For my program at NIWH, we had three sessions on exercise physiology. At first I was dreading the 6 hours of videotaped lecture that I was going to have to watch, thinking it would be dull and boring. But I have to say, I really enjoyed the lectures, and learned a great deal about how even our daily activities can have a great impact on our health.
According to Dr. Joseph Libonati, exercise physiologist and professor at Temple University, you don’t necessarily have to “exercise” in order to gain the benefits so often talked about. Daily physical activity will also give you the same physiological results as exercise, though of course more activity will give you more results. Here’s an example: when you engage in an increased level of physical activity, whether its running on a treadmill or walking the flight of stairs to your office, multiple things happen inside your body. Your heart rate increases to pump more blood, your blood pressure rises to more effectively deliver blood, your lungs take deeper breaths to bring in more oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, your muscle cells produce more energy in order to fuel the work you’re doing, and your nerve fibers release more acetylcholine in order to signal your muscles to move. Whether you exert yourself for an hour or for 15 minutes, any time you challenge the system, your body responds in the same way. The more often you challenge the system, the more accustomed your body becomes to the increased activity. All of a sudden your heart is stronger and doesn’t need to beat as fast during your normal activities, your blood pressure drops because your heart is pumping more effectively, your lung capacity increases, your muscles become more effective at producing energy, and your nerves actually increase the amount of acetylcholine they’re producing, enabling your muscles to sustain the increase in activity longer. Not only that, but your resting metabolic rate increases, and you burn more calories even when you’re not doing anything strenuous. All of a sudden, your daily trips up the stairs or the walk from the end of the parking lot to the grocery store start to add up, and you’ve changed your health without ever entering a gym.
So the moral of the story is this: don’t be intimidated by the recommendations to do a certain amount of exercise so many times a week. Start where you can. If you don’t have a lot of endurance or time to run to the gym after work, that’s ok. Start by taking the stairs to your office, or parking at the far end of the parking lot, or even just walking a little bit faster when you take your dog out every night. It’ll add up, and before you know it, you’ll be able to do more and more. Find the change that works for you, and go with it.
If you missed the first post in this series, check it out to learn all about the many benefits of exercise.
This post is part of Monday Mania at the Healthy Home Economist.