Exercise, Sunrise, and a Reminder

You’ve probably gotten the message by now that exercise is essential to health and longevity.  Newer research (performed locally here at the University of Illinois) even shows that resistance exercise helps prevent cognitive and memory decline in the elderly.  The question often comes up, though:  What type of exercise is best?

Different forms of physical activity can serve different purposes.  For example, if fat loss is the goal, then a specific program of “burst” training, such as Sprint-8, has been shown to boost the body’s production of human growth hormone, leading to significant decrease in fat tissue.  This approach uses very short (30-second) bursts of maximal effort (e.g., on a stationary bike), followed by 90 seconds of low-to-moderate effort, repeated over 8 intervals.  With warm-up and cool-down, this translates into a 20-minute workout that, performed properly three times per week, can provide more fat-burning punch than 45 minutes of daily walking.

No matter what type of exercise is chosen, the key is to provide some variety and enjoyment.  Here’s a secret:  for a long time, I resisted exercise, because of negative associations with team sports (just look back at my P.E. transcripts).  Gradually, I learned that exercise can be (a) enjoyable, (b) done in a non-competitive atmosphere, and (c) more about health than image.

This morning, I went cycling across Lake Vermilion (Danville folks are familiar with the Denmark Road causeway).  I love this route early in the morning, with the sunrise over the water, spying a blue heron on the strand, and being watched warily by a family of raccoons.  In spite of our ongoing drought, the trees all along the shore provide a luxuriously green border.  This natural setting is exercise for the soul, at the same time that I’m exercising my body.  In fact, there’s plenty of scientific evidence that exposure to natural surroundings can decrease blood pressure, stress hormones, and improve immune function.  In Japan, this is called Shinrin-yoku, literally “taking in the atmosphere of the forest,” or just Forest Therapy for short.

This past weekend, I went kayaking in Kickapoo State Park:  another opportunity for Shinrin-yoku, and a great upper body workout.  I got to thinking that this would be a wonderful form of cardiovascular and strength exercise for those with hip and knee pain.

My bicycle route also took me past a small cemetery — a reminder of the final destination for all of us.  It’s also a reminder of the steps we can take to maximize the years of our life, and maximize the health and well-being we pack into those years.  Every choice we make can have an impact on our health — choose wisely.

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