ake a group of youngsters to a retirement village and you’ll hear the residents wistfully remark how they wish they had their energy. Indeed, when we have energy to burn, we feel great and are empowered with a zest for life. So how can we enjoy more energy?
Ironically, the best way to discover more energy is to use it. Exercise physiologists refer to it as the overload principle—take your body a little beyond what it is accustomed to, and it responds positively by improving itself. In accordance with the overload principle, when you expend a lot of energy your body harnesses more of it. Simply put, this is why regular exercise is a powerful strategy for boosting your vitality.
But regular exercise does more than just boost your energy levels. The overload principle relates to all functions of the body. Hearts that are regularly asked to pump blood to active muscles rise to the challenge by becoming stronger and more efficient. Blood vessels that are required to circulate the blood become more elastic and better at regulating blood pressure. Muscles called upon to contract vigorously respond by increasing their tone and growing stronger.
Indisputably, our bodies are designed to be active, and they thrive when activated in the right way. And it doesn’t matter how old your body is, there is compelling evidence testifying to the benefits of physical activity. To cite just a few examples, exercise can enhance functional living and aid with balance and the prevention of falls in the elderly. Through the busy periods of adulthood, physical activity serves as an excellent tool for managing stress. Finally, physical activity is integral to the management of healthy body weight at all ages.
While regular exercise boasts tremendous benefits—benefits many of us are well aware of—countless people still struggle to engage in it. Head knowledge doesn’t always translate into action, and for many, exercise equates to pain. The good news is that exercise doesn’t need to be painful.
Slow and Steady
Some of our negative associations with exercise we come by honestly. Some 40 years ago, when health authorities started to grow alarmed at the dramatic rise in the incidence of hypokinetic diseases (diseases related to a lack of physical activity, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even certain cancers), the “aerobics revolution” was born. The revolution emphasized the necessity of vigorous exercise. Individuals would gather together in classes, and in a sweaty, gasping mess attempt to match the ferocious pace set by their instructor. Catchy sayings such as “no pain, no gain” cemented the sentiment that exercise was to be endured, not enjoyed. An element of this thinking is perpetuated today by some “gym-junkies” as well as reality television shows in which people subject themselves to extreme training regimes in an attempt to see who can record the greatest weight loss in the shortest period of time.
Exercise scientists, however, have developed a better understanding of how much activity is required to enjoy good health—and it doesn’t need to be exhaustive. A high level of arduous training might be required for elite sports performance, but not so for good health. Research indicates that for adults, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days greatly improves health status by significantly reducing the likelihood of being afflicted by hypokinetic diseases. Note the emphasis is on moderate—not tongue-hanging-out, clutching-your-chest exercise—defined by activities that comfortably increase your breathing rate. It is true that more serious exercisers do enjoy an even lower risk of many diseases, but it is a case of diminishing returns. Thirty minutes on most days seems to be enough to live well.
For those who still feel overwhelmed at the idea of finding 30 minutes in a day, breaking the activity up into three 10-minute stints throughout the day appears just as effective for boosting well-being as 30 continuous minutes. Targeting 10-minute segments can make accumulating 30 minutes a lot easier for busy individuals. A 10-minute walk in the morning (with the dog), at lunchtime, or even during a midmorning or midafternoon break is a great start. Another 10 minutes can be found while kicking a ball or shooting baskets with the kids after work. You also will be doing them a favor, as their growing bodies need about 60 minutes of physical activity most days. Then 10 minutes on a stationary bike in the evening or performing simple weight exercises at home, and you have achieved your daily tally. Exercise with a family member or friend and it’s time even better spent. Every bit of “incidental” activity—taking the stairs, walking down the corridor to talk with someone in their office instead of e-mailing them—also makes a difference.
At all stages of life our bodies love to be active—not surprising given that it is part of their design brief—and they respond by becoming healthier, leaner, and more energetic. It doesn’t need to be painful and vigorous. The slogan used by the Department of Health in Australia to promote physical activity is “Exercise—you only have to take it regularly, not seriously.”
Today we face many challenges to good health, none the least of which is the increasingly sedentary nature of our employment and recreation. For Adventist Christians, who traditionally have had a keen interest in health and energetic living, physical activity needs to form an integral part of our lifestyle. We owe it not just to ourselves but also to our Creator. He designed us to be active, and we honor Him when we care for His prized creation.
Darren Morton, B.Ed., M.APP.SC., PH.D., is an exercise physiologist and senior lecturer at Avondale College, Cooranbong, New South wales, Australia. Jonathan Duffy, M.P.H., B.Ed. (phys.Ed.), is ceo of ADRA/Australia. he has a background in exercise physiology and has had to learn to apply the principles in his busy corporate life.