Studies have shown a strong relationship between the health of the body and the health of the brain. Exercise revs up complex processes inside the brain that can deter depression, help you stay calm and keep your mind sharp.
Exercise Boosts Mental Fitness
The brain has approximately 86 billion neurons designed to give orders to the rest of the body through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Studies show that deficiencies of two of these neurotransmitters (glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA), can lead to mood disorders such as depression. However, moderate exercise can increase the amounts of the two neurotransmitters, contributing to increased mental fitness.
Exercise Decreases Stress
When you’re stressed, your brain secretes the “fight or flight” hormone, cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can create a constant and unnecessary feeling of stress. But, if you exercise, you expose your body to “controlled stress,” which helps regulate your brain’s stress response, keeping you calmer.
Exercise Slows the Brain’s Aging Process
Your brain ages just like the rest of your body, but exercise can help the brain handle natural, age-related deterioration without taking a toll on your memory. Older adults who exercise have larger brain volumes than those who don’t. Plus, the brain’s hippocampus (which is responsible for memory and learning) is larger in people who are active. Exercising won’t make you smarter, per se, but it will help you remember things better as you age.
Many people fall short of the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night. With busy schedules, it may be tempting to stay up late, but sleep is an important factor in overall health. A good night’s sleep allows bodies to rest, repair cells and fight off illness.
The body undergoes certain changes during sleep. Heart rate and breathing slow, body temperature drops, and yet the brain remains incredibly active. In fact, sometimes the brain is even more active during REM sleep (a state of deep sleep usually associated with dreaming) than it is during the normal waking state.
Insufficient sleep can cause many negative side effects, including drowsiness, loss of productivity and impaired judgment. In addition, losing sleep can affect mood and increase the risk of accidents and injury. Long-term side effects of not getting enough sleep include weight gain, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Your lifestyle, your schedule and stress can affect how much sleep you get each night. However, if you are having trouble sleeping, there are several steps you can take:
Stick to a schedule to help regulate your body’s internal clock.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading.
Keep the TV out of your room as bright light can interfere with your natural sleep cycle.
Have comfortable bedding and pillows.
Keep your bedroom temperature between 60 and 67 degrees.
Getting enough sleep will boost your immune system and help you stay alert and productive throughout the day. With cold and flu season just around the corner, it’s now more important than ever to make sleep a priority.
When it comes to physical activity, any exercise is better than none, and a lot is better than a little. Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving, but messages promoting exercise often lack a strict definition of the amount of exercise needed to attain health benefits. In the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concluded that adults need two types of physical activity each week to improve overall health: aerobics and strength training. HHS recommends:
Two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week and two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups;
One hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week and two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups; or
Two or more days a week of an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups.
Moderate-intensity aerobic activities include brisk walking, water aerobics, bicycling slower than 10 mph, ballroom dancing or gardening. Vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise includes jogging, running, swimming and bicycling faster than 10 mph. Major muscle groups include legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.
Exercises can be completed in as little as 10-minute intervals, while still providing health benefits.
However, keep in mind that these numbers are just the minimum recommendations. Older adults are advised to perform additional physical activity. Moreover, all adults will gain greater health benefits for performing any physical activity above the minimum recommendations.
For those who make it a New Year’s goal to exercise more, working out in January can quickly test their resolve as throngs of people pack the gym with the same goal in mind.
But since half the country lives where it’s too cold to exercise outdoors during winter, how else can wannabe fitness fanatics get their workouts in? Here’s how:
Be flexible. Whether you like to use the gym at a specific time or go about your workout a certain way, you need to be open to altering your routine. If manageable, try going before work, during your lunch break or later at night. When at the gym, make use of the available machines and free weights while watching occupied equipment to see when it becomes available.
“Work in” exercise between someone else’s sets. While not the most appealing option for many, allowing another member to use a machine while someone is resting between sets is considered good gym etiquette. All you need to do is ask.
Think outside the gym. Avoid the hassles altogether by finding another place to exercise. Rock climbing centers, dance and yoga studios and even bowling alleys can provide you with some level of exercise while you wait for the gym crowds to subside. Even the most frigid locales have some winter days that are nice enough to allow for a jog outside, provided you dress appropriately. And that snow isn’t going to shovel itself!
September has been designated as Healthy Aging Month—an annual observance designed to focus national attention on the positive aspects of growing older. Healthy aging involves developing new skills and interests, learning to adapt to change, staying physically active and being connected to your community and loved ones, instead of being consumed with anxiety about aging.
Exercise is a great way to stay healthy as you grow older. All older adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and those who participate in any amount of physical activity gain health benefits. Government health agencies recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise for all adults. Additionally, eating a low-salt, low-fat diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and fiber can reduce your age-related risks of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis and other chronic diseases. Whatever improvements you undertake, do so with determination and remain positive.
While most people desire the health benefits of exercise, not all exercise can or should be performed by everyone. For many people, health conditions or long-term injuries prevent them from taking up some of the more demanding forms of exercise.
If you fall into one of those categories, low-impact exercise may be what you’re looking for. Designed to limit stress on the body, low-impact exercise can still be intensive enough to provide cardiovascular and musculoskeletal benefits. You don’t need to be a mountain climber or marathoner to obtain rewarding levels of personal fitness, but you do need regular exercise in order to maintain your health and well-being. Consider the following forms of exercise as a way to meet your fitness goals:
Walking. The simplest form of exercise is still one of the best. This low-cost, low-stress workout will benefit your body and mind without taking a toll on your body. Just make sure your shoes are up to the distance and terrain challenges.
Swimming is one of the most grueling exercises out there. However, it can be done by almost anyone since its demands on the body’s joints are practically non-existent.
Elliptical trainer. This stationary exercise machine provides a full-body cardio workout while limiting impact on joints.
Cycling. Whether stationary or in motion, pedaling a bike burns major calories without punishing your body.
Some doctors are saying that sitting is the new smoking. According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting, like smoking, is a pervasive problem that harms your health. Approximately 80 percent of Americans work a non-active job, making all-day sitting a common condition.
Lengthy, non-interrupted sitting causes poor circulation and low calorie burn and is linked to various health problems, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as stiffness, headaches and sluggishness.
Your job may require you to spend a considerable amount of time at a desk, or maybe you’re fond of all-day movie marathons. Try these tips to sit less, move more and improve your health:
Stand while talking on the phone or watching television.
Try a walking or standing meeting at work.
Stand up and stretch at least every hour.
Wear a pedometer and find ways to add steps into your daily routine.
Take the stairs when possible.
Consider walking or biking when commuting to work or running errands.