January-February 2017: Fitness for health

As a personal fitness trainer and health coach, I argue that anyone can engage in and enjoy some level of regular physical activity, even without access to a gym. Yes, there are perceived and real challenges to getting into an exercise frame of mind (that's a whole other issue), but once you manage these challenges and make regular physical activity a part of your everyday lifestyle (okay, maybe 3-4 times per week), you are on the road to a lifetime of fewer aches and pains, better mental health, more manageable stress, and higher energy levels.

So, here are some key issues to think about as you embark on your journey of physical activity and fitness for health.

A. The importance of "body-weight" training cannot be underestimated, and for good reason. You don’t need fancy equipment, an expensive membership or very much room for full body workouts, so they are appealing to anyone or at any age (with some guided supervision). Body-weight training helps increase lean muscle mass in individuals, especially when combined with some aerobic activity (1). And its a great way to ease into strength training, particularly if you want to eventually join a gym.

B. Working with a fitness professional, like a personal trainer, can be a great way to get tailored guidance and accountability to think about your fitness goals and work towards them. It can also be a great way to get over initial hesitation or awkwardness you may feel about your ability to do certain exercises or use certain equipment in the gym or when working out at home. In fact, working with a trainer on a one-to-one basis can actually change an individual’s attitude toward fitness, helping to increase their physical activity (2). 

C. Strength training is seeing its time in the limelight. While people, particularly women, sometimes shy away from the lifting weights by themselves or even with a trainer in a gym or at home, strength training is critical to keeping our bodies healthy, especially as we age. It helps preserve muscle mass and increase your metabolism to burn more calories even when you aren’t working out. It also helps develop and maintain strong bones - by stressing your bones, strength training can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis (3). One study found that in 10 weeks, inactive adults could see an increase in lean weight of more than 3 pounds and a reduction in fat weight of nearly 4 pounds, while increasing metabolic resting rate by 7 percent (4).

D. Exercise as medicine. We all know that food is medicine; well, it might be time to add to that, because exercise is medicine, too. The benefits of exercise go so much farther than how you look physically. From boosting happiness levels to reducing your risk of heart disease, exercising can help. Tossing and turning at night? Find yourself forgetting where you’ve placed your keys? That’s right, exercise is the answer. In fact, doctors are going so far as to prescribe exercise to patients in an effort to get them moving.

E. Nutrition or Exercise for Weight Loss. While nutrition and eating habits are more important to reach a body weight and shape you are comfortable with than just exercise (believe it or not!), fitness does play a key role in any comprehensive nutrition and weight loss program. What’s critical is finding a balance between workouts and healthy lifestyle activities that become a regular part of your day-to-day life. One study found that when participants thought of an exercise as pleasant, they had increased aerobic capacity and improved their physical health (6). And another discovered that incorporating laughter into physical activity programs for older adults improved their mental health, aerobic endurance and confidence in their ability to exercise (7). 

F. Benefits of Yoga. Yoga certainly isn’t new, but it’s just as popular as ever, for the body and the mind. And the benefits of yoga go far beyond the moment. It helps to decrease anxiety and stress, improves sleep quality, allows blood to flow through the body better, helps digestion and so much more. In fact, some argue, that practicing yoga changes your brain. It increases the “chill-out” neurotransmitter in your brain, a chemical that’s in low supply for people who suffer from depression and anxiety. It can also helps counteract chronic pain.

References

  1. Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23019316
  2. The Effectiveness of Personal Training on Changing Attitudes Towards Physical Activity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3937569/
  3. Strength Training: Getting Stronger, Leaner, Healthier. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/strength-training/art-20046670
  4. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22777332
  5. The Exercise Prescription: a Tool to Improve Physical Activity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23174544
  6. Pleasant, Enjoyable Exercise has Health Benefits. http://www.unisa.edu.au/Media-Centre/Releases/190312/#.WJ8uGTsrLIV
  7. Laughter-based Exercise Program has Health Benefits, Study finds. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160915120524.htm