Exercise doesn’t just mean chasing the ball. Everything that lives moves. People, animals, even plants move. Movement is a characteristic of life. We can explore our environment through movement. Movement shapes us. But our way of moving also shapes our environment. Let’s just think of the car. Where do you come across a car? Let’s imagine a city without cars. Unimaginable? Or would that be heaven on earth for pedestrians?
Anyone who tries to define “life” will quickly notice that it is not that easy. What does it take to be able to call something really “life”! Reproduction? Then a person would be dead alone, because it takes two to reproduce. But it is certainly part of the principle of life, just like the constant renewal of cells, the ability to adapt, improvisation and most certainly the energy and the resulting movement. When a climbing plant twists and turns around a climbing aid, that is movement. Granted, it’s extremely slow. Snails also literally move slowly, but they move forward. They are often far too fast for garden owners in eating their lettuce. A leopard can run as fast as a car.
Even a top athlete can lay down a remarkable pace. If you convert Asafa Powell’s 100m run to miles per hour, that’s 23 miles per hour (37 km/h). This is the result of years of training. Discipline and a strong will are also part of it.
The brain is the control center for muscle movement in the entire body. Nerve pathways pass on the commands from the brain to the muscles. Electrical impulses are alternately converted into chemical ones and vice versa. A true miracle of creation, if you consider the speed at which everything happens. Such reactions take place in thousands of muscle fibers in a thousandth of a second. Movement is and remains a miracle that we no longer think about in everyday life when we move. Should we unexpectedly find ourselves in a wheelchair, we would appreciate the miracle again.
But our modern way of life has made us sluggish. Ship, train, car and plane have made long walks for us. Machines help us with our physical work. So we have to provide more and more a balance so that we don’t become “couch potatos”. Movement is still a principle of life. And everything we don’t practice, what we don’t use, we lose.
Churchill is reported to have said: “No Sports” when he was asked how he has reached his old age drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes. Yet when he was a young officer, he was actually an extremely athletic person. Fencing, horse riding, swimming and polo were his sports. He also undertook a very strenuous escape on foot from a Boer prison camp in 1899. This escape was rated as a great physical achievement. The first marathon runner in ancient Greece is said to have collapsed dead after his run. There are occasionally reports in the press that athletes collapsed dead after their performance or at least suffered a collapse. According to relevant studies, however, the risk of death after exercise is very low. It mostly affects people who have challenged themselves to top performance without being trained. Well, we don’t need to become football players or top athletes.
Endurance sports reduce cardiovascular deaths from 70 to 30 per 10,000 people. The heart is trained through sport or simply through persistent exercise. Movement lowers the resting heart rate. If we can reduce the resting heart rate by 10 beats per minute, the heart is saving 5,256,000 beats per year. What a gain! Exercise lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The heart can only benefit from this. The supply of oxygen throughout the body is improved. All of these are factors that prevent heart attacks and strokes. Exercise of course cannot prevent aging entirely, but it can do well in delaying it. When used correctly, it increases performance, cerebral blood flow, resistance and vitality.
Exercise lowers the insulin requirements and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. It strengthens bones and muscles. Calcium and minerals can only be stored thanks to movement. Who does not remember the thin limbs when the cast can be removed after six weeks? This is due to a lack of exercise. For those for whom the word “sport” is sounding like torture, it can be replaced by walking, swimming, or strolling. These types of movement also improve our quality of life considerably if they are exercised regularly and for at least half an hour a day.
Exercise is not only responsible for our physical well-being. Our soul benefits from it as well. You can literally run away from depression. Anyone who has tried this before can confirm that. Endorphins, happiness hormones, are released when you move. They lift our mood. The increased blood supply to the brain allows us to think more clearly again. When I’m at the computer and make no progress, I go out into the garden. After a while of gardening or a brisk walk with the dog, everything goes much better again.
The biggest obstacles to moving are the lazy excuses: No time, too old, too cold, not today, tomorrow I’ll start, alone, too boring. There is a solution to all excuses. Movement can be incorporated into everyday life. As soon as you wake up in bed you do some exercises under the warm blanket. It continues with putting on the clothes. With a little imagination, you can incorporate a whole exercise program. Something like this: Hop on one leg while putting on your socks. When you pull the t-shirt over your head, you complete a stretching program followed by hip circles. Who can think of anything else?
On the way to work or school, you walk a portion of the way. On the escalators we can save time and walk forward instead of staying still. Even in old age you can find an appropriate type of exercise. It can be a bit more relaxed. Even in nursing homes with a few minutes of fitness program a day, progress can be achieved. There are appropriate clothing to protect against the cold and you will warm up quickly anyways. Even today I can decide to do more exercise, on my own, when I’m more of a loner. It’s more fun with friends, however. You can always find like-minded people with a little effort. So: From today on, get a kick out of life through more exercise!
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Esther Neumann studied Nutrition at the University of Vienna. Since then she served as an author for the health magazine “Leben und Gesundheit” and conducted health lectures in various locations of Austria.