Why exercise?

I started my day yesterday with a 3-mile walk for the March of Dimes: March of Babies. As I pushed my little guy in the stroller and spoke casually with other moms, I looked at everyone around me. People of various shapes, sizes, colors, and ages had gotten up early on a Sunday morning and were all walking for a cause. And, it was a beautiful thing.

What’s your cause?

My philosophy in life is that anything I do should have a good reason behind it. Whether it’s having a glass of wine at the end of the busy day or hitting the gym four times a week, I like to do things with a purpose. My personal purposes vary widely from maintaining my sanity, to keeping physically fit, to being a better mom, wife, friend, and person. Yet, the idea is the same: the way I spend my time should reflect my values and my goals.

With all of this in mind, I decided that before I launched into a bunch of tips and suggestions for how to be physically active, it made sense to discuss why we should even bother with exercise at all.

It makes me feel like a natural woman

It’s natural to move our bodies. Our prehistoric ancestors did it when they chased down their dinner or were chased by a predator. Our great (great? great?) grandparents did it when they chopped wood to keep warm in the winter or scrubbed their clothes with washboards. As time has passed and technology does everything for us (microwaves, cars, heaters, washing machines; the list goes on and on), we have become less active. It’s unnatural that we don’t keep active anymore.

What can physical activity actually do for us?

There’s a lot of scientific research out there to prove that we should get back to what’s natural and get moving. Here’s what the research says about the benefits of regular exercise:

It improves our moods. Exercise pumps chemicals into our brains that make us feel content and relaxed. It also reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. Let exercise be your happy pill!

It helps us manage our stress. You know what I did Saturday morning before throwing my son’s first birthday party at my house? I went to the gym and lifted weights for an hour. Before: psycho mom with laser beam eyes and a blowtorch mouth. After: calm enough to host a party. The scientific evidence shows I’m not the only one who can manage her stress with exercise.

It gives us energy. Who doesn’t need more fuel these days? When we get our bodies moving, oxygen and nutrients start shooting into our tissues, and blood starts circulating to our hearts, lungs, and blood vessels. All our organs and muscles start working better, and suddenly we have more energy to devote to the important things in our lives, like our children and our partners.

It helps us sleep better. Exercise helps us fall asleep and stay in a deeper sleep. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime—it may have the opposite effect!

It enhances our sex lives.  Feeling a little less frisky these days? Or did you exercise right before bedtime and aren’t quite ready to sleep? Then, practice making babies. Being physically active increases women’s arousal, decreases erectile dysfunction in men (read: take your partner with you when you exercise if you want more action), and gives both sexes more confidence and energy that tends to lead to more sex.

It strengthens our muscles and bones. Exercise builds our muscles and makes our bones more solid. This is especially true for weight training and high-impact sports, but even simpler activities such as walking work. Stronger, healthier body, anyone?

It can positively affect our kids. We hear it all the time: healthy moms make healthy children. Well, it’s not just an old adage. Pregnant women who exercise have fewer backaches; less constipation, bloating, and swelling; and increased energy, mood, strength, and endurance for an easier labor and recovery to take care of baby. And, when mom exercises, the baby in her belly has a stronger heart. Who knew? Not pregnant? The same applies: parents who are fit tend to have kids who are more active. And, children who exercise are healthier physically and mentally.

It prevents diseases. Routine physical activity, whether it’s our jobs or what we do in our free time, reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and colon and breast cancers. Enough said.

It extends our lives. So, I already said we’re less likely to get diseases if we exercise. But, if we’re one of the unlucky ones who does get cancer, heart disease, or the like, our chances of surviving it are much better if we exercise. Better yet, studies show that those who exercise regularly reduce their risk of death from any cause.

It improves quality of life. Who wants to live forever if your quality of life is no good? Well, exercise has that covered too. Exercise increases quality of life well into the golden years.

It aids weight loss. And if all that’s not enough, then, yes, one major reason some people exercise is to lose weight. It speeds up our metabolisms, and torches calories. I’m mentioning this one last, because Lord knows, it’s an overrated reason to exercise. If the only reason you get your butt off the couch or out the door is to drop a few pounds, that reason alone is probably not going to be enough to keep you at it. And, it shouldn’t be. After all, the majority of moms (people!), I know want to lose weight—be it 10 pounds or a 100, and are a little happier when the number on the scale goes down. And, if you exercise, it most likely will. However, it takes a while, and that can be discouraging. The good news is research shows that even if you don’t lose any weight when you exercise, you still reap the health benefits.

Convinced yet? Now that we know there are at least…count ‘em…eleven…good reasons for exercising, next time we can talk about how to actually fit it in. In the meantime, let’s go dig those gym shoes out of the closet…

References:

Maffeis, C., Talamini, G., & Tatò, L. (1998). Influence of diet, physical activity, and parents’ obesity on children’s adiposity: A four-year longitudinal study. International Journal of Obesity, 22, 758–764.

Penedo, F.J., & Dahn, J.R. 2005. Exercise and well-being: A review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18 (2), 189–93.

Sallis, J.F., Prochaska, J.J., & Taylor, W.C. (2000). A review of correlates of physical activity of children and adolescents. Medical Science Sports Exercise, 32, 963–975.

Warburton, D.E., Nicol, C.W., & Bredin, S.S. (2006) Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174, 801–809.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676

http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp119.cfm

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Posted on May 2, 2011, in Fitness and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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