Friday, April 20, 2012

Thoughts On Exercise

I think that most people are in agreement that exercise is an important part of healthy living. But how do we decide which exercises will give us the most physical and mental benefits, allowing us to develop good muscle tone and bone density, be flexible, and have strength and endurance? Is there really one particular exercise routine that will serve all of our needs?

Modern society is obsessed with achieving what is perceived as a "hot" body. Image is everything in our culture. People spend large amounts of time and money going to the gym: it is even considered fashionable to have one's own personal trainer. Some people will go so far as to have surgical procedures to attain their idea of the "perfect" body.

I have to ask, is this kind of thinking realistic? Is our obsession with physical perfection actually benefiting our overall health?

Do you really need the bulky equipment, the personal trainer, and the fancy gym to have a flexible, well-toned body? I suppose that it is a matter of preference, but personally I can’t think of anything more boring than spinning on a stationary bicycle or strolling on the tread mill, glued to the TV. We gain much more benefit from choosing an activity that brings us more in touch with our bodies and our natural environment. By this I mean choosing life-related physical activities and other forms of exercise that we enjoy and that allow us to maintain our health.

With that in mind, here are my suggestions for activities that will give you optimal health benefits, both physical and mental.

Walking along the river by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
1. Walking outside
2. Stretching
3. Finding an activity that you ENJOY!

Walking outside:
Taking a daily walk is the most important exercise for everyone.
Walking is a great way to achieve your ideal weight, and clear and calm your mind. While walking is great cardiovascular exercise, you also benefit from the rhythmic aspect of walking: when you walk, you balance the right side of your body with the left side of your body (chambers of the heart, kidneys, ovaries, testicles, lungs, intestines, etc). Walking outside also helps you become more aligned with your natural environment.
A morning stretch at SHI!
I think that stretching is one of the most over-looked aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Stretching is especially important as we mature. Children are always running around, playing, and engaging themselves. However, as we age, we tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles, whether we are sitting at our desk, driving our cars, or performing repetitive physical tasks. This means that we are not using portions of our body on a daily basis. As with anything that does not get used, the less-used portions of our bodies get tight. While proper diet can do a great deal to keep our minds and bodies relaxed, it is often not enough to keep our tendons, ligaments, and connective tissues loose. This is where regular stretching helps us. Regular stretching will keep the less-used portions of our bodies more flexible and will allow us to maintain good muscle tone, which in turn keeps us feeling and looking youthful! If you are looking for some good stretches, I recommend yin yoga, or other gentle forms of yoga.

Finding an activity that you ENJOY:

Picking organic veggies!
Finding an activity that you enjoy is very important. You want to find an activity that allows you to set your mind free and become playful. Some people prefer to find an activity that they do solo, whereas other prefer something that they do with others. Basically, finding something that makes you feel alive is important. How do you determine if an activity is good for you? Forget about calories burned per hour and exertion levels. Ask yourself these questions: do you feel more peaceful and calm after this activity? Do you feel more energetic? How does this activity affect your appetite for healthy food? How does it affect your appetite for life? If you have positive answers to these questions, then it sounds like you have found the right activity. If you feel depleted after your activity, or you find yourself so hungry that you immediately are reaching for junk food, then you should probably try to find something else.

Most of all, have fun and play!

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