Is There Anything Regular Exercise Can’t Do?
The answer is of course, yes (exercise won’t help you win the lottery), but the growing list of short- and long-term benefits of regular exercise is growing, and impressive.
At this point, everyone knows the health benefits associated with staying fit: weight control, improved heart and lung functioning, better sleep, stronger bones and muscles, and many more. In addition to this list of physical health benefits, aerobic activity is proving to be a powerful aid in mental health and cognitive functioning. A recent study on cardiac fitness and cognitive functioning, the CARDIA Study, followed 3,000 healthy individuals and assessed the relationship between aerobic exercise and cognitive functioning. The study concluded that aerobic activity in young adulthood may preserve midlife cognitive functioning (the ability to think, reason, and remember). Although the study needs to be replicated in additional prospective trials (following subjects over years and measuring any changes between controls and study participants), these preliminary findings are very encouraging, and give us one more reason to develop enjoyable life-long exercise routines early in life.
In addition to this growing body of data on the health promoting effects of regular exercise, the therapeutic effects of exercise on treating depression, anxiety, and drug dependence continue to emerge. Turns out, exercise has a powerful effect in the brain as well is in our muscles. The reported “high” that long distance-endurance athletes report (runner’s high), is very real, and is similar to the euphoric effects reported by certain drugs of abuse (without all the negative consequences). The data are so convincing that it is not an exaggeration to consider a regular enjoyable exercise program as part of the treatment recommendations for all patients suffering with these disorders.
I want to emphasize the enjoyable part. The best form of activity is the one you enjoy doing. Ever notice, it doesn’t take much to convince someone who loves chocolate to have a piece? We tend to keep doing those things that make us feel good. The brain is wired that way for a good reason. We tend to associate exercise with getting sweaty and sore, and being not very enjoyable overall, until we start to get in shape and are able to enjoy the positive feelings a good workout can create.
As advances in medical science are allowing us to live longer lives, the need to take better care of our bodies and our mind has never been more important. Although it’s never too late to start getting into shape, the benefits of engaging in life-long fitness increase the earlier in life we start. It’s not about having bigger muscles, but living a longer healthier, happier life.