Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical and mental health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active.
People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.
Exercise and depression
Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Exercise and anxiety
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.
Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise—you’ll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.
Exercise and stress
Ever noticed how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.
Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
Exercise and ADHD
Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Exercise and PTSD and trauma
Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma. Instead of thinking about other things, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming, weight training, or dancing—are some of your best choices.
Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
Sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You’ll feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.
Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energized.
Stronger resilience. When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviors that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.
Reaping the mental health benefits of exercise is easier than you think
Wondering just how active you need to be to get a mental health boost? It’s probably not as much as you think. You don’t need to devote hours out of your busy day, train at the gym, sweat buckets, or run mile after monotonous mile. You can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.
Even a little bit of activity is better than nothing
If that still seems intimidating, don’t despair. Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to do some moderate physical activity—however little—on most days. As exercising becomes habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.
Can’t find time to exercise during the week? Be a weekend warrior
A recent study in the UK found that people who squeeze their exercise routines into one or two sessions at the weekend experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often. So don’t let a busy schedule at work, home, or school be an excuse to avoid activity. Get moving whenever you can find the time—your mind and body will thank you!
You don’t have to suffer to get results
Research shows that moderate levels of exercise are best for most people. Moderate means:
That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
Overcoming mental health obstacles to exercise
So now you know that exercise will help you feel much better and that it doesn’t take as much effort as you might have thought. But taking that first step is still easier said than done. Exercise obstacles are very real—particularly when you’re also struggling with mental health. Here are some common barriers and what you can do to get past them.
Feeling exhausted. When you’re tired or stressed, it feels like working out will just make it worse. But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energizer. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. If you are really feeling tired, promise yourself a 5-minute walk. Chances are you’ll be able to go five more minutes.
Feeling overwhelmed. When you’re stressed or depressed, the thought of adding another obligation can seem overwhelming. Working out just doesn’t seem doable. If you have children, managing childcare while you exercise can be a big hurdle. Just remember that physical activity helps us do everything else better. If you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority, you will soon find ways to fit small amounts in a busy schedule.
Feeling hopeless. Even if you’re starting at “ground zero,” you can still workout. Exercise helps you get in shape. If you have no experience exercising, start slow with low-impact movement a few minutes each day.
Feeling bad about yourself. Are you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter what your weight, age or fitness level, there are others like you with the goals of getting fit. Try surrounding yourself with people in your shoes. Take a class with people at a variety of fitness levels. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence.
Feeling pain. If you have a disability, severe weight problem, arthritis, or any injury or illness that limits your mobility, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to safely exercise. You shouldn’t ignore pain, but rather do what you can, when you can. Divide your exercise into shorter, more frequent chunks of time if that helps, or try exercising in water to reduce joint or muscle discomfort.
Getting started exercising when you’re anxious or depressed
Many of us find it hard enough to motivate ourselves to exercise at the best of times. When we feel depressed, anxious, stressed or have other mental or emotional problems, it can be doubly difficult. This is especially true of depression and anxiety, and it can leave you feeling trapped in a catch-22 situation. You know exercise will make you feel better, but depression has robbed you of the energy and motivation you need to exercise, or your social anxiety means you can’t bear the thought of being seen at an exercise class or running through the park. So, what can you do?
It’s okay to start small. In fact, it’s smart.
When you’re under the cloud of an emotional disorder and haven’t exercised for a long time, setting yourself extravagant goals like completing a marathon or working out for an hour every morning will only leave you more despondent if you fall short. Better to set yourself achievable goals and build up from there.
Schedule your workout at the time of day when your energy is highest
That may be first thing in the morning before work or school, or at lunchtime before the mid-afternoon lull hits, or in longer sessions at the weekend. If depression or anxiety has you feeling tired and unmotivated all day long, try dancing to some music or simply going for a walk. Even a short, 15-minute walk can help clear your mind, improve your mood, and boost your energy level. As you move and start to feel a little better, you’ll experience a greater sense of control over your well-being. You may even feel energized enough to exercise more vigorously—by walking further, breaking into a run, or adding a bike ride, for example.
How much exercise is enough? Short answer: It depends.
“How much exercise is enough for what?” asks David Bassett Jr., PhD, a professor of exercises physiology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He explains that, before you make a decision on how much you need, you should have a good idea of your exercise goal or goals: Are you exercising for physical fitness, weight control, or as a way of keeping your stress levels low?
For general health benefits, a routine of daily walking may be sufficient, says Susan Joy, MD, co-director of the Kaiser Permanente Sports Medicine Center in Sacramento and team physician for the Sacramento Kings.
If your goal is more specific — say, to lower your blood pressure, improve your cardiovascular fitness, or lose weight — you’ll need either more frequent exercises or a higher intensity of exercises.
“The medical literature continues to support the idea that exercise is medicine,” says Jeffrey E. Oken, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with the Marianjoy Medical Group in Wheaton, Illinois. “Regular exercises can help lower risk of premature death, control your blood pressure, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, combat obesity, improve your lung function, and help treat depression.”
Here, experts break down exactly how much exercises is enough, on the basis of your personal health and fitness goals.
Current Physical Fitness Guidelines for All Adults
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone needs two types of physical activity each week: aerobics and muscle-strengthening activities.
Aerobic activity involves repetitive use of the large muscles to temporarily increase heart rate and respiration. When repeated regularly, aerobic activity improves cardio-respiratory fitness. Running, brisk walking, swimming, and cycling are all forms of aerobic activity.
Muscle-strengthening activities are designed to work one or more muscle groups. All the major muscle groups — legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms — should be worked on two or more days each week, according to federal guidelines. Lifting weights, working with resistance bands, and doing pushups are all are forms of muscle-strengthening activities, according to the CDC.
Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, in addition to muscle-strengthening activities. If activity is more vigorous in intensity, 75 minutes a week may be enough. For even greater health benefits, though, more activity is better: 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a mix of the two, says the CDC.
It’s best to be active throughout the week, rather than concentrating all your physical activity in one day. That means aim for 30 to 60 minutes of exercises, five days a week. You can break it up into even smaller chunks, too: three brief periods of physical activity a day, for example. In order for it to be effective in improving health and fitness, the CDC says you need to sustain the activity for at least 10 minutes at a time.
How Much Exercise Do You Need to Lose Weight or Maintain Weight Loss?
Research consistently shows that, to lose weight, integrating exercises into your routine helps. For example, in one study published in the journal Obesity, women who both dieted and exercised lost more weight than those who only dieted.
If you’re trying to control your weight through exercises, however, the general activity guidelines provided by the CDC might not be sufficient; you’re likely going to need to devote some extra time to exercises.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), 150 to 250 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity yields only modest weight-loss results, and to lose a significant amount of weight, you may need to perform moderate-intensity exercises more than 250 minutes per week (in addition to dietary intervention). So how much exercises do you need in a day? That equates to about one hour, five days per week.
Meanwhile, the CDC suggests that, if you increase your intensity, you can reap similar weight-control benefits in about half the time. For example, in one study published in January 2017 in the Journal of Diabetes Research, women who performed high-intensity interval exercise lost the same amount of weight and body fat compared with those who performed moderate-intensity cardio, but they did it while exercising for significantly less time.
It’s important to remember that once you hit your weight-loss goals, you need to continue exercising to make sure you don’t regain the weight. A study published in August 2015 in theJournal of Primary Prevention that analyzed data from 81 studies investigating the role of exercise in weight management found that one of the biggest ways exercise helps with weight management is by preventing weight gain (perhaps even more than it helps you lose weight).
The ACSM recommends performing more than 250 minutes of exercise per week to prevent weight regain.
To both lose weight and prevent weight regain, the ACSM recommends performing strength-training exercises to increase the body’s levels of fat-free mass, which improves metabolic rate. That’s why, when Harvard researchers followed 10,500 men over the course of 12 years, those who performed 20 minutes of strength training per day gained less abdominal fat compared with those who spent the same amount of time performing cardiovascular exercise, according to data published in the February 2015 issue of the journal Obesity.
How Much Exercise Do You Need to Improve Cardiovascular Health?
Fortunately for anyone trying to improve their heart health, a little bit of exercise goes a long way.
For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends performing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week. (7) Other research shows that aerobic exercise is the most efficient form of exercise for improving measures of cardiometabolic health, including insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, and blood pressure.
AHA recommends performing strengthening activities at least two days per week to help preserve and build lean muscle.
However, if you are actively trying to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol levels, the AHA advises upping your exercise time and intensity to an average of 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-cardiovascular activity three to four times per week. Before engaging in high-intensity exercise, especially if you have a history of heart issues, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what intensity of exercise is safe for you, Dr. Oken says.
And, again, remember that it’s okay to work up to your target exercise levels. No matter what your goals are, some exercise is always going to be more beneficial than none. Small steps sometimes lead to the biggest gains.
Feel younger, live longer. It’s no slogan — these are actual benefits of regular exercise. People with high levels of physical fitness are at lower risk of dying from a variety of causes, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Physical Fitness: What the Benefits of Exercise Mean for You
There’s more good news. Research also shows that exercise enhances sleep, prevents weight gain, and reduces the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even depression.
“One study found that when breast cancer survivors engaged in exercise, there were marked improvements in physical activity, strength, maintaining weight, and social well-being,” explains Rachel Permuth-Levine, PhD, deputy director for the Office of Strategic and Innovative Programs at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.Read about Physical Fitness Protects Brain Health.
“Another study looked at patients with stable heart failure and determined that exercise relieves symptoms, improves quality of life, reduces hospitalization, and in some cases, reduces the risk of death,” adds Dr. Permuth-Levine. She points out that exercise isn’t just important for people who are already living with health conditions: “If we can see benefits of moderate exercise in people who are recovering from disease, we might see even greater benefits in those of us who are generally well.”
Physical Fitness: Exercise Basics
Physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to produce results. Even moderate exercise five to six times a week can lead to lasting health benefits.
When incorporating more physical activity into your life, remember three simple guidelines:
Exercise at moderate intensity for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes spread over the course of each week.
Avoid periods of inactivity; some exercise at any level of intensity is better than none.
At least twice a week, supplement aerobic exercise (cardio) with weight-bearing activities that strengthen all major muscle groups.
Physical Fitness: Making Exercise a Habit
The number one reason most people say they don’t exercise is lack of time. If you find it difficult to fit extended periods of exercise into your schedule, keep in mind that short bouts of physical activity in 10-minute segments will nonetheless help you achieve health benefits. Advises Permuth-Levine, “Even in the absence of weight loss, relatively brief periods of exercise every day reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Set realistic goals and take small steps to fit more movement into your daily life, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to the grocery store instead of driving. “The key is to start gradually and be prepared,” says Permuth-Levine. “Have your shoes, pedometer, and music ready so you don’t have any excuses.”
To help you stick with your new exercise habit, vary your routine, like swimming one day and walking the next. Get out and start a baseball or soccer game with your kids. Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, have a plan B — use an exercise bike in your home, scope out exercise equipment at a nearby community center, or consider joining a health club. The trick is to get to the point where you look at exercise like brushing your teeth and getting enough sleep — as essential to your well-being.
Remember that physical fitness is attainable. Even with small changes, you can reap big rewards that will pay off for years to come.
Women with high physical fitness at middle age were nearly 90% less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared with women who were moderately fit, according to a study published this spring in an online issue of the journal Neurology®. The study measured the women’s cardiovascular fitness based on an exercise test.
When the highly fit women did develop dementia, they developed the disease an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit or concerned with physical fitness, or at age 90 instead of age 79.
“These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia,” said study author Helena Hörder, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden. “However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia; it only shows an association. More research is needed to see if improved fitness could have a positive effect on the risk of dementia and also to look at when during a lifetime a high fitness level is most important.” Read about 8 Reasons Why You Should Hit The Gym.
For the study, 191 women with an average age of 50 took a bicycle exercise test until they were exhausted to measure their peak cardiovascular capacity. The average peak workload was measured at 103 watts. A total of 40 women met the criteria for high fitness, or 120 watts or higher; 92 women were in the medium-fitness category; and 59 women were in the low-fitness category. For women with low physical fitness, peak workload was 80 watts or less, or the exercise tests had to stop because of high blood pressure, chest pain or other cardiovascular problems.
Over the next 44 years, the women were tested for dementia six times. During that time, 44 of the women developed the disease. Five percent of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared with 25% of moderately fit women and 32% of the women with low fitness. The highly fit women were 88% less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women.
Fitness Level on Test
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Among the women who had to stop the exercise test because of problems, 45% developed dementia decades later. “This indicates that negative cardiovascular processes may be happening in midlife that could increase the risk of dementia much later in life,” Hörder said.Read about Beating The Blues With Exercise.
Limitations of the study include the relatively small number of women involved, all of whom were from Sweden, so the results may not be applicable to other populations, Hörder said. Also, each woman’s fitness level was measured only once, so any changes in fitness over time were not captured.
We’ve all started a new year off with a fitness resolution haven’t we? “This year I’m going to get fitter” or “This year I’m going to exercise more”. But saying it and doing it are two different things! So, Hitting the Gym is a must today!
56% of Australian adults are either inactive or have low levels of physical activity – that’s more than 9.5 million adults. Don’t become part of that statistic – if you need a little help to take action on your resolution, read the top 8 reasons to join a gym and get moving.
It’s clear, but we’ll mention it anyway – going to the gym is good for your health and fitness! Put simply, during exercise we increase our cardiovascular fitness through strengthening our heart and lungs and we increase our strength through creating lean muscle. The Australian Government Department of Health recommends five hours of moderate exercise per week, including muscle strengthening activities at least twice per week.
Studies show that regular exercise and an increase in strength and cardio fitness levels can help reduce the risk of health concerns and diseases, including:
High blood pressure
Diabetes (type II)
Stress related illnesses
2. Access to equipment
One of the big advantages of joining a gym is the wide array of equipment available, including cardio machines, strength machines, weights, boxing kits and various functional training gear (TRX, fit balls, resistance bands etc). It might be intimidating at first, but you’ll find friendly experts on hand to help you use it all. Trust us – it’s all a lot simpler than it looks!
3. Make friends
The gym is a great way to be social and meet like-minded people. Group fitness classes will help you work towards your goals and are a fun way to make friends. You might find someone who loves Body Pump just as much as you! Once you connect with someone at your fitness level and appoint them as your official training buddy, you’ll be able to team up and try these partner workouts for maximum results.
4. Access to knowledge
Gym Clubs have qualified, experienced personal trainers (many with health and sports-related degrees) on hand who can advise you on the best exercises and workouts for reaching your goals. They can give you individualised direction for your workouts in the gym, keeping you safe and motivating you along the way too. Read about The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
5. Establish a healthy routine
One of the hurdles in committing to a gym membership is justifying the cost and how much you will use it. It’s easy to establish a healthy routine with a gym membership when you have the use of facilities regardless of rain, hail or shine outside. There’s no soggy ground to worry about, no dogs to hurdle when running and no risk of heat exhaustion on summer days. So flip that financial hurdle into a motivator, establish a routine and you’ll create a new healthy habit well worth the investment in no time.
6. Increased energy levels
One of the side effects of exercise is an increase in energy levels and enhanced mood, due to the release of natural, happy endorphins. There’s no better feeling than leaving the gym after a workout feeling energised and ready for whatever the day throws at you. If you’re looking for an extra spring in your step, it’s a great benefit of joining a gym!
7. Be challenged
If you’re looking for a fitness challenge, look no further! The Goodlife 12 Week Challenge and shorter 8 Week Challenge both offer a targeted exercise and nutrition program to help you achieve long-term and life-changing results. Goodlife gyms also have one of the biggest group fitness class offerings including 30 minute functional workout class – Emily Skye Ignite and the latest fitness trend fusing Pilates, yoga and dance – Bootybarre.
8. Be motivated
You either love exercise or you have to drag yourself along to get it done! If you’re one of the latter, heading to the gym and being around others who are in the same situation as you can be just the incentive and motivation you need to keep going. You might even find yourself converting into an exercise lover when you’re heading to the gym on a more regular basis, hitting your fitness goals and seeing results on the inside and out!To keep motivated, Read 10 Steps To Help You Avoid Losing The Thrill On Gym.
Now scientists are studying the link between exercise and mood changes at close range and coming up with some fascinating results.
One expert in the field says “exercise is clearly associated with mental-health benefits.” And moderate exercisers show lowered blood-pressure levels and a resultant positive mood. The key is moderate exercise, performed a minimum of 30 minutes, three or four times a week. Brisk walking, swimming, lifting weights, and bicycling – all achieve good results.
People who exercise regularly, even at something as simple as walking or bicycling, are more flexible. They experience less stress on the muscles and joints when they do bend down the wrong way. Conditioned muscles recover faster, too. It’s the couch potato who hauls himself erect one Saturday afternoon to rake the leaves or shovel snow who has trouble.
The big problem we all face these days is living a stressful life. All families seem to be too busy to sit down together and share the joys and pleasures of life. The little things that once mattered are no longer important and now there is a race for more money, more time and more material possessions. Read about How to achieve happiness.
By using simple relaxation techniques, exercising and making changes in our lifestyles, we can manage stress and take control of your lives! Once you have become aware of stress, it’s time to relax! There are many techniques for relaxing (and no one method is better than another), but the most basic is deep breathing. One of the body’s automatic reactions to stress is rapid, shallow breathing. Breathing slowly and deeply is one of the ways you can “turn off” your stress reaction and “turn on” your relaxation response.
Still another relaxation technique that can help you reduce stress is “clearing your mind.” Since your stress response is a physical and emotional interaction, giving yourself a mental “break” can help relax your body as well. When you clear your mind, you try to concentrate on one pleasant thought, work, or image and let the rest of your worries slip away. A short and quiet walk can do wonders and just a walk around the block will clear your head and often give you a new spurt of energy.
Muscle and joint aches and pains are a common complaint for many of us, living as we do in a sedentary, high-stress society. The cliché warning us to “use it or lose it” isn’t far off the mark. Our bodies pay the price for long hours slumped at our desks or nestled in a soft chair watching television. And if you think some of our aches and pains are just another consequence of ageing, you’re wrong – more often, it’s a result of inactivity and weaker muscles. Read about How to be happy – Don’t Worry, Be Happy.
Doctors now say that walking is one of the best exercises. It helps the total circulation of blood throughout the body, and thus has a direct effect on your overall feeling of health. There are things such a aerobics, jogging, swimming and many other exercises which will benefit a person both physically and mentally. Researchers agree that exercise helps to ease anxiety and lift spirits.
It’s is a 70-year-old exercise technique first developed by German immigrant, Joseph Pilates. Only recently has it migrated from its long-held position at the fringes of traditional fitness methods such as aerobics and weight training. Hollywood has been a key factor in turning the spotlight on pilates exercise, as numerous models and actresses pay homage to Pilates for their beautifully toned, fit bodies.
Focusing on the Core
The abdominal and back muscles are often collectively referred to as the body’s core. Pilates exercises are designed to strengthen this core by developing pelvic stability and abdominal control. In addition, the exercises improve flexibility and joint mobility, and build strength.
How can one exercise technique claim to do so much?
The Reformer, a wooden contraption with various cables, pulleys, springs and sliding boards attached, lies at the foundation of Pilates. Primarily using one’s own body weight as resistance, participants are put through a series of progressive, range-of-motion exercises. Despite the appearance of this, and several other equally unusual-looking devices, Pilates exercises are very low impact. Instructors, who typically work one-on-one or with two to three participants, offer reminders to engage the abdominal muscles, the back, the upper leg and buttocks to stabilize the body’s core. Exercise sessions are designed according to individual flexibility and strength limitations.
Pilates exercises are not limited to specialized machines, however. In fact, many gyms across the country now offer Pilates floor-work classes. These exercises also stress the stabilization and strengthening of the back and abdominal muscles.
Connecting with Pilates
The mind/body connection associated with yoga and meditation also plays an integral part in Pilates. Unlike exercise techniques that emphasize numerous repetitions in a single direction, Pilates exercises are performed with very few, but extremely precise, repetitions in several planes of motion.
So, what will all this focus and stabilization get you?
Well, according to its adherents, Pilates can help you develop long, strong muscles, a flat stomach and a strong back, and improve posture. Of course, these changes are dependent upon other lifestyle factors, such as a well-balanced diet and regular, aerobic exercise. (Though some may claim that Pilates exercise is all you need to develop stamina and endurance as well, an additional cardiovascular component may be advisable.)
An initial Pilates session typically includes a body assessment, which allows the instructor to pinpoint strength and flexibility weak spots. This is the time to become familiar with Pilates’ unique breathing patterns, which don’t always follow the exhale-on-the-exertion pattern of traditional exercise. Sessions typically run 60 minutes, at a cost of $30 to $50 for private sessions, and $8 to $25 for group sessions.
If you’re more comfortable exercising at home, there are several Pilates and Pilates-type videos available, including the Fit & Flexible series, and The Method Precision series. Several home versions of the Reformer also are currently available on the market.
Whether you work out at a studio or on your living room floor, Pilates is an excellent way to challenge your muscles, improve flexibility and incorporate the mind/ body element into one effective exercise session.