An Introduction to Exercise
Exercise provides many benefits,
Including some that people are not aware of.
People often hold negative beliefs about exercise.
However, exercise provides immediate benefits,
anyone can do it,
and it does not have to be unpleasant.
If you are interested in improving your own life through exercise, many resources are available.
If you are using or want to use an exercise intervention to help a large number of people, we can help.
Regular exercise has been linked with long term health benefits
• Longer life
• Lower incidence of disease
• Decreased sedentarism, which may also lead to health benefits (i.e. there may be separate benefits to improving cardiovascular health, and for being active)
Exercise has also been linked with other benefits
• Increased emotional stability and happiness
• Improved cognition
• Greater academic performance
• Improved social relationships and peer liking
• Better behavioral control
• Improved clinical outcomes in disorders like ADHD, depression, and anxiety
These additional benefits are important, and many people are not aware of them. They are desirable things in their own right. However, exercise is not a miracle cure. If you have marital difficulties, it will not solve them. If you have a learning disability, it will not cure it. If you are depressed, it may improve your mood, but it will not remove any underlying environmental causes of your depression. Still, exercise does improve a large number of aspects of your life a significant amount. If you exercise regularly, you will be the same person you were before, but healthy, happier, and smarter.
Three beliefs about exercise that are not true
1. The costs are upfront, the benefits are down the road
2. People do not believe they can do it (especially regularly, for a long period of time)
3. People believe that exercise is hard or unpleasant
Exercise helps you immediately
A big issue with a standard exercise program is that the benefits are seen only after a long time, but the costs in terms of time, effort, and planning are all upfront. However, mood, cognition, and behavior control improve after only one bout of exercise. This property of exercise is very important. It is difficult to get in the habit of exercising when you don’t see any benefit until months or years from now. This motivation problem is common in exercise programs that are tailored towards weight loss, or preventing future health problems. However, when we demonstrate to people an immediate improvement in mood after exercise, or improved job performance after only minutes of exercise, then motivation becomes less of a problem.
Everyone can exercise.
Exercising to improve health, mood, and mental performance does not depend on:
• An objective standard of activity – people do not have exercise at the same speed, less fit people will have to do less work to raise their heart rate
• A certain level of physical ability, or the lack of any physical disability
• Any sort of diet
• Specialized equipment
• A schedule that is not busy
There are ways to fit exercise in to even the busiest life. There are people with desk jobs that buy desks with treadmills, allowing them to work and exercise at the same time. Not all solutions need be this drastic, but with proper planning, any sedentary lifestyle can accommodate an increase in activity. Any work, school, or clinical environment is suitable for exercise, even one where you sit all day. With the exception of people with serious medical conditions, anyone, regardless of fitness level, can exercise. However, some exercises may be more suitable than others for your particular environment, your schedule, and your current level of fitness, and expertise is required to determine these exercises. Most people do not have this expertise.
Exercise need not be unpleasant
Exercise programs are often geared towards “burning calories” in the mistaken belief that exercise represents a good method of losing weight (portion control and proper diet work when done correctly, it is nearly impossible to exercise enough to lose significant amounts of weight while maintaining your current diet). When exercise is done with the goal of burning calories, it is often unpleasant and tedious.
Exercise is best done to try and keep your heart beating within a certain heart rate zone. The activity that you do is not important, as long as it gets your heart beating fast enough. Do the activities you enjoy the most! If exercise is too easy, your heart will not beat much faster, and little or no benefits will accrue. If exercise is too difficult, then your heart will beat very fast, and although you may benefit from this exercise, you will find it painful, and probably not want to continue. If you are out of shape, then it will take only a bit of effort to get your heart rate going, whereas if you are in great shape, it will take a lot of movement. So exercise is actually very democratic, in the sense that it should feel the same for any person, regardless of the shape they are in, when they are in their target heart rate zone.
Professionals like us use formulas involving heart rate measures or even measures of oxygen intake to calculate the intensity of exercise, but you can use a simpler method to ensure you are in the right zone. If someone talks to you while exercising, and you can respond with short replies only, then you are probably working hard enough. If you are barely gasping out a response, you are probably getting close to the anaerobic zone, and you may want to ease up a little. If you can hold a normal conversation, you probably aren’t working hard enough. If you can find 30 minutes every day to get your heart rate going in the correct zone, you are well on your way to better health and wellness.