As one of the main 5 elements of well-being, there is a lot of talk about the importance of physical fitness to maintaining a healthy body. General recommendations are to perform 150-300 minutes of physical activity each week. This includes at least 3-5 days of doing aerobic activity and at least 2 days of performing strengthening exercises.
There are several different activities and sports to facilitate these types of exercise. For instance, aerobic activities might include walking, running, swimming, racquetball, cross-country skiing, or circuits of any kind – as long as the activity is strenuous enough to sustain elevated heart rate without too much chance to rest for about 30 minutes at a time. Strengthening activities could involve Yoga, Pilates, weight lifting, plyometrics (push-ups, sit-ups, squats) or other resisted activities – difficult to the point of challenging the muscles to allow them to grow stronger upon restoration by the body.
I find it helpful to understand WHY physical fitness is so important; instead of seeing it as something I am supposed to do, I see it instead as something I want to do.
Aerobic exercise works to increase the efficiency of the heart so that each beat counts for more – it delivers more oxygen to body tissues with each pump. The heart itself only gets supplied with oxygenated blood BETWEEN beats, hence the benefit of having a lower heart rate: the heart receives significantly more oxygenated blood to stay healthy than if the heart rate is higher. Elevated heart rate is necessary during aerobic activity in order to reduce the heart rate at rest over time. Go figure!
The benefits of resistance exercises are improved bone density and muscle strength for functional movement and balance/stability. If you are not familiar with how bone density or muscle tissue develops, keep reading. These two tissues are very similar in the sense that we build and build and build until we are approximately age 25. Around that time (give or take 5 years,) we stop building so much, and instead our bodies slowly starting to lose density in both areas. At this point, our bodies are like piggy banks and exercise is avoiding paying monthly fees. We only have how much we start with, and after that, our exercise is intended to allow us to keep from losing it as quickly.
Some risks to not exercising are clear, like weight gain and poor cardiovascular capacity. It turns out that research has seen some other effects as well. For instance, in 2009, a systematic review (compilation of ALL previous comparable research) found that elevated adiposity is a risk factor for tendon injury. In other words, a high level of fat tissue in the body was a predicting factor for tendonitis, tendinosis and other tendon damage. Similarly, sedentary lifestyle was also a predicting factor for chronic low back pain.
And so there is ample evidence to support the fact that the body NEEDS exercise to be well. The TYPE of exercise that is right for you has much more to do with your interests and what gets you excited. If you aspire to compete in a triathlon, it is clear that you should be biking, swimming and running. If you just like to be social, have fun, and get a good sweat on, perhaps a dance workout class is best for you. Either way, it’s good to explore and see what grabs your attention – you may be surprised!