The Pillars of Health: Exercise

By: Kenny Parmenter, LCSW-A, LCAS-A

This week I’d like to talk about exercise and the importance of movement. I am not an exercise physiologist nor professional athlete (those days are behind me, haha). However I can share with you that exercise and movement are important to your longevity. I once lived and worked in Panama with a farmer who was 95 years old, living on his own and still planting, growing, and harvesting coffee. During this time I was regularly being out-worked by men in their 60’s in the fields. I learned that if you do something your whole life, and just don’t stop, your body won’t either. Granted, the evidence shows the key to longevity are: good genes, reduced stress, staying active, managing your weight, and staying mentally engaged. For now, we’ll focus on the staying active portion.

The CDC & American Heart Association recommend 30 minutes of exercise/day or 150 minutes of exercise/week. They define exercise as anything that gets your heart rate up from a resting rate. The CDC also encourages 2 days/ week of strength training: activities that make your muscles work harder than usual. A recent study observed a 22% lower risk of early death in individuals who exercised — even though they worked out less than the recommended 150 minutes per week.

The other big reason that physical activity is important is because it is a proven way to reduce stress. Regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, and improve sleep and self-esteem. This is because exercise releases endorphins such as dopamine and serotonin as well as anandamide, a chemical the helps regulate stress. Exercise also reduces cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. So if you’re feeling stressed, one of the best things you can do is regular exercise. While a 30-minute walk every day is good for your heart, the more intense the exercise, the bigger the pay off. A 30-minute jog produces more endorphins.

It can be even better if you have an exercise buddy or a team to motivate and support you. Studies have shown that individuals are more likely to comply with the workout routine and get more out of it when done in a group setting. Some people are motivated by activities that they want to be able to continue to do such as hiking or outdoor sports. Others are motivated by physique and the way you look when you are in shape. And some just want to stay healthy. Regardless of what motivates you, it is important to regularly exercise.

Set a goal for yourself and share it with others. What will you do for exercise this next week? And why?

Move your body daily-Jazzercise/Zumba, speed clean the house, work in the garden, take a walk, stretch, take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator, follow a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on Youtube, play with the kids or your pet.

It is just as important to keep your mind active as it is your body. Next week we’ll discuss the next pillar: mind-body connection.

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