There are many 'surface' reasons why we want to get results via exercise, but what are the real reasons our bodies NEED exercise?
From a psychological standpoint, we understand the reasons why we workout. Mostly, it's to look better for a loved one. And yet, one of the main dilemmas with exercise is sticking to a routine over a longer period of time. So what if we paid more focus to why we SHOULD exercise, ie, the physiological benefits to our body, and not just our physique, in order to mentally and psychologically reinforce our motivation for training and working out.
Go back to the REASONS our bodies need exercise, and focus on how those reasons are truly realized and/or rationalized, or completely ignored by your current exercise program or routine:
1) Movement Efficiency: This has to be #1; as a nation, we do not move enough, and as a result, our movement quality is poor. Increasing movement efficiency results in a 'domino effect':
- Stimulation of unused or understimulated muscles via CNS (Central Nervous System)
- Increased metabolic rate because of newly stimulated muscle tissue
- Decreased physical therapy attendance and injury rates because of proper mechanics when lifting, turning, etc
- Increased awareness of limbs and center of gravity and ability to maintain stability (especially important in winter, on slippery surfaces, etc)
- Increased efficiency during ADL'S (activities of daily living)
- Increased bone density (especially important for women, NY Times article on bone health HERE
RECOMMENDATION: 6 Movements we do everyday, formulated in a workout plan, should be a staple of any workout routine. Be sure to progress the weight when you can do more than 20 reps of any of the following movements:
- Push (above and away)
- Pull (from in front of us and from above)
- Pick something up from the ground
- Place something back on the ground
- Resisting a movement or stress to the core
2) Heart and Lung Health: The reason we do 'cardio' in the first place is to improve the quality of our cardiovascular system. By improving our heart and lung's ability to distribute oxygen to working muscles and mitochondria, we lessen the ability that a stressful event (Monday mornings are a busy day in the operating room for heart surgeons) can kill. It's been said that the heart only has so many beats in its' lifetime, and decreasing the resting heart rate (a key marker in cardiovascular health), so why not spend 2-3 hours per week decreasing your heart disease chances?
RECOMMENDATION: Cardio plans should include at least 2 days per week of planned, periodically increased workouts:
- Long Slow Distance (known as LSD in the running community): this workout increases the heart's ability to maintain a certain heart rate while working at a easy heart rate. Working for 45-60 minutes on a treadmill, bike or elliptical and keeping a constant heart rate without decreasing the resistance or speed will tell you how efficient your heart is over time. NOTE: Most gym-goers already do LSD workouts, even though they don't know it.
- Interval Workouts: These workouts are crucial, and are a great way to increase your heart's ability to return from the stimulus a stressful event (running up or down a flight of stairs, running to catch the bus or your runaway dog). Working for 30-60 second intervals allows us to work harder than normal, stimulating new muscle, new lung development, and new levels of fat loss post-workout. Recovery periods of 60-120 seconds are normal and expected to be light in intensity in order to allow for increased intensity during the interval burst. Workouts should not last longer than 30-35 minutes.
RECOMMENDATION: Participating in a routine exercise program (every 2 days) maintains the increased level of immune system activity. Don't let more than 2 days pass between workouts.
4) Increased Brain Function: Alzheimers, Dementia and other potentially devastating memory disorders are starting to become more and more understood with each research study. In addition, the average person has the tools to ward off these diseases: exercise! Just recently, the New York Times published an article on the effect of exercise on brainwave activity ( New York Times Article ) and how exercise can even make you smarter. Are you REALLY smarter than a 5th Grader? Exercise may help you answer those questions your kid is asking.
RECOMMENDATION: Participating in a consistent exercise routine, despite holidays, vacations, stress, etc, will forever alter the way your brain functions. It is much better to know you have done everything in your present to ward off potential disease in the future than to be left looking to your past wondering what you could have done to change your present.
5) Tissue Quality and Strength: When it comes to the benefits of exercise, this one could have easily been number 1, and a article all to itself. Stimulating lean body mass, also known as the combination of muscle, tendon/ligament and bone, is one of the benefits most noticeably felt by gym-goers everywhere. But in addition to being felt, correctly performed (and hopefully closed chain) resistance training movements have the following benefits
- increase the formation of bone density for women,
- increases muscle quality in those over 45 who haven't exercised before
- increase pain free range of motion
- increase quality of movement
- potentially (depending where you read) generates new muscle fibers (a.k.a. hyperplasia)
(1) Acute exercise stimulates macrophage function: possible role of NF-kappaB pathways. Cell Biochemistry and Function. 2006 Aug 14; MedLine Plus Exercise and Immunity.