by Phil Hardesty
When you treat a friend really well, have you noticed how he or she will relax and expand, producing funnier jokes and smarter insights? Treat your body as your friend, and you’ll see the same change in yourself.
Being strong will also keep you sharp
I hear it all the time—“My workouts keep me sane,” usually followed by a laugh. Beyond weight-loss, firmer muscles, and feeling better in your body, exercise is like money in the bank. It gives you a stash of confidence. People leave the gym with a bounce in their strides.
That confidence is justified. Exercise has documented benefits for your mind as well as your body. It will help you ward off mental decline as you age and stay calm, disciplined, upbeat and mindful of your physical needs.
Being strong will also keep you sharp. In a 2017 study published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, researchers from the University of Mexico reported that exercise improves blood flow in the brain and boosts the formation of new neurons. As a result, it cuts your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and can help slow decline in dementia patients.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the best exercise is a combination of cardio, strength, balance and fun activities like gardening or playing ball; anything that keeps you mobile, improves circulation to the brain and helps with balance and coordination.
Knowing that you’re taking good care of yourself tends to feed confidence, and a sense of well-being. A 2016 study by Japanese researchers published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine further confirmed previous research that people who exercise are less likely to get depressed. (See Ornish Living article, The Powerful Benefits of Combining Exercise and Meditation for Depression.)
On a day when the stresses mount, go for a strenuous workout. Fear is our body’s response to danger. Back on the savannah we could throw a rock at the hyena rooting through our food or run from the tiger. In modern life, we often can’t directly tackle a threat. You can, however, put your body to work. By lifting weights, striding at your maximum speed and breaking a good sweat, you’ll quiet the anxious monologue in your head and burn away the stress. A 2016 study from a team in Budapest published in Psychiatria Hungarica concluded that regular moderate intensity exercise (ie. anything that elevates your heart rate) can even relieve symptoms in people with an anxiety problem like panic disorder or agoraphobia.
Regular exercise can help you stay on track with a healthy diet as well as your regular commitments and obligations. A 2006 study from a team at Macquarie University in Sydney, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, tracked how well volunteers were able to run their lives after they began exercising. After two months of regular workouts,the participants said they felt less stressed and had cut back on smoking, alcohol and coffee. They also reported eating healthier food and keeping up with chores and commitments.
Athletes often say that learning to work through physical discomfort when they set fitness goals gives them greater tolerance for emotional discomfort, too. A rejection, for example, is less likely to send you to the bar to drown your sorrows. (See Ornish Living article, Fitness That Works for Pro Athletes Can Also Work For You)
Staying In Touch
Many of us forget our bodies in the course of a modern day. You might be hunched before a computer for hours, running on too little sleep, carrying too many pounds, or ignoring chronic pain. When you exercise, you develop an awareness of your muscles, joints and sweat on your skin. The more we move, the more likely we are to notice when we’re hungry or tired or sick—we’re paying attention. Fatigue or soreness remind us that we only have one body and it needs our attention and love.