Exercise, Weight Loss, Physical Fitness and Nutrition


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by Jayaram V

Exercise is an important aspect of physical and mental health. Regular exercise builds a strong body, develops disease resistance, increases muscle strength, manages your weight and makes you feel good about yourself. Whatever may be your age or occupation, regular exercise is the best option to deal with problems like stress, overweight, high blood pressure, obesity or to keep yourself in good shape.

Although people are generally aware of the importance of doing regular exercise, many behave and live as if they are an exception and do not need to exercise. Because of the sedentary lifestyles, obesity has become a major health problem in many countries. According to a survey conducted in 2003-2004 by National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) about 66% of U.S. adults between the age groups of 20 and 74 years were either overweight or obese. Studies indicate that this figure has been growing steadily since 1976. While obesity is caused by many factors, exercise is still the best way to deal with it. Regular exercise is known to:

- Improve blood circulation

- Reduce stress

- Minimize the risk of heart disease

- Improve your mood

- Help you manage your weight and keep it under control

- Increase bone density and prevents bone loss

- Make you sleep well

- Develop stamina and muscle strength

- Make you fit for an active and energetic life

- Reduce blood cholesterol levels in your body

- Boost your energy and stamina

- Reduce the chances of high blood pressure

- Provide relief from depression and anxiety

- Contribute to positive self-image

- Enhance feelings of optimism and enthusiasm

Types of exercise

Exercises are basically of two types: aerobic exercises and anaerobic exercises or strength exercises. They are also known as dynamic and static exercises respectively. Strength exercises build muscle mass so that the body will become strong, healthy and fit. Besides making the body strong and powerful, they are also helpful in controlling and managing the fat and cholesterol levels in the body. Aerobic exercises are meant to burn the fat present in the body and reduce weight by improving the body metabolism through improved oxygen consumption. Both types of exercises subject the human body to certain amount of stress, but it is a beneficial stress good for the body in the long-term. Unless there are strong physical reasons, one should use them to manage one‘s body weight.

Strength training consists of pulling, pushing and stretching exercises, in which weights are used to increase muscle mass and body strength. Of them, pushing exercises strengthen the front muscles of the various parts of your body, especially your hands, shoulders, neck, chest, arms and legs; whereas pulling exercises strengthen the back muscles of each of them. Stretching exercises make the body supple and prepare it well for doing both aerobic and anaerobic exercises with some ease. They are also very helpful in toning the body and relaxing it. The ancient yoga exercises are a kind of stretching exercises only, meant to enhance breathing and blood circulation to certain parts of the body in a systematic and regulated way.

Aerobic exercises increase the heartbeat through bursts of increased physical activity. They increase your body metabolism and minimize the chances of your body storing excess amounts of fat. When your heartbeat is raised to a certain level, depending upon your body type, for a sustained period of time, your heart begins to pump more blood to various parts of your body. The increased blood circulation causes the body to absorb more oxygen and purify the blood flowing through the veins. This results in reduced levels of blood sugar, fewer fat deposits and fewer impurities in your blood and your body. Some important aerobic exercises are cycling, brisk walking, jogging, pedaling, rowing, dancing, swimming, climbing steps, jumping and playing games like tennis, racquet and basketball. These exercises increase your heartbeat and blood circulation and improve your overall physical and mental fitness. Your skin also becomes smoother and you look younger than your regular age. If you want to start them afresh, you may need to consult your personal physician before doing them.

Cross training exercises

It is now an established fact that to maximize the benefits of exercise one should do both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. It is also one of the best strategies to reduce weight on a long-term basis. Combining both aerobic and anaerobic exercises into an exercise program is known as cross training. The best way to practice it is by doing them on alternate days. That is you do aerobic exercises one day and anaerobic exercises the following day, so that your body will have proper rest and recuperation. Anaerobic exercises increase muscle mass, while aerobic exercises burn the fat present in the body. As you do both types of exercises on a regular basis, over a long period of time, your body will become stronger by developing muscle mass and healthy by losing excess fat. With cross training, you will lose weight in a healthy and lasting manner, without losing your strength or stamina. This is the best way to remain healthy and strong on a long-term basis with minimum side effects.

Practice balance

When you do anaerobic exercises, such as weight training, for sustained periods of time, your body may experience stress and exertion because of the chemicals released into your body. So make sure that you do weight exercises within limits and do not subject your body to undue stress. Aerobic exercises have the tendency to burn the fat in your body. When no fat is available, they tend to burn the muscle mass also. If you overdo aerobic exercises, you will develop a lean body that may not be strong enough or possess enough stamina. So it is not a good idea to do aerobic exercises for long periods of time, unless you are aiming to become a long distance runner or a super model. The intensity with which you do aerobic exercises is also important because it has a direct bearing upon your heart. Find out from your personal physician at what intensity you can do the aerobic exercises. Depending upon your goals and stamina levels, you can do high intensity low duration or low intensity high duration aerobics or vary them alternatively for maximum results.

Fight the body's natural instinct

An ideal exercise format should combine the advantages of both aerobic and anaerobic exercises, separated by adequate periods of rest. It is also important to vary frequently the types of exercise and the time at which they are done. This will prevent your body from anticipating your energy requirements and adjusting your metabolic rate in advance. The human body has a tendency to store some energy for future use as a part of its survival mechanism. This is why dieting is not the best means to lose weight. When you reduce your food intake, your body senses it and goes into survival mode, reducing your metabolic rate proportionately to conserve energy. It does the same when you exercise and also reduce your calorie intake. The best way to deal with the survival instinct of your body is to prevent it from adjusting its metabolic rate in anticipation of the energy requirements of your exercise routine. You can do it by changing your exercise pattern from to time and also varying the weights and the intensity of your exercises.

Source: Reproduced partially from the article, "Exercise and Health" from the book Think Success by Jayaram V. You may purchase this book from our online store

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