Imagine if just one activity could boost your brain, reduce stress, ward off depression and improve every aspect of your physical health. It’s called exercise, and reaping its benefits is much easier than you think.
Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. Regular physical activity improves just about every system in your body. Benefits include helping you maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, stronger bones, improved balance, and even lower incidence of certain types of diabetes and cancers.
In fact, exercise is so good for you that, according to the CDC, 150 minutes a week of physical activity equates with a 33% lower risk of mortality from all causes.
But beyond the more obvious physical benefits, exercise literally helps you build a better brain and better regulate your emotions. We now know that exercise actually changes the brain, which in turn can massively improve our cognitive functioning.
That’s right – getting your body moving means that you’ll have greater mental clarity, better concentration and overall improved mental powers. When you exercise, your brain actually grows new neurons.
Research shows that exercise improves both our short- and long-term memory. Exercise can ward off mental decline and even dementia as we age. It also improves our sleep, which further improves memory and overall brain functioning.
As if that’s not enough, regular physical activity can boost your mood and significantly reduce anxiety and depression, as well as help you better manage everyday stress and uncomfortable emotions. Professor Stephen Ilardi, a depression researcher at the University of Kansas, created a revolutionary program to fight depression without medication. His program has an over 70% success rate, far better than any anti-depressant.
Professor Ilardi’s program includes several components, but at the heart of his program is physical activity. As he discovered in his research, indigenous tribes and other groups that barely experience any depression all engage in significant physical activity as part of their daily routine.
A Duke University study compared exercise to Zoloft, a popular anti-depressant, and found exercise to be more effective than Zoloft in combating depression.
Yes, exercise appears to be more powerful than prescription medication. So powerful in fact, that after noting the anti-aging effects of exercise down to the cellular level, as well as exercise's brain-enhancing effects and impact on emotional regulation, Ilardi declared,
Exercise literally is medicine. It changes the brain and the body in beneficial
ways that are more powerful than any pill you can take . . . If you could take
the neurological and physiological effects of exercise and capture them in a
pill . . . I believe that pill would become the best-selling drug of all time.
How To Make Exercise a Part of Your Day Without Breaking a Sweat
Physical activity gives us everything we could want – a better body, a better mind and a less stressed and happier disposition, along with possibly a longer life. What’s not to like?
But the truth is that many of us don’t like exercise. It’s hard. It’s boring. We don’t think we have the time for it. So we join the gym or start a running routine, but gradually slack off. We know we should exercise. But we don’t.
If only there were an easier way. If, as Professor Ilardi described, all the benefits of exercise were available in a pill, we’d all line up at our local pharmacy and buy extra. But alas, it is not available in a pill.
Fortunately though, there’s still an easier way. Exercise doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to mean training for marathons or working out five times a week (unless you want to).
Try these four ways to incorporate exercise into your routine more naturally and easily and reap all of the physical, mental and emotional benefits:
1. Incorporate physical activity naturally into your current routine. The research shows you don’t need to get a lot of exercise to benefit from it. Park your car at the end of the parking lot and walk the extra distance to the store or your office. Carry your groceries even if you don’t need to. Take a five-minute break a few times a day and stretch or do a few isometric exercises. Take the stairs whenever you can.
Buy weights for your shoes so that you have to work a little harder when you walk. Plan leisure activities that take place outdoors and involve physical activity. Anything you do that increases your physical activity will benefit you. If you incorporate physical activity naturally into your day, you won’t need to set aside extra blocks of time for exercise or push yourself do it.
2. Walk. In the Duke University study that found exercise to be more effective than Zoloft in combating depression, exercise meant brisk walking for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. You would gain the same benefits as those in the study by taking a 30-minute walk once or twice over the weekend, and then another 30-minute walk or two during the week, either to wind down after work or first thing in the morning to start your day. No heavy lifting required. (You’ll find ideas here to get you started on a walking routine.)
3. Find an activity you like. People often don’t stick with an exercise routine because they don’t enjoy their chosen exercise. If you hate to run, or dread the thought of pumping iron, you’re not going to do it for long. If instead, you find a physical activity you actually enjoy, then it becomes easy to stick with it.
Let’s say you like tennis. You’ll have a much easier time signing up for lessons at the local tennis club than if you take out the traditional gym membership. And you’ll be getting all the physical activity you need – and enjoying it – without setting foot in the gym.
Stephen Duneier, author of AlphaBrain, tells of how he lost weight by not going to the gym, but instead by setting a goal of hiking 33 trails in the Santa Barbara mountains. Duneier knew that he didn’t like working out but loved to hike - so getting active by doing something he loved was a much surer path to shedding the pounds.
4. Find a partner. Exercising with a partner will make your staying power and success much more likely. With a partner, you’re more accountable and more likely to show up.
If instead of simply setting a goal of walking a few times a week, you have a regular time that you walk with a walking partner, it’s going to happen. You’re not going to get sidetracked by distracting activities as you might if you were going it alone. You’ll show up because someone else is expecting you to show up. The partner approach works with virtually any activity, from walking to tennis to working out at the gym.