In last week's post Lifestyle Habits of Those Who Live Past 100 fitness/or exercise was mentioned as a top habit of Centenarians (those who live past 100). Exercise is so important. Not only does it make us feel good, but it also has important positive effects on our mental, physical and spiritual selves. When talking about the importance of exercise as a psychotherapist, I like to describe it as a means of cleansing our energy. Stress, emotional pain, diet and environmental toxins accumulate within our bodies. Exercise helps to move energy through us, discharging negative energy, and replacing it with new, clean energy. I decided to do more research for you guys though and below are the benefits exercise has on our mental, emotional, and physical well being:
- Improves sleep. Really important functions happen only while we are sleeping. Deep, REM sleep prompts the body's repair and renewal functions. Exercise has been shown to promote improved quality of sleep and quantity of sleep, so if you have any sleep difficulties, exercise should be a non-negotiable part of your self-care routine.
- Improves brain functioning. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain which is crucial for brain functioning. It promotes brain functioning on a physiological level as well which I will explain later.
- Improves and preserves strength and mobility. Strength and mobility are crucial for quality of life as you age. Aging doesn't have to include a break down of your strength or mobility, exercise can help to preserve the quality of your body regarding muscle function, metabolism, and strength.
- Decreases Stress. Exercise decreases cortisol (the stress hormone). Cortisol negatively effects the digestive and immune systems in the body. Over time, chronic stress can take a major toll leading to problems such as depression, insomnia, digestive problems, immune system issues, hormonal imbalances, and obesity. Since exercise regularly flushes cortisol from the body, it can also help to prevent any of the major issues related to chronic stress.
- Releases feel-good brain chemicals. Exercise releases endorphins, nature's pain killers and anti-depressants in the brain. Rhythmic movements have also been shown to stimulate serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter believed to prevent depression and promote mood balance. Thus, exercise is actually uber important for positive mental health as well.
- Stimulates the circulatory system. Exercise gets the heart pumping, thus stimulating and working the circulatory system, the part of our body responsible for moving blood through our bodies, and distributing vital nutrients to our tissues and organs.
- Stimulates the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is basically our body's drainage system. It removes toxins from our body, and protects us from infection, bacteria, and cancer. The problem is, that unlike our circulatory system, the lymphatic system has no pumping mechanism to keep fluids circulating. We have to pump it ourselves through movement (e.g. exercise). When the lymphatic system is healthy and functioning properly, it keeps our body clean and our tissues and cells healthy.
This is just one example of the power you have over your own physical and mental/emotional health. Centenarians (people over age 100) all had the lifestyle habit of daily exercise in common. The thing is, most of these Centenarians got their exercise regularly from walking, gardening or outdoor work since gyms and health clubs are only a newer concept. You don't have to commit to a daily intense gym session to reap these benefits. Even 30 minutes of walking before and/or after work provides benefits. The most important thing is to find an exercise that you enjoy and fits into your lifestyle. Just get moving however you can to get your energy moving, your lymphatic system flowing, your brain pumping out those feel-good chemicals, and your blood flowing!