Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Are You Aerobically Fit?

When I was a teenager, I hadn’t yet heard of Bodhisattvas, nor had I much of an idea about what it meant to dedicate your actions to the benefit of others. I do remember the first time I recognized a person who saw the goodness in others. Sometimes these people couldn’t see the goodness within themselves, though this energetic and satin-clad man could.

I’ve been thinking of Richard Simmons more these days, as I am newly appreciating his focus on moving the body and getting good, aerobic exercise. While I would prefer not to Sweat to the Oldies, I do believe that we can all benefit from being aerobically fit.

The benefits of aerobic exercise are legion, and it seems that every day a new scientific study expands our understanding of how aerobic fitness is essential to mind/body health.

Heart disease is a national epidemic, and nothing reduces the risk of heart and vascular disease more compellingly than a baseline of aerobic fitness. Having watched my Dad wither for years under the grip of congestive heart failure, I’m particularly motivated to do whatever I can to prevent heart and vascular disease. Thankfully, it’s become abundantly clear that staying aerobically fit is one of the best ways to prevent heart attacks, strokes and what a friend once called the slowing down to death of congestive heart failure.

In addition to aerobic fitness’ proven potential to prevent heart disease, it can also help prevent the various metabolic conditions, such as diabetes. The incidence of diabetes has surged in recent years. Diabetes hugely increases the risks of heart disease, kidney disease and other serious conditions. While nothing will eliminate our risk of diabetes or other diseases, we can certainly improve our odds by making informed lifestyle choices. And a baseline of aerobic fitness is a proven means to reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

I’ve lost two grandparents and a couple acquaintances to cancer, and cancer has been a major hurdle for several others I’ve known. While there’s no magic bullet or cure for cancer, there’s emerging evidence that aerobic fitness can play a part in both cancer prevention and its treatment. For example, a recent study showed that women who exercised 3+ days per week had a reduced incidence of breast cancer. Another study has shown that people in the midst of cancer treatment reported less anxiety and depression when they maintained a baseline of aerobic activity. New studies continue to demonstrate how even modest aerobic fitness (you don’t need to be able to run a marathon or climb a mountain!) translates directly into measurable health benefits.

Not only does aerobic exercise help with anxiety and depression for those undergoing cancer treatment, but for many others, as well. I’ve been reading more studies about the amazing benefits of aerobic exercise on the brain. Evidence is mounting that aerobic activity can help prevent dementia, and can be beneficial in the treatment of ADHD. Neuroscientists have been abuzz with aerobic exercise’s capacity to keep the brain lithe and youthful – what’s often called plasticity.

It used to be thought that our brains were fully formed and solidified by the time we reached adulthood. Over the past few decades, however, it’s become increasingly clear that the brain is constantly remapping itself in response to our experiences. As it turns out, the brain is particularly adaptable and youthful after aerobic exercise – so if you’re hoping to learn new skills, you may want to schedule your study sessions after a workout that gets you a little out-of-breath.

Aerobic exercise is one of the most important parts of a holistic mind/body wellness program. Are you getting your heart rate into the aerobic zone at least a few days per week?

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