recommended as they can elevate blood pressure; do weight-training exercises using light resistance.

Exercise and the mind

It is amazing to understand how exercise can help release stress and improve your mood.

Whether we are feeling happy or low, exercise revs up our mood and helps us feel more positive. This is because exercise gets blood flowing to the brain and that can have the same effect as drugs prescribed for depression. Also, exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which are hormones that produce a sense of wellbeing and reduce stress. Any physical activity can help — be it yoga, breathing techniques, stretching exercises, running or martial arts.

Does exercise help relieve emotional stress?

Exercise is a great physical outlet for emotional stress. Stressful situations trigger your "fight or flight" response. Have you noticed people after they have exercised or runners after their run, swimmers after their swim, or cyclists after their rides? You will realise how relaxed and confident they appear. Their eyes and skin have a radiant glow; their movements reflect better balance in body and mind.

Rest and exercise

The one important aspect of high-volume or high-intensity training is rest. The body needs adequate rest to avoid the possibility of physical and mental burnout. Rest also helps the muscles to recuperate from the stress of exercise.

How much rest?

A fitness routine should be carefully designed and rest periods factored in, taking into account individual health status, fitness levels and goals.

When you strength train, you need to give the muscles a day of rest to recover from the training. "Over-training" can cause injuries and discomfort. That is why it is necessary to work the muscles every alternate day to provide for recuperation and repair of muscle tissue.

Stress and inactivity can leave you feeling drained. This can result in a weakened immune system, disturbed sleep and weight gain. You need to deal with situations so that they work for you and not against you.

So, get started and make exercise a part of your daily routine to improve your fitness levels and the quality of your life.

MAKE FITNESS A ROUTINE

Notice the joy on the parents face when their baby takes the first steps? Why is it such a historic moment? The baby has started on the journey of using the body and developing motor skills.

The ability to use the wonderful gift of our body is indeed exciting. It is surprising that we how know that physical activity is important for fitness, yet we let prejudices and barriers come in the way of our health.

Top Exercise Excuses

  1. "I don't have the time"
  2. "I'm young and healthy, I don't need to exercise."
  3. "I'm old or disabled"
  4. "Keeping it up"
  5. "I get bored"
  6. "I don't have the money to spend on a club or gym membership"
  7. "I'm too tired"
  8. "I'm too embarrassed."
  • Physical inactivity is a major independent risk factor in the global health problem, causing about 3.5 per cent of diseases and up to 10 per cent if deaths in the Eastern European region.
  • A Danish study indicates physically inactive people can expect between 8-10 fewer life years without a major disease than physically active people.

This was first published in the May 2008 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Namita Jain
Namita Jain is a Mumbai-based certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, Lifestyle and Weight management Consultant from the American Council on Exercise [ACE] and certified Health and Fitness Instructor from the American College of Sports Medicine [ACSM]. She is the Founder of LiveActive, a wellness company that delivers effective and holistically designed wellness programmes based on individual needs.

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