We all know exercise and activity help achieve a healthy body. But did you know regular exercise helps develop a sound mind and spirit as well? In other words, what's good for your physical being is also good for your spiritual self. Plus, many illnesses may be prevented if exercise is part of your daily routine. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Five-Minute Cure. A short bout of moderate exercise--say, a walk around the block--may be all that's needed to help smokers resist the urge to light up. Acting on the mood centers of the brain, exercise reduces cravings and boosts the ability to manage withdrawal symptoms. Researchers say that a drug with the same effects would be hailed as a breakthrough.
- Thanks for the Memories. Exercise strengthens memory by stimulating growth of new nerve cells in the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus where age-related memory decline normally occurs.
- Swing Shifts. The reason you can't perfect your golf swing--or plan any movement precisely the same way twice--lies not in your muscles but in your brain. The need to improvise and react anew is built into neurons in the premotor cortex, which is responsible for movement planning.
- Healthy Hearts. Exactly how aerobic exercise protects the heart, and thus the mind, has long been a mystery. But Columbia University researchers have now shown that moderate and high-intensity exercise decreases inflammation throughout the body, reducing the risk of fatty buildup in arteries, the trigger for most heart attacks.
- Smooth Operations. Want your kid to pitch for the New York Yankees? Hand-eye coordination is particularly advanced in toddlers whose mothers consumed fish-oil supplements during pregnancy. Language comprehension, phrase length, and vocabulary are also greater in tots whose moms consumed omega-3s.
- AntiCancer Action. Thirty minutes of exercise three to four times a week fends off many types of cancer. Physically active women have a 40 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer; physical activity cuts the risk of prostate cancer 10 to 30 percent in males.
- A Shot in the Arm. Bicep curls, anyone? A short muscle-building workout before getting a flu shot gives the immune system a boost. The acute stress of exercise such as lowering a heavy weight causes a local inflammatory reaction that revs up antibody production, improving the response to immunization.
- Keeping It Up. The best treatment for erectile dysfunction may be general physical exercise. Maintaining physical activity abets blood flow to the heart and other organs, preventing cardiovascular disease and preserving erectile function.
- Fuel Efficiency. If you want to burn off fat, your best bet is mild exercise that focuses on a discrete mass of muscles. When exercise becomes more intense and whole-body, metabolism shifts, burning more carbohydrates to meet the demands of the muscle.