Fitness First: Exercise

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell June 15, 2009 10:09

The word exercise is derived from the Latin root meaning “to maintain, or to ward off.” To exercise means to practice, put into action, train, improve. Exercise is a natural way of life, but with aging we have to consciously put it back into our day and our life. Walking, which is now considered exercise, was originally a form of transportation.

If I asked 100 people why they exercise, their answers will almost always be some variation of this: “Because it makes me feel better.” One of my longtime students who has chronic osteoarthritis put it this way, “I feel like hell in the morning – and then I feel great after exercise.” Why is this true? Is it the feeling of accomplishment we gain, or is there a physiological reason why we feel better and think more clearly after working out?

Exercise has been proven to do all kinds of things, from improving our health, memory and mood, to preventing falls and relieving pain. Aerobic exercise in particular leads to the release of certain hormones in the brain that alleviate pain, both physical and mental. These hormones are known as endorphins. You’ve probably heard of the “runner’s high,” but even moderate aerobic exercise can release these hormones.

Endorphins, which are released within 30 minutes after an aerobic exercise session, can make you feel better physically and emotionally for several hours afterward. These endorphins can help minimize discomfort from exercise and increase your feeling of well-being.

So if your reason for inactivity is pain, look for an easy, gentle way to get started. Swimming or just walking in a pool can be a great way to exercise with less pain and still get the benefit of these endorphins. Find an exercise program and instructor specializing in exercises for the beginner.

Another exciting thing exercise does is creates new neurons in the hippocampus of the brain. These neurons are the center of learning and memory. Walking is especially good for the brain because it creates these new neurons and increases blood flow, oxygen and glucose to the brain. Walking really can “clear your head” and help you think better. Studies of senior citizens who walked regularly showed significant improvement in memory skills compared to sedentary seniors.

Walking also improved the seniors’ learning concentration and ability to improve short-term memory. Senior walkers are reported to be at half the risk of having a stroke compared to the sedentary group. This was based on just a moderate walk of 20 minutes per day. In another study, researchers found that people who participated in fewer leisure activities were 3.8 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

The lesson here? You don’t need to be running marathons to get these benefits. Just walking on a regular basis will increase blood flow to all parts of your body, curb pain, and enhance mental activity. Exercise is a key factor in our total well-being – good for your mind, body and soul.

Exercise Tip: Start walking! Even if you can only walk five minutes, just get going. Keep adding five minutes a day until you can walk for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Walking or any activity that raises your heart rate for a sustained period of time is the key to releasing endorphins that make you feel better and help your brain create new neurons.

Exercise physiologist Krista Howell teaches senior fitness classes, and also supervises cardiac rehab patients for Sonora Regional Medical Center.

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell June 15, 2009 10:09
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