Exercise: the miracle drug

By Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

The second week of January is the busiest week of the year at most gyms. After a period of holiday gluttony a great many people decide it is time to do something about their health and they go in droves to a gym in hopes of finding some kernel of inspiration that will catapult them into better health. As the month drags on people find that the same old reality of too little time and even less dedication derail their efforts. So it goes with so many attempts at exercise. Exercise has almost become a four letter word in our culture. People either do it with an over-exuberant gusto, or a guilty reluctance. A new article in Time magazine, written by Mandy Oaklander shines some light on why exercise is so important to good health and offers some suggestions about how to make exercise work for your individual life.

Though it has long been believed that exercise can improve quality of life and longevity, scientists are discovering just how much and in what ways exercise works as a medicine.  It improves immunity, cognitive function, depression, anxiety, sleep, bone density and of coarse strength and endurance. It can also slow aging, improve wound healing, shrink fat cells, and stabilize blood sugar levels. So if it is this great why is it so hard to get moving? The two things that most people mention when they talk about a lack of exercise are finding the time to work out and finding a workout routine that works for their particular needs. Clinically I find that many patients often don’t work out because they have such busy lives. After working and taking care of the house and family, there really doesn’t seem to be the time or energy to get to a yoga class or jump on the bike. However, emerging science is beginning to show that the longer (think hour or more) workouts aren’t necessary to get most of the health benefits of exercise. As little as 15 minutes of vigorous exercise can give you the benefits of what a more moderate workout can give you in an hour. This seems perfect for so many people that are “too busy” to exercise.  Everyone can find 15 minutes every few days.  Many people also report that they have trouble finding a workout routine that they like or are physically able to do. Fortunately there are ever increasing variety of options that fit all ages and levels of fitness. The internet is also making it easier than ever to do a quality exercise routine from the comfort of your home, rather than taking the time to drive to a gym across town.  Some people really get more benefit out of making it to a class or gym in person, but others may prefer the ease of an internet directed workout.  Studies are also proving that yoga, tai qi, walking, and gardening can offer as much benefit as pumping iron, cycling, running or swimming. 

The trick seems to be to do some type of cardiovascular exercise that get the heart pumping, as well as some type of strength training.  Luckily for some of us, walking counts as a cardio workout, and gardening can give you similar benefits as lifting weights.  The important thing is to do some kind of exercise regularly, preferably every day or two.  It is nice to know that exercise can be quicker and easier than ever before.  With the health benefits rivaling the best health care available it should make us all want to find a way to squeeze a little more exercise into our busy lives.

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