Improve Your Confidence
“You can eat perfectly, but if you don’t exercise, you cannot get by. There are so many health food nuts out there that eat nothing but natural foods but they don’t exercise and they look terrible. Then there are other people who exercise like a son-of-a-gun but eat a lot of junk. They look pretty good because exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together and you’ve got a kingdom!”
Unfortunately, most of us don’t exercise regularly, due to busy schedules or other activities we think have higher priority. I can relate: for most of my life, even after eating a more healthful diet, I had avoided regular exercise. Only in the last few years have I begun a consistent program. Since I’ve been exercising regularly, I have better better muscle tone and I feel more confident. Had I known 15 years ago what I feel now about the benefits of exercise, I would have motivated myself then.
And motivation is the key. Exercising on a regular basis requires focused thought and determination; it requires an extra expenditure of energy and the effort of creating a new habit. I’ll tell you a secret about exercise, though: once you get into a rhythm of doing it at least four or five days a week, and you put out enough effort to work up a sweat for at least 20 to 30 minutes, it gets easier and easier. Not only that, but after you’re finished and take that hot shower, you’ll feel energized and willing to take on the world. Throughout the day you’ll feel stronger and more confident, and the next day, when it’s time to exercise again, you’ll look forward to it, because you’ll know how much better you’ll feel (and look!).
There are three keys to exercising effectively:
• Choose an exercise program you enjoy (otherwise, you won’t stick to it)
• Exercise regularly, preferably three to five times a week
• Exercise strenuously enough to work up a perspiration for 20 to 30 minutes
You have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to exercise. As I said, it’s important to do something you enjoy, and to do it long enough to work up a sweat. Do any of the following appeal to you?
1. Sports (basketball, volleyball, tennis, bicycling, in-line skating, etc.)
3. Weight / cardiovascular training at a gym
4. Martial arts (kung fu, karate, tae kwon do, aikido, among others)
5. Specialized resistance training (Pilates, gyrotonics)
All of the above will develop muscle tone, move toxins out of your body and help you feel grounded. Once you’ve chosen a discipline, stick with it for at least a month; you can always try something else if it isn’t working. Of course, if you have particular health concerns or you’re pregnant, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
In this chapter I’ll give you an overview of the benefits of various types of exercise, including one you may not be familiar with: gyrotonics. I guarantee that once you begin exercising on a regular basis, you’ll feel the same exhilaration that I enjoy, along with increased energy and a trimmer waistline!
Live Naturally: Improve Your Health Today
Health Benefits of Exercise
Regular physical exercise can lower your resting heart rate, which means your heart pumps more blood per beat and is not overworking when you are at rest. Exercise can also lower or help control your blood pressure and reduce your total cholesterol, lowering LDL (the bad type), and increasing HDL (the good type). It also reduces the amount of free fatty acids (triglycerides) in your blood and improves the functioning of your immune system. Exercise reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, and increases insulin sensitivity to prevent against type II (adult onset) diabetes. The mental and emotional benefits are just as powerful. You can look forward to less anxiety and depression, better stress management and improved self-esteem, appearance, and sleep! Additionally, regular exercise gives you the experience of goal setting and the dedication necessary to achieve your goalsskills you can use in other areas of life. It can be a great help if you’re trying to quit smoking or rid yourself of other addictions.
Let’s look at aerobic activities (aerobic means “in the presence of oxygen”) first, since this is what most of us need to incorporate into our routine right away. Technically, aerobic exercise improves your body’s ability to maximally uptake and deliver oxygen to your working muscles (defined as your “VO2 max”). This is generally regarded as the best measure of your physical fitness level. Aerobic activities elevate your heart rate and breathing for a sustained period, at varying degrees of intensity. It improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs, helps you lose fat and control your weight, and increases muscle and joint flexibility.
Aerobic activities include things like basketball, bicycling, brisk walking, calisthenics, cross-country skiing, dancing, downhill skiing, hiking uphill, jogging, jumping rope, racquetball, roller skating, rowing, running, singles tennis, squash, stair climbing, stationary cycling, step exercise classes, swimming, volleyball, and walking.
If you’ve been a couch potato (or ill, or inactive for other reasons) for more than a year, you may want to begin with walking. Even five minutes of brisk walking will get you moving in the right direction. Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or park your car a little further away from the office to get in some “automatic” walking time. Or walk around the block in your neighborhood before or after dinner. The next day, increase it by five minutes or by another block.
If you live in a warm climate, why not choose an activity that will get you outdoors? Join a baseball, basketball or volleyball team that meets at least three times a week. Or take a beach walk/jog one day, go in-line skating another, and swim a third. To be sure you make time for exercise, schedule an appointment for yourself and treat it as you would any other commitment on your calendar. Soon, you’ll find it’s hard not to get out and move.
Choosing A Gym
For those who don’t live in year-round outdoor climates, a good gym can be indispensable. Some clubs are even open 24 hours a day, giving you great time flexibility. While joining a gym is an added cost, remember that you are investing in yourself. Look for a “new members special,” or ask to have the introductory fee waived (it never hurts to ask, and most gyms will bend over backwards to accommodate your needs). Once you join, you’ll find that today’s aerobic equipment has come a long way from traditional treadmills and stair-steppers. New, sophisticated machines like elliptical and arc trainers, recumbent bikes and rowing machines (and even the treadmills and stair-steppers have been upgraded) include digital tracking that monitors your heart rate, distance, effort and mileage. They’ll tell you when you’re on target for fat burning or for cardio training.
Don’t be intimidated by buff bodies around youthey’re focused on their goals, just like you’ll be focused on yours (though you’ll probably see all kinds of people in the gym: young, older, fit, fat, disabled, rehabilitating, pregnant, you name it, they’re there). Do ask for a knowledgeable gym employee to show you the equipment layout and how to use the machines. And consider investing in a couple of sessions with a personal trainer who can set you up with a personalized routine to meet your goals.
Most gyms offer a variety of aerobics classes tailored for various fitness levels. Read the class descriptions and choose one that meets your needs. Most gyms now offer yoga and Pilates classes as well as kickboxing or bosu (short for “both sides up”) ball classes, which challenge balance and coordination while giving you a good sweat!
Benefits of Aerobic Exercise:
• Increased maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max)
• Improvement in cardiovascular/cardiorespiratory function (heart and lungs)
• Increased maximal cardiac output (amount of blood pumped every minute)
• Increased maximal stroke volume (amount of blood pumped with each beat)
• Increased blood volume and ability to carry oxygen
• Reduced workload on the heart (myocardial oxygen consumption) for any particular sub-maximal (less than maximum exertion) exercise intensity
• Increased blood supply to muscles and ability to use oxygen
• Lower heart rate and blood pressure at any level of sub-maximal exercise
• Increased threshold for lactic acid accumulation
• Lower resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with high blood pressure
• Increased HDL Cholesterol (the good cholesterol)
• Decreased blood triglycerides
• Reduced body fat and improved weight control
• Improved glucose tolerance and reduced insulin resistance
Anaerobic Exercise (Resistance Training)
There is more to exercise than cardiovascular fitness. Muscle strength is an equally important component to overall personal health and fitness. Anaerobic activities are short in duration, and emphasize building muscle rather than burning oxygen. Anaerobic activities include football, pushups, sit-ups, soccer, softball, sprinting and weight lifting. Strength training is anything that causes resistance against body movements in order to strengthen muscles. Examples are workouts with barbells, dumbbells, Universal gyms or Nautilus equipment.
Strength training provides three primary benefits:
1. Enhancement/Maintenance of Lean Muscle Weight
Everyone loses a half-pound of muscle every year after age 20 unless they incorporate some strength training into their exercise routine.
2. Injury Prevention and Increased Capacity
Strengthening major muscle groups lessens impact stresses and the risk of exercise-related injury. Strong muscles also help you do daily tasks with ease and efficiency. Climbing stairs, lifting groceries, cleaning the house, and mowing the lawn all become easier.
3. Prevention of Osteoporosis
Most anaerobic activities are load-bearing exercises that promote bone growth.
Anaerobic exercise will improve your health and fitness. As you grow older it is vital for maintaining independence.
Benefits of Strength Training:
• Increased muscular strength
• Increased strength of tendons and ligaments
• Improved range of motion of joints
• Reduced body fat and increased lean body mass (muscle mass)
• Can decrease resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure
• Positive changes in blood cholesterol
• Improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity
• Improved strength, balance, and functional ability in older adults
EndorphinsYour Body’s Natural High
The increase in endorphins generated when you exercise is a great reward for your effort. It’s the “runner’s high” we’ve all heard about. But what exactly are endorphins, and what is their role in the human body? In 1972, Dr. Candace Pert discovered the “opiate receptor” within the human brain. This meant that the brain must secrete a morphine-like substance (appropriately named “endorphin” for “morphine within”) since it has such receptors. When activated, these receptors block pain signals to the nervous system, providing the body with a natural pain reliever that also causes a euphoric effect.
Twenty different types of endorphins (also known as “enkephalins”) have been discovered in the nervous system. One, beta-endorphin, is 18 to 50 times more effective than morphine, while another, called dimorphic, is over 500 times stronger. Endorphins, however, are unable to work for long periods of time because our bodies also make endorphins enzymes, which eradicate them (another reason for daily exercise).
Endorphins may act as more than just a built-in-pain-control system. Some scientists claim that endorphins enhance our immune system and block the lesion of blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure. Furthermore, by also removing super-oxides (molecules that attack living tissue, causing disease and aging), endorphins have anti-aging effects.
Pilates and Gyrotonics
I want to introduce you to two specialized forms of fitness training: “Pilates” and “gyrotonics.” Developed nearly 100 years apart, both methods are now becoming popular and offer the exceptional benefits once reserved for professionals or the elite among us.
The Pilates method is a unique system of stretching and strengthening exercises. It was developed over 90 years ago by Joseph Pilates, who was born in Germany in the 1880s and suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child. He began exercising and bodybuilding to overcome his physical limitations, and in his early teens became a model for anatomical drawings and enjoyed many sports, including gymnastics. At age 32, he moved to England and worked as a self-defense instructor at Scotland Yard. He was interned as an enemy alien at the outbreak of World War I, during which time he refined his ideas and, using springs on hospital beds, developed exercise equipment to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers. After the war, he moved to the U.S. and opened an exercise studio in New York. His technique became popular with dancers and was adopted in dance training regimens around the world.
For many years, Pilates training remained a well-kept secret among dancers and other performing artists. The growing interest in mind/body exercise has brought Pilates concepts to the forefront of fitness training. This method encompasses more than 500 exercises (don’t worry, you don’t do them all every time), performed as a mat-based workout or using special resistance equipment. Pilates stretches and tones muscles while reducing tension and strain in the joints and lower back.
This unique exercise system has been described as “yoga with resistance.” Juliu Horvath, a principal dancer in the world renowned Rumanian State Opera, developed gyrotonics (“gyro”ring, spiral or circle, and “tonic”to tone or invigorate), based on yoga, ballet, swimming, dance, tai chi and gymnastics in the late 1980s at the White Cloud Studio in NYC.
The fluid sequence of exercises is performed on a Horvath designed apparatusthe gyrotonics tower/handle machinethat uses hand-and foot-operated wheelbases and suspended pulleys to create resistance. There are 50 sets of exercises (with approximately 130 variations) to stretch, bend, twist and turn muscles with minimal effort. Unlike most conventional exercise machines that encourage linear or isolated movement patterns, gyrotonic exercises encourage a complete range of circular motion and full articulation of stabilized joints. All major muscle groups are worked interdependently and are synchronized with a corresponding breathing pattern. They are performed rhythmically, creating gentle or vigorous cardiovascular-aerobic stimulation, depending on intensity and speed. Special attention is placed on increasing the functional capacity of the spine, resulting in a well-proportioned body that is significantly less prone to injuries.
Like I said earlier, I wish I had begun exercising 15 years ago. Nevertheless, I exercise now and am thankful that I’m finally doing it on a regular basis. So, don’t get down on yourself if you haven’t started yet; rather, make the commitment to do the research and find the right exercise for you, and then begin. Better late than never is always the case, and I assure you that you’ll feel better about yourself after you’ve adopted a regular exercise program.
>>> Continue to Chapter 9: Build Your Chi Energy
1 Dennis Hughes Interviews Jack LaLanne 2001, The Share Guide, The Holistic Health Magazine.