Do you sit for prolonged periods? Sitting at my computer, after 30 minutes I feel tension in my eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, fingers, back and hips and a numb feeling in my lower limbs. If I’m not mindful, my old mates migraine and sciatica could revisit. Being sedentary for prolonged periods contributes to both physical and psychological issues. Stagnant circulation, constant compression, sustained tension and lax or imbalanced musculoskeletal strain lead to pain and problems. To curtail and counter this I close my eyes, breathe deeply, stretch and shift to a fit ball, standing desk or a kneeling position. Mini sessions of exercise refresh my body and mind. Blood rushes back, joints realign and muscles stretch.
How much do you move? Our increasingly sedentary society has screen time stealing away essential exercise. Movement is necessary to maintain and maximise our mental and physical health. Doctors are prescribing movement as medication in almost every condition as science supports its efficacy. “Exercise is the magic pill,” says Michael R Bracko, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Consumer Information Committee. “Exercise can literally cure diseases.” What differences do you notice when you exercise regularly? More motivation, energy, confidence, calm? Many of exercise’s proven benefits are hidden and long-term. Studies have shown exercise decreases the risk of coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, some cancers, osteoporosis, dementia, depression and anxiety.
The exercise elixir also boosts immunity. Professor Tim Noakes, of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, says, “Mild exercise can improve our immune system by increasing production of essential proteins and waking up lazy white blood cells.” Robert Pisto, personal trainer (fitsom.com.au), says, “When you exercise regularly it gives you an enormous sense of wellbeing; you feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night and feel more relaxed and positive. Regular exercise can have a profound impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, the list goes on … It also relieves stress, improves memory and boosts overall mood.”
By increasing happy hormones like endorphins, exercise is an antidote to depression and tension. Yoga teacher Jenny Segail (avalonyogacoop.com.au) has seen the stress-relieving effects of exercise. “It is the breath and movement duality that creates a meditative experience and keeps the student focused in the moment. It’s like taking a ‘mental breathing space’ from life’s stresses.”
What exercise enlivens you? Each activity has unique benefits. A balanced blend of the following will bring you to your personal best.
Aerobic or cardiovascular training such as running, dancing or swimming increases your rate of breathing, pulse and oxygen intake. Co-ordination, endurance, energy and strength come from regular cardio exercise. Cardio increases circulation to all tissues, feeding them nutrient-rich blood and flushing out stagnant toxins. Cardio activity also boosts brain function and volume while cleansing the lymphatic system. This not only guards against degenerative brain disorders but improves concentration, cognitive function and reflexes.
Stretching exercises such as Pilates and yoga improve flexibility, muscle recovery, concentration, circulation, organ function and posture and may ease pain. A recent Boston University School of Medicine study found that yoga has a positive effect on mood by increasing mood elevating neurotransmitters like GABA.
Resistance training or anaerobic exercise includes weights, body-weight exercises and high-intensity interval training. This improves one’s strength, muscles and bones.
Stability or balancing exercises such as gymnastics, yoga and tai chi assist balance, flexibility, cognitive function and strength. They also improve co-ordination, preventing injury while optimising posture and performance.
Easy does it
Once motivated to move, you can’t expect to go from sloth to superhero in a few sessions. Many fitness enthusiasts end up trading their gym membership for rehabilitation due to improper exercise. Start low and go slow to reduce risk of irreversible injury. Pisto advises, “The time of day to exercise is purely up to the individual. I believe 45 active minutes on a regular basis (three or more times per week) is a great goal to set.”
Being impatient and pushy with yourself can lead to problems and aversion to exercise. Yoga teacher Eileen Hall (yogamoves.com.au) says, “Stay present. Stay in the now. Most injuries occur when the mind and body are not connecting.” Segail emphasises stability to prevent injury: “Keep stable during yoga. Even though you might not have the flexibility to do the pose properly, if you’re stable, you won’t hurt yourself. Wobbling around on the mat is a recipe for disaster.”
The old “no pain, no gain” axiom is redundant. Pain doesn’t mean progress, but rather a message to modify your movement. Pisto echoes these ideas: “The best way to avoid injury is to listen to your body — you know it best. Warm up correctly and try to exercise at least with a buddy if not at a gym or class to increase accountability.” Tai Chi Australia agrees. “As with any exercise, warming up is important. Take the time to understand the instructions so you can perform correctly. If you have an injury, make sure your instructor is aware so that movements can be suitably modified.” As you gradually gain more strength, skill and stamina you’ll be able to amp up your activity.
To avoid passing out, burnout or injury consider the following precautions.
• Get a medical check-up before embarking on a new exercise regime, especially if you have health issues.
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