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Being Truly Alive - Movement, Exercise and Fitness aren't just for Losing Weight…

by Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones(more info)

listed in exercise and fitness, originally published in issue 226 - November 2015

Have you ever noticed when you exercise that you yawn? Yawning is an indicator of relieving stress, one of the main benefits of ‘working out’. It does not mean you are tired or bored.  Many people turn to exercise to lose weight, but realize after a while that they feel better; not just because the scale might indicate less poundage, but they also are more present, aware, alive, and less stressed. 

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Media and advertising draw people to exercise by using the ‘lose weight’ slogan, since that is the desire and need of many. With 100 million dieters in the USA alone and a 20 billion dollar industry sometimes called the ‘Fat Trap’, of course the weight loss advantage is magnified.  But the advantages of movement far exceed the claim of skinnier bodies.

The Top 10 Reasons to Exercise

  1. Your brain will be healthier;
  2. The body and heart will be stronger;
  3. Stress will be less;
  4. There is a sense of accomplishment;
  5. Eating and sleeping habits improve;
  6. You become mindful of how you are living your life;
  7. Inner awareness is possible;
  8. There is a healthier self-image;
  9. You will have more energy, even sexually;
  10. Exercise can help you live longer.

Let’s take a look at how this all works.

# 1:  Your Brain will be Healthier

Research is indicating the brain benefits greatly from being physically active.  Whether on a bike, in a yoga class, dancing, doing Pilates, walking, or working out in a gym, scientists are discovering a link to memory and mental skills.  What we are beginning to understand is that oxygen related changes are consistent with better nerve processing (brain) and cardio-respiratory health (heart and lungs).  We have actually ‘felt’ this, but new scientific studies from such respected sources as Harvard and the National Institute of Health are encouraging enough to report that ageing brain health can be improved by exerciseWith dementia cases reaching epidemic numbers, how easy would it be to at least protect our brains by being more active.  Recent studies have been performed within the 60-80 year range of adults, and show that even low intensity exercise for 1 hour each day can be very beneficial for faster brain function and memory improvement.

Your Brain will be Healthier

# 2:  The Body and Heart will be Stronger

Through exercise we can see and feel an increase in muscle strength and endurance.   Let us consider, however, the patterns that indicate a well-rounded exercise plan:  movement complexity, range of motion, muscle contraction, and postural alignment.  If these areas are balanced, the body will respond positively and be healthier, stronger, and able to move with ease.

We can register the body’s heart rate and blood pressure easily to help gauge our cardiovascular system.  But what happens physiologically?  Our response to exercise is dependent on the intensity, duration and frequency of the exercise as well as environmental conditions. During physical exercise, requirements for oxygen at the cellular level are increased, as are the removal of carbon dioxide and waste. On the surface, we just need to be aware of the force, time, and amount of exercise we are doing depending on age, heart rate, and existing health.  The easy formula:  220 minus your age = maximum heart rate per minute during workout.  Take into consideration fitness level and inherited genes, and the number can increase or decrease, depending.

#3: Stress will be Less

How do we measure our stress level?  There are many ways to do this, from stress questionnaires to cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands as the body’s response to stress.  There is even an app developed that can measure this from your saliva.  But, since stress can be triggered at any given moment, isn’t it important how we recognize and react to it that matters?  Tapping into our emotions and understanding our trigger points is key to reducing stress.  Some studies suggest letting out our feelings is an advantage, but more importantly anger, resentment, even hatred are better served through understanding the human condition and having compassion for it.  This is where yoga and meditation can become an integral part of exercise, healing and health.

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#4: There is a Sense of Accomplishment

The “Oh my, I did it!” feeling is so positive it affects the entire being.  Enough of the debate about mind being separate from body, it is all connected, as we are.  Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that can leave you feeling happier, with improved self-esteem.

#5: Eating and Sleeping Habits will Improve

Digestion and calories burned are affected by exercise. We know this through movement and Fitbits; yes, our fitness apps are helping!  We begin to eat more mindfully, and are even starting to consider rest as a possibility in our ever-rushing and intense days.  Giving our bodies and brain rest and relaxation are key to improving everyday functioning in life.

Eating and Sleeping Habits will Improve

#6:  You become Mindful of how you are Living your Life

It has been found that meditation can increase the size of the cerebral cortex, which plays an important role in consciousness.  So after that wonderful yoga class, meditate to quiet the mind; after all, that is what yoga was developed for thousands of years ago. Or, sit quietly before everyone else gets up in the morning and see how that affects your day. 

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#7:  Inner Awareness is Possible

We hear the phrase ‘mind/body’ in exercise, but people are hesitant to include the word spirit.  What does it really mean?  It relates to the human soul, something non-physical or material, like energy.  It is considered sacred, as it is the very Self and your connection to the Universe.  It is your very essence.  Getting in touch with the inner self is healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Exercise can contribute to and bring about calmness which, with practice, can lead to realization of Self.

There is a Healthier Self-Image

#8: There is a Healthier Self-Image

Ah, self image…we impose this on ourselves, and others.  But is it real?  Only to the individual.  We judge and compare ourselves based on societal concerns, when in fact each and every one of us has an important role in our lives, here and now.  Can exercise help us realize this?  Possibly, through experiencing a sense of fulfillment and realizing the ability to see things more clearly.  This can be scary, because it sometimes means a change of life style.  Will others accept this change?  It doesn’t matter, as we are only responsible for ourselves and what we are here to do.  Exercise can bring one closer to that realization.

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#9:  You will have more Energy, even Sexually

Exercise leads to a more efficient body by delivering oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, developing better muscle strength, endurance, and healthier organs.  When your organs are happy, you have more energy.  Even your sex life can improve; studies have shown enhanced arousal for women, and less Viagra for men when there is a consistent fitness .

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#10:  Exercise can Help you Live Longer

 I’d like to finish with a few words about exercise and longevity.  You may have heard about ‘Blue Zones’, the term given to 5 different places on Earth where people live longer, on less, than most Americans and Europeans.   There are many valid reasons for this:  diet, socialization, a sense of purpose, and physical exercise are at the top.  The kind of exercise is important:  the common daily movements of walking, running, and working outside seem to be advantageous to their health and life span.  I have long been a supporter of exercise and nature together, and am happy to find this study agrees.  The environment of our exercise, or ‘work-out’, is critical to our health.  If you live in an area that has beautiful, clean spaces outside, spend time there!  Go on a hike, bike, swim, and enjoy the wonderful, energizing quality of being outdoors, being alive!

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About Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones

Jo Ann Staugaard-Jones MA Advanced Pilates and Hatha Yoga Instructor RYT500, based in Andover, New Jersey, is a former Professor of Kinesiology, Exercise Science and Dance at County College of Morris in Randolph, New Jersey, and the author of The Anatomy of Exercise & Movement and The Vital Psoas Muscle through Lotus Publishing and North Atlantic Books. Her new book, The Concise Book of Yoga Antomy, has just been released.  You can view workshops and contact her at www.move-live.com.

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