Most of us know that we "should" exercise, so if it's something "we have to do," we may as well get something out of it we can see, right?
Interestingly, over the years, I've found that people who allow exercise to become a part of their weekly routine -- a habit they are committed to -- begin to realize a much bigger picture: Fitness is really a lifelong journey, not a destination. It's not about fitting into that little black dress for a college reunion or looking trim in a tuxedo at a child's wedding; it's about health.
While these are definitely motivating goals, many times it's easy to lose the faith when striving to achieve a perception of physical perfection. Why not allow these vanity-type goals to become your secondary motives and better health your new direction? Because when you do, you'll discover many benefits:
· An improved quality of life. It's too easy to think of fitness as an abstract set of statistics: blood pressure, body-fat percentage, weight, etc. These numbers are useful and important, but those who really keep the faith seldom think about them. They are too busy enjoying life!
Regardless of age, you'll become more energetic and enjoy a higher quality of life, and soon be able to do physical things that most of your contemporaries will only be able to look on with envy. And you'll eventually have an attitude that will be an inspiration to everyone around you.
On your journey to fitness, you'll begin realizing a level of vitality and energy that is contagious.
· A slowing-down of the aging process. As you become fit and physically active, you'll develop the strength, aerobic capacity and flexibility of people years younger than you.
Much of the physical incapacity we associate with age is avoidable and, in many cases, reversible. It's never too late or too early to begin the journey. If you are strong, flexible and aerobically conditioned, you will feel younger than your years. Physiological and calendar age are not the same.
· Improved emotional and mental health. Regular exercise and healthy living builds self-esteem and boosts confidence in all aspects of your personal and professional life. You'll feel less depressed, less anxious and less consumed by day-to-day pressures.
Regular, consistent exercise reduces the amount of adrenaline in the blood stream and increases the amount of endorphins (a natural tranquilizer) produced by your body. While the psychological benefits of exercise are unique to every person, one thing is certain -- your mental outlook will improve.
· Consistent weight control. Diets simply do not work. They leave you weak, dehydrated and undernourished.
A healthy lifestyle allows you to eat more, build strength and ensure an adequate intake of vital nutrients. When you eat correctly and exercise, weight loss and weight control is effortless.
A healthy lifestyle ensures muscle maintenance, stabilizes your blood sugar, encourages the production of fat-burning hormones and increases your metabolism. A healthy lifestyle avoids the physically debilitating ups and downs of a typical weight-loss, weight-gain cycle.
While fad diets, liposuction, drug-assisted weight loss and crash diets promise instant results, instant weight loss is not commensurate with health. When you pursue fitness as a lifelong journey, weight loss -- or more precisely, fat loss -- takes care of itself automatically. The object is not to lose weight but to become fit.
· Improved cardiovascular health. A healthy lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise will drastically reduce your susceptibility to heart disease. If you reduce your intake of cholesterol-laden saturated fats, monitor your blood pressure and avoid obesity, you'll diminish your chances of suffering a heart attack, but you will not necessarily be healthy.
Healthy people are active and relish life. If you exercise, you will multiply the benefits of a good diet, strengthen your heart and arteries -- and have fun while doing it.
· Increased strength and muscle maintenance. Healthy people have good-quality muscles. What is a "good-quality muscle"? It's not what you see on a big bodybuilder; more likely, it is the quality, conditioned muscle you see on an athlete.
An athlete can do things with his or her body; their muscles are conditioned for performance, not size. And that's the point -- good muscles literally empower you. Without them, you cannot perform the ordinary, everyday tasks of life, much less the extraordinary things of which healthy people are capable. When you are physically strong, a whole new world of possibilities opens up to you.
Muscle is more metabolically active than fat; muscle burns more calories than fat, and it burns it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is one of the reasons fit people are able to control their weight.
Every pound of muscle you recapture or gain increases your metabolism, so even if you're not exercising, you're burning more calories. And, by the way, increased muscle mass will also improve bone density and reduce the effects of osteoporosis in women.
· Improved body chemistry. People who exercise regularly have a significantly higher level of HDL, a natural steroid that helps clean your arteries of fatty deposits (the bad cholesterol) that can contribute to heart disease, increased blood pressure or strokes.
Regular exercise also changes the way your body processes an important hormone called insulin. This is good for two reasons: First, people who are fit produce only about half the amount of insulin that sedentary people do. This greatly reduces the chance of developing adult-onset diabetes.
Second, when your body uses insulin more efficiently, it is able to process the carbohydrates you eat, stabilizing your blood sugar. When this occurs, you are less likely to become hungry between meals, and you'll have more energy.
Unfortunately, too many people have come to believe that the pursuit of health is a burden -- an imposition on their already overscheduled, overcommitted lives. Yet maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and good nutrition is not a burden; when done properly and regularly, it is downright liberating.
Rita Bryan is the president of Genesis Personal Fitness of Newtown .