Stepping Hints

How much activity is needed to improve health?

The government’s latest activity guidelines recommend:

Keep track by the week. Adults need at least 2 ½ hours of moderate intensity activity each week such as brisk walking or 1 ½ hours of vigorous intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types. These activities should be done on at least 10 minute bouts and can be spread throughout the week.
Get more ambitious. For even better health benefits, engage in five hours of moderate intensity physical activity each week or 2 ½ hours of vigorous activity.
Strengthen those muscles. Adults should do muscle strengthening activities at a moderate or high intensity level for all major muscle groups two or more days a week, including exercises for the chest, back, shoulders, upper legs, hips, abdomens, and lower legs. These exercises can be done with free weights or machines, resistance bands, calisthenics that use body weight for resistance (push ups, pull ups, or sit ups for instance) or carrying heavy loads or doing heavy gardening such as digging or hoeing.
Don’t use your age as an excuse. Older Americans should follow the guidelines recommended for older adults if they are able. If not they should try to be as active as their physical condition allows. Those who are at risk of falling should do exercises that improve balance.
Kids can make it fun. Children and adolescents should engage in an hour or more of moderate intensity to vigorous aerobic physical activity each day. That should include vigorous activity at least three days a week, and it should involve bone strengthening activities such as running, jumping rope, skipping and hopscotch, and muscle strengthening activities such as tug of war, modified sit ups and push ups.

In Tough Times Turn to Sweat for Relief

by Keith Johngard, Ph.D.

There’s been an uneasy hush up here on my high mountain top the last few days; not a single jetliner has passed over, no motorcycles wailing in the distance, just the sound of the refrigerator turning on and off and the tick-tock of my old school room clock. At one point or another we all experience the sort of stress that comes when something totally out of our control impacts our lives and gives most of us serious pause.

We’ve all experienced periods of significant stress in our lifetimes. All of us have or will suffer loss, whether it be our last child leaving home to go out into the world as an adult, a lover turning his or her back on us, separation, divorce, or the death of a loved one. Waiting out the slow growth of a suspicious lump and perhaps eventually the results of a biopsy happens to many of us. Women struggle with PMS, postpartum, and menopausal hormonal wars. Many of us, for often-complex reasons, stay in miserable and stressful circumstances (a troubled and hopeless marriage or a miserable job), which also puts our lives on hold.

We’ve all learned to deal with stress in our own unique ways. Whatever works for us. Some of us turn to alcohol or drugs, and many of us withdraw into ourselves. Others may pray, talk with close friends, meditate, or join support groups. We often “lose ourselves” in a never-ceasing social whirl or become obsessed work-a-holics. I want to suggest adding vigorous physical activity to our own personal set of tools for dealing with either acute or ongoing chronic stress. It can help us get through tough times in a remarkable way.

It’s now well-documented that a single physical workout can have very positive effects on mood, reducing depression, anxiety, anger, frustration, and fatigue. It both increases our vigor and helps us to sleep. What’s more, a program of regular vigorous exercise can impact more than just our temporary mood states, actually lowering our baseline levels of both clinical anxiety and depression. There is also mounting evidence that such a program may have a preventive or protective effect.

Aerobically fit rats and humans make more modest and less lasting responses to chronic stressors than do the unfit, and are therefore less likely to suffer mood-relevant neurotransmitter dysregulation and subsequent depression. A study from Norway tells us that patients entering a mental hospital with various severe mental disorders both get well sooner and are more likely stay out of the hospital once discharged if they have “a history of adult exercise and sport.” Exercise is more than a just a simple distractor.

As a clinical psychologist who has been treating individuals for nearly a half century, I almost routinely prescribe regular vigorous aerobic exercise to all patients. It speeds up psychotherapy and provides the client with a solid tool to take care of himself in the future when other stressors are bound to come along and affect his or her well-being.

My most common prescription for the currently sedentary and often depressed client is to gradually work up to a one-hour daily brisk walk (if medically prudent). While any kind of vigorous and regular exercise can affect temporary mood states and clinical conditions such as depression, I recommend that aerobic exercise should be the core of any program since it has so conclusively been linked to increased immune function, dramatically reduced risk of both cardiovascular disease and cancer, increased longevity, and a vast array of other positive health consequences.

As long as we don’t overdo it, exercise is truly the magic pill, and sweat is our friend.

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