From the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at health.gov, here are just a few proven health benefits of physical activity:
- lower risk of a wide range of chronic conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes;
- prevention of falls; and
- improved cognitive function among others.
Some more good news: the health benefits of physical activity are independent of body weight. So it doesn’t matter if you perceive yourself as overweight or underweight. You will still benefit from exercise even if your weight doesn’t change. Frequently I hear people say “I need to lose some weight before I can come to your class”. My advice – come to class whatever your weight, size or physical limitations. There will be a way to adapt the exercise to your physical status whatever that is and your health will benefit. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that if you keep the effort consistent over a period of weeks you will notice changes in your physical abilities and the way your body feels even if you don’t lose weight. You may notice, for example, that your clothes fit better or you may see other changes in your appearance. For many years there has been an ongoing discussion in the fitness industry as to whether it is better to be physically fit and overweight or unfit and thin. My own opinion is that fitness and good health comes in all shapes and sizes. Despite the physical form that our culture may revere as ideal, good health is far more important than measuring up to some myth of perfection. Through the ages and in different cultural contexts there have been many variations in what is viewed as an ideal appearance. Regardless of these fickle and changing perceptions, good health is indisputable. We have all heard the expression “without good health we have nothing.” All you need to do is get sick and you will see the wisdom in that sentiment.
Turns out, too, that you don’t need great amounts of high-intensity activity to experience these benefits. Also, according to studies, the benefits of physical exercise outweigh the risk of injury. It is not necessary to run a marathon or climb Mt. Everest to be healthy. The importance of avoiding inactivity is so critical that even small amounts of exercise can yield significant benefits. Reductions in risk of cardiovascular disease become evident with as little as 150 minutes of physical activity weekly. Two classes per week will give you that much. And even better results can be seen with 200 minutes per week. So add 50 minutes of walking per week (which can be broken down into two 25-minute segments, for example) and you are well on your way to better health, improved mood, reduced stress, enhanced endurance and numerous other improvements in quality of life in general. If you commit to 6 weeks of consistent activity you may find that you actually begin to like it! Make it a part of your life. The benefits will continue to accrue and you may begin to notice a difference in how you feel about yourself. In addition, you will experience improvements in your ability to perform everyday tasks like putting the groceries away and keeping up with your children or grandchildren. The strength, flexibility and balance training provided by yoga and Pilates will also help prevent falls, keep your bones strong, improve your posture and keep your muscles and joints pliable and functioning.
We have so little control over most of the events and circumstances that impact our lives. So it becomes more important than ever to take control of what we can control while we can control it. From that point of view it should be a no brainer to do what you can to improve your health, especially when that involves something as simple as adding more movement to your life. It does involve a daily decision to make that choice. But if you can’t do it for your own benefit, do it for those around you. There lives will also improve by the example you set.