Exercise! A Little Goes a Long Way

Easy Does It.

This blog has been touting the benefits of exercise since its inception.  Any of you who have ever been involved in marketing know that repetition is the key to getting your message to penetrate.  As a movement evangelist I agree with the importance of driving that message home.  So here is another round of research that not only reinforces how important it is to keep moving but also shows that even a little can have significant results.

For those of you who are concerned that exercise might be dangerous, a clinical perspective published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates that “even small amounts of physical activity are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease”. “The evidence with regard to exercise continues to unfold and educate the cardiovascular clinical community,” said JACC Editor-in-Chief Valentin Fuster, M.D., Ph.D. “The greatest benefit is to simply exercise, regardless of the intensity . . .”.  The article does make mention of the problems that can occur when trying to be too intense too soon without proper preparation.  So often I see people who try to go from zero to maximum in an effort to make up for lost time.  Perhaps they are thinking of what they “should” be able to do instead of accepting where they are right now.   Then they wonder why they get injured or worse decide that they can’t exercise after all.  Unfortunately, we can’t change the past.  What used to be is gone.  But we can start today to change the way we feel right now.

It turns out that it is not necessary to run a marathon or climb Mt. Everest to experience health improvements.  Recent studies show that exercise in lower intensities still significantly lowers disease risk.  So the best advice is still to start slow and gradually increase, especially if it has been a while since you’ve done any regular moving at all. Increases can be made in a variety of ways:  time spent moving or movement intensity such as distance, speed or difficulty.  Only one of these factors should be increased at any one time. Then the body needs time to adjust to each increase before adding anything new.  If you keep this moderate movement in mind and continue to remind yourself that any movement is better than no movement, perhaps you can control the urge to do too much too soon.  This applies to all forms of movement including yoga and Pilates.  There are modifications for all moves so that new participants can start slow.  The trick is to listen to your own body, focus on your own needs and ignore what you see anyone else doing.  Regular practice will enable your body to adapt and at your own pace you will begin to notice improvements.

In addition to the heart health benefits, the mind-body connection is also increasingly demonstrating how important physical movement is for brain health.  Contrary to long held beliefs, our brains are capable of forming new pathways throughout our lives – even as we age.  In an article from Boston University Medical Center researchers found “that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with enhanced brain structure in older adults. . .”  Corresponding author Scott Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and the associate director of the Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System, noted that “physical activities that enhance cardiorespiratory fitness such as walking, are inexpensive, accessible and could potentially improve quality of life by delaying cognitive decline and prolonging independent function.”  Another study, also dealing with physical activity and brain health, further reinforces these findings.  “Our study provides the strongest evidence to date that fitness in an older adult population can have substantial benefits to brain health in terms of the functional connections of different regions of the brain,” said Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer.  Michelle Voss, who led that study while a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, further noted that “the benefits of fitness seem to occur within the low-to-moderate range of endurance, suggesting that the benefits of fitness for the brain may not depend on being extremely fit.”  More evidence that a little movement is all you need.

The best news is that the medical profession is finally beginning to get the message.  A recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal provides a “How-to Guide for Prescribing Exercise for Chronic Health Conditions”.  The article notes that “Exercise helps to alleviate the symptoms of many chronic health conditions such as knee osteoarthritis, low back pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, heart disease and more, yet it is often overlooked as a treatment.”  “Many doctors and their patients aren’t aware that exercise is a treatment for these chronic conditions and can provide as much benefit as drugs or surgery, and typically with fewer harms,” states lead author Dr. Tammy Hoffmann, Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, Bond University, Robina, Australia.  Some examples of the chronic conditions that can benefit from exercise include osteoarthritis of the knee and hip, low back pain and prevention of falls.  In particular, movements that aid in improving muscle strength, range of motion, coordination, and balance are mentioned as some of the interventions that can help with these and other conditions.

As you know, Pilates and yoga specialize in practicing these types of movements.  So doesn’t it make sense to give movement a try?  It costs less than doctors visits, medication or surgery.  All it takes is an investment of time and a commitment to practice.  As noted above, you don’t need to be an expert or even an athlete to get started.  You can start where ever you are.  If you can move at all, there is something you can do. Make a decision to be kind to yourself and take it slow.  If you are already following a medical protocol you should, of course, check with your medical professional before starting any program.  But try asking before you assume that you are incapable of exercise or that it won’t help you.  You’ll never know until you try.


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