The physical benefits of exercise — improving physical condition and fighting disease — have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active. Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
Regardless of age, weight or athletic ability, aerobic exercise is good for you. See why — then prepare yourself to get moving.
Regular aerobic activity such as walking, bicycling or swimming can help you live longer and healthier. Need motivation? See how aerobic exercise affects your heart, lungs and blood flow. Then get moving and start reaping the rewards. How your body responds to aerobic exercise
During aerobic activity, you repeatedly move large muscles in your arms, legs and hips. You’ll notice your body’s responses quickly
You’ll breathe faster and more deeply. This maximizes the amount of oxygen in your blood. Your heart will beat faster, which increases blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs.
Your small blood vessels (capillaries) will widen to deliver more oxygen to your muscles and carry away waste products, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Your body will even release endorphins, natural painkillers that promote an increased sense of well-being.
Regardless of age, weight or athletic ability, aerobic activity is good for you. As your body adapts to regular aerobic exercise, you’ll get stronger and fitter.
Millions of people have stiff, painful knees thanks to osteoarthritis. Remedies range from keeping active and dropping excess weight to steroid injections and even surgery. But research shows that you can take a tastier route to improvement. Soy People with knee pain reported less discomfort and used fewer pain meds after eating soy protein every day for three months, according to Oklahoma State University research. Soy is rich in isoflavones, plant hormones with anti-inflammatory properties. Study participants consumed a powdered soy drink mix that contained 40 grams of protein, but, says study author Bahram H. Arjmandi, PhD, you can get the same benefit from sources like flavored soy milk, edamame (baby soybeans), and soy burgers. Fruit
In a study of 293 Australian adults, eating plenty of fruit reduced the risk of developing bone marrow lesions—a marker for worsening knee osteoarthritis and pain. The knee-friendliest fruits appear to be vitamin C–packed ones, like kiwi, orange, mango, grapefruit, and papaya. The researchers suspect it’s the vitamin C in fruit that protects the knee joint and supporting structures. Fish Many studies have found that fish and fish oil ease the joint pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis. Now a study shows that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may block not only the chemicals that cause inflammation in osteoarthritis but also the proteins known to wear down knee cartilage. Eat two servings of oily fish (such as mackerel or salmon) weekly or take one gram of omega-3s in capsule form every day.
Regular aerobic exercise can bring remarkable changes not just to your body, your metabolism, and your heart, but also to your spirits, reports the February 2011 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.
Aerobic exercise is the key for your head, just as it is for your heart. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. Endurance athletes commonly experience the restorative power of exercise, and this has been verified in clinical trials that have used exercise to treat anxiety and depression. How can exercise contend with problems as difficult as anxiety and depression? There are several explanations, some chemical, others behavioral. The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
Behavioral factors contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. As your waistline shrinks and your strength and stamina increase, your self-image will improve. You’ll earn a sense of pride and self-confidence. Your renewed vigor will help you succeed in many tasks, and the discipline will help you achieve other lifestyle goals. Exercise and sports also provide opportunities to enjoy some solitude or to make friends and build networks. Harvard Men’s Health Watch notes that you should exercise nearly every day. That doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym. But it does mean at least 30 minutes of moderate activity. And if you need more help with stress, consider autoregulation exercises involving deep breathing or muscle relaxation.