Understanding The Role of Exercise
Audio Introduction Physical Exercise
Physical exercise is essential for an easeful body. Conversely, the onset of disease is often due to the fact that our priorities in daily life have not included the development and maintenance of an easeful body. In this chapter you are challenged to determine what your current attitude to the physical body is, attune to the body and its needs, and then learn how to safely improve your physical fitness, and establish a routine that is both practical and enjoyable for you to follow.
To what extent has your awareness of your physical condition been in response to a deterioration of fitness (e.g. restrictions in your ability to move in ways you once were capable of)? Have you engaged in a dynamic process of actively maintaining or improving your overall level of fitness in the absence of any impairments? For most people who are suffering dis-ease of the body, the message they are being sent is one that has existed on a more subtle level for some time. Because they pay so little attention to the body, the message has to be amplified to a level of dis-ability before it attracts their notice.
The process of disease is similar to a situation in which someone is so busy trying to get somewhere that they take no notice of the last time they put fuel in their car. They ignore the gauge on the dashboard because their priorities and mental orientation are elsewhere, and the car still seems to be going. It is only when the car begins to choke, splutter, lurch, and slow down that the message comes through, by which time the car will not take them anywhere until it receives what it needs. Your body has an instruction manual very similar to that of a vehicle, and requires inspection, service, and tuning to prevent it being disabled and out of action. Unfortunately, the stress and distractions of modem life often lead us to toss this manual on a bookshelf somewhere, with good intentions of getting to it once life makes time for it. What choice does the body have in the face of such neglect but to refuse to take us where we want to go unless we attune to its needs?
Benefits of Exercise
Benefits of Excercise
As a result of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, as we get older we become more susceptible to arthritis, rheumatism, heart disease, strokes, hypertension, diabetes, persistent or sudden episodes of back pain, and depression. People who have an active fitness plan, combined with the other elements of HELP, can help to reverse this process. You need not be an athlete or to experience the benefits of physical activity; a regular program of stretching, walking, and attunement will help you to improve your health without the need for extensive equipment and elaborate training.
The benefits that you will experience include:
- A greater degree of flexibility in the joints of the body.
- Increased energy as a result of better circulation, with the blood carrying oxygen to all parts of the body.
- Greater strength and cardiovascular fitness as the heart becomes stronger.
- Favorable changes in blood cholesterol levels.
- Strengthened bones and the prevention of osteoporosis.
- Less fatigue as the lungs’ efficiency improves.
- Increased muscle tone and strength.
- Healthier physique as the metabolism is stimulated to assist in burning up fats.
- A lift in spirits and outlook as physical activity helps bum biochemicals released by stress and depression and produces endorphins, which relieve pain and elevate emotions.
- Improved sleep patterns and relaxation as a result of greater activity.
- Facilitated digestion.
Reflecting on Physical Fitness
Take a moment to reflect now on what your attitude has been in recent years to the maintenance and care for your physical fitness. Answer the following questions in your journal and refer back to them as they come up time and again in other chapters:
- Do you have a daily awareness of your level of physical activity?
- Have you set weekly goals or targets that are priorities?
- Can long periods of time slip by without you attending to stretching, exercising, and improving your physical well-being?
- Has this been the case for many years?
- If you were conscious of exercising regularly at one stage of your life, what seem to be the factors associated with the decline in that routine?
- What currently takes precedence over developing a sound approach to physical activity?
Now, in examining the factors that you have listed as taking precedence over physical fitness, can you find any item on the list that you can do well if you are sick? Of course not! It becomes clear immediately when going through this approach that there really are no excuses not to incorporate an active plan for physical exercise, if only so that you are able to carry out your other priorities in life. You cannot attend to the more “pressing matters” of life and ignore your physical fitness, for if you do become ill, you will be unable to attend at all to these matters.
It is time to reacquaint yourself with your body and learn to respect it. Whatever your current state of health, the body has a remarkable capacity to repair and restore itself when you take the time to nurture it. This does require sensitivity to the needs of the body. A consistent and disciplined approach will complement that sensitivity without you becoming self-absorbed.
Body Attunement Exercise
Now take time to attune to the body. In order to develop this sensitivity the following procedure is recommended as a regular practice.
Find a quiet and peaceful place in your home and choose a relaxed time of the day, perhaps early morning before the household or neighbors become active, or in the evening after the day’s activities have concluded. Sit in a comfortable and relaxed position, close your eyes, and take in a full and deep breath, following it with a long and relaxed exhalation. Now allow your breathing to follow a deep but relaxed rhythm, and the body to relax with it. Let the mind settle and just be with the breath for a moment.
Ask yourself mentally how the body is feeling at this moment, and scan the body as you visualize the different areas and organs of the body. Is there any part of the body that is sending you subtle signals of tiredness, sluggishness, fatigue, tension, or pain? Take your time to go over the body thoroughly, from the respiratory and digestive systems to the joints and muscles. Experience the body rather than actively thinking about or analyzing it.
Simple Relaxation a Meditation
Once you have concluded this inner attunement, take a moment to write down any subtle messages you became aware of-both positive and negative. Keep this information as a record in your journal. Record the date and time of each attunement so that you can refer back to it as your body becomes more involved in a disciplined routine, and your awareness is heightened. Record anything and everything that comes up, even if you perceive no signals, either good or bad. This attunement exercise can be done regularly to allow yourself to experience just “being”, as well as monitoring the impact of what you are doing.
Developing a Safe Program
Next, you can use this awareness to develop a routine of physical movement that will enhance your overall health. Before embarking on a rigorous program to gain these benefits, you must evaluate your current level of fitness. If you are currently suffering from specific physical ailments such as heart disease, arthritis, respiratory problems, or any major disability, it is always a good idea to clear your proposed fitness program with your health professional. They will be able to evaluate the extent to which the program suits your needs and abilities at this stage.
There are several factors that you should be aware of when developing and carrying out your physical fitness program. The first is the length of time since you last had a regular schedule of physical activity. Keep this in mind when developing your schedule, and build up your capacity slowly if it has been quite some time since you had regular exercise. Always be aware that a gradual daily program which builds up over time as your level of fitness improves is the proper course of action. Avoid intensive programs which once a week tax your system.
Once you have designed an appropriate program, self-monitoring, the second factor, is very important. Begin by discovering your resting pulse rate. To do this follow these steps:
- Turn one hand over, palm facing upward.
- Line up the thumb with the index finger, letting it lie on top of it in a straight line.
- Place the index and middle fingers of the other hand on the thumb and follow its line back to your wrist.
- There you will find your pulse, on the outer side of the wrist at the base of the thumb.
- Press down gently and you will feel the pulse beating.
- Using a watch with a second’s hand, count the beats during a second period and multiply by 4.
A normal pulse rate, depending on age and disease process, will usually fall between 70 and 80 beats per minute. Athletes will have a much slower rate, possibly being as low as 40. The pulse is a very good indicator of the strength of the heart. As you improve your level of fitness, the slower pulse rate will be a sign of a stronger and more efficient heart.
It is important to determine your target heart rate. The maximum heart rate is about 220 beats per minute, but this decreases with age and lack of fitness. Subtract your age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate. When exercising, your pulse should fall in the range of 60 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. So, if you are 60 years old, your maximum heart rate is 220-60, or 160. Now multiply 160 by 0.6, which equals 96, and 160 by 0.75, which equals 120. If your pulse rate goes above 120, you are pushing yourself too hard; if it falls below 96, you can exercise more vigorously.
Heart Health : How to Find Your Target Heart Rate
The formula is:
- 220 minus your age for your maximum heart rate (mhr)
- mhr multiplied by 0.6 for the low end of your workout
- mhr multiplied by 0.75 for the high end, which you should not exceed during your fitness regime
Checking your pulse is but one of several indicators which you should keep in mind when working to improve your physical well-being. Evaluate yourself during and after exercise and stretching by asking how the body feels:
- Can you breathe properly while exercising?
- Are you able to talk while exercising?
- Do you feel like you are straining or experiencing pain while carrying out your routine?
Finally, do not hesitate to reduce your routine to one that is challenging but does not go over the fine line into strain and pain. These indicators are there for a reason; do not overrule them hoping they will go away. A slow, enjoyable, regular, and gradual build-up in your capacity is the path to take.
Recent research by Dr Steven Blair confirms that in terms of prolonging life and reducing the chances of disease, a moderate amount of exercise each day, such as walking for 30 minutes per day, will bring almost as much benefit as running 30 to 40 miles (50 to 60 kilometers) a week, when compared to those leading a sedentary lifestyle. So, set realistic and achievable targets that will allow you to keep up a regular practice. Remember, you do not have to run marathons to benefit.
Components of an Exercise Routine
Given the focus on sensitivity to the body and moderation in exercise, your exercise routine should have the following four components: attunement, warm-up phase, continuous rhythmic exercise within your heart range, and cooling-down phase. All four components are equally important and none should be neglected or rushed.
The attunement exercise is the beginning of the routine and involves two minutes of withdrawing your awareness from external distractions such as sounds, other people, smells, and visual objects. Just close the eyes and focus on the breath. Then scan the body and alert yourself to any subtle signals the body may be trying to communicate to you before you engage in your exercise routine. By doing this practice regularly, you can develop your awareness of the internal intelligence of the body and trigger a greater sensitivity to it in order to avoid strain or injury. If a symptom comes up, do not dismiss it but keep it in your awareness so as not to overtax that part of the body during your routine. Mentally try to visualize that part of the body and release any tension or stiffness by relaxing the area and breathing in slowly and deeply. If the symptom persists or gets worse, it will be necessary to explore what may be causing it more actively and perhaps seek the advice of a health professional. By attuning to these signals on a subtle level, we can often avoid injury.
Warm Up Phase
The warm-up phase of activity is an essential part of your routine and should last for about 10 minutes. The benefits include:
- Preparing the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system for exercise
- Increasing flexibility of the body
- Slowly increasing body temperature
- Helping to avoid muscle strains
The ideal sequence is to warm the body up and then do some gentle stretching to avoid injuring cold muscles. Your warm-up can be as simple as slowly jogging in place, using a stationary cycle, or a gentle rehearsal of the sport or exercise you’re about to perform.
Next begin to stretch the muscles and move the joints slowly. A series of stretches that are suitable for both the warm-up and cool-down phases follow. Also feel free to incorporate any of the yoga postures included in the easeful body chapter that you may find useful. The yoga postures are excellent for both warm-up and cool-down stretches as they involve:
- Stretching and toning of muscles
- Flexibility of joints
- Mindfulness of the body
- Awareness of feelings
- Proper posture
- Slow and easeful movements
Limbering up the Body
Stretching the joints of the body is a great place to begin, and with all movement the awareness should be with the stretch and the breathing, keeping that inner attunement as you move.
Audio program Full Stretching Class
Foot and Leg Stretches
Begin by sitting down on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bring your awareness to the toes of each foot and begin moving the toes backward and forward, first with the right foot and then with the left, for 20 seconds each foot.
Begin to stretch and loosen the ankles by rotating one foot at a time in a circular clockwise direction for 10 seconds, then anticlockwise for 10 seconds.
Next, keeping the left leg stretched out, bend the right leg and place the right foot on top of the left knee or thigh (or, if not possible, on the inside of the left leg). Begin to lift up the right knee, and then slowly lower it as far as you can without straining. You may want to use the right hand to help the knee come down further. Continue raising and lowering for 20 seconds. Now release the right leg and reverse sides, bending the left knee and placing the left foot in position on the right leg, and again raising up and lowering down for 20 seconds.
With the soles of the feet together, bring the feet as close to the groin area as is comfortable and slowly raise the knees up and dawn, feeling free to use the hands or the elbows to help the knees go down in the direction of the floor without straining. Continue for 30 seconds.
Hand and Arm Stretches
Continue sitting on the floor. Extend your right arm out in front of you, splay out the fingers of the right hand, then make a fist.
Continue expanding and contracting the hand for 20 seconds, then begin with the left hand.
Now stretch the right wrist by rotating the hand in a clockwise direction for 20 seconds, then anticlockwise for 20 seconds. Follow with the left wrist and hand.
For the elbow, upper arm and shoulder joints, stretch the right arm high above the head, reaching up toward the sky and splaying the fingers as you stretch upward. Now bend the elbow and lower the hand down to the top of the shoulder. Repeat 10 times, then relax the right arm and begin with the left.
Combined Leg and Arm Stretches
Lie on your back, with your arms extending above your head on the floor and your legs stretched out in front of you. Extend your limbs out in opposite directions, stretching the arms past the head, and the legs and feet in the opposite direction. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax for a few seconds and stretch out once more.
Next bend the right leg and, keeping the left leg straight, clasp your hands just below the right knee and help the right knee down to the chest area as you compress the abdomen muscles. Hold while you slowly raise your head toward the right knee. Hold for a count of three, then lower the head down, release the hands, lower the right leg down and relax for 10 seconds.Reverse the process with the left leg.
After resting, bring up both knees toward the chest, wrap your arms just below the knees and bring the knees down toward the chest. Hold for 3 seconds with the option of lifting up the head in the direction of the knees.
Upper Back, Shoulder, and Neck Stretches
Remember never to strain the neck muscles–always start slowly. Come up to a standing position with the feet about shoulder width apart and the arms stretched out to the sides in a T shape. Slowly swing from side to side, rotating from the waist. When you rotate to the left, swing the right hand toward the left shoulder giving yourself a pat on the back; and on the other side, swing the left hand toward the right shoulder. Continue for 30 seconds increasing the speed moderately. Allow the head and neck to swing gently further and further back, looking over the shoulder you are swinging to, but without straining the neck. Feel the spine and back area loosen up with the stretch. When concluding, slow down the movements gently, returning to the standing position, and allow the breath to return to normal.
Next, raise the shoulders toward the ears and hold to a count of 5, then exhale and allow the shoulders to lower. Continue with shoulder shrugs for three rounds. Then, keeping the head facing forward lower the head in the direction of the right shoulder, hold for 10 seconds, then slowly raise the head back up to center. Lower the head down to the left shoulder and hold for 10 seconds. Center the head and relax. Remember always to be gentle with the neck.
Lower Back and Hamstrings
Have the feet together and the knees slightly bent in a standing position as you slowly bend forward from the hips, keeping the back straight. Allow your arms to stretch down toward the floor until you feel your hamstrings and back muscles stretch. Keep the knees bent, and do not bounce or use force to try to reach the floor. Hold for 20 seconds, then slowly come up and relax.
Continuous Rhythmic Exercises
Once the body is loose and warmed up, it is appropriate to begin the aerobic portion of the fitness routine, with the type of activity being governed by your:
- Current level of fitness
- Ability to access this activity on a regular basis
- Particular interests or inclination
When previously engaged in physical activity years ago you might have been a marathon runner, but of course it would be dangerous to go back to that immediately after years of a sedentary lifestyle. Similarly, you may choose cross-country skiing as the activity you would most like to do, but unless you have access to it regularly you will need to find other activities to incorporate. Finally, if you choose an activity such as swimming but you do not enjoy it, there is little chance that your fitness program will be successful. Remember the three A‘s of aerobic exercise: Appropriate, Accessible, Agreeable.
The distinction between aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise is an important one to remember. Anaerobic exercise, such as weight lifting and sit-ups, involves short bursts of activity, and burns glucose (sugar) stored within the muscle for fuel. It helps to build muscular strength but has limited benefits for the cardiorespiratory system and does not lead to fat loss.
Aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, and jogging, involves continuous rhythmic movement over an extended period of time, and uses oxygen for fuel. Aerobic exercise benefits the cardiorespiratory system and leads to fat loss, as the muscles burn a percentage of fat for fuel. While both activities are beneficial, it is important to ensure that you incorporate aerobic exercise into your routine.
To determine whether your aerobic activities are appropriate, they should meet the following criteria:
- If you have not exercised for a long time, are under medical supervision, or are suffering from a disability, you should consult with your health-care professional.
- Your chosen activity should meet the four conditions of the FITT principle, which are frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise:
- Frequency (how often to exercise) This will obviously vary according to your level of fitness and the type of activity chosen, but should eventually be three to five times per week.
- Intensity (how hard to exercise) – The exercise should fall within the pulse rate range, which you calculated as being between 60 and 75 percent of your maximum pulse rate.
- Time (how long to exercise) – The exercise should be sustained for 20 to 60 minutes, depending on frequency.
- Type (what type of exercise)-The exercise should involve continuous rhythmic movement of large muscle groups, and such activities as walking, jogging, aerobic dance, bicycling, swimming, and rowing are all suitable.
- You should experience no unusual symptoms, during or after exercise, such as extreme shortness of breath after mild exertion, dizziness, fainting, nausea, cold sweating, confusion, pain or pressing in the chest, neck, shoulders, arms, throat or jaw, or abnormal heart activity such as an irregular heart rhythm.
The importance of accessibility should not be minimized, as it will have a great deal of impact on the success of your program. To determine the accessibility of your chosen activity, answer the following questions:
- Is the cost of the activity within your present budget and within budgets of the foreseeable future?
- Can you easily get to the activity without being reliant on things out of your personal control?
- Do you need a partner for this activity and, if so, is one likely to be readily available all the time?
- If there is special equipment needed for this activity, is it available and affordable?
- Is this activity dependent on the weather, and what alternatives do you have in case of unpleasant weather?
- Do you have the required skill level to perform this activity at present?
- Does the time of day suitable for this activity fit in with your other responsibilities?
By answering these questions honestly, you will be able to choose an activity or two, which are likely to work for you.
Once you have one or more activities that meet the first two requirements of being appropriate and accessible, choose activities that are agreeable to you and that you will enjoy. In terms of motivating yourself to exercise regularly, this last factor is particularly important, as you will not stick to a fitness regimen that you dislike. You may prefer:
- A variety of activities that will allow you to remain stimulated and not get in a rut
- Activities that bring you into contact with other people who can help you stay motivated and provide a pleasant atmosphere
- Activities that challenge you in terms of skill development
- Activities that will leave you feeling good about yourself and your accomplishments
- Activities that have secondary benefits other than the aerobic value, such as taking you out into nature, or bringing you into contact with old friends or a pleasant and stimulating environment
Once you have chosen the activities that you feel satisfy the three A’s, follow these suggestions in order to make a commitment to your exercise routine:
- Keep a record of your goals, setting small weekly goals as a first step and building up to your long-term goals.
- Remind yourself that you owe it to yourself to maintain your fitness. Let some people know your intended program and ask them to assist you in keeping your commitment.
- Enter details of your progress, any problems, lapses, thoughts, and feelings into your journal.
- Reward yourself when you have met your goals, acknowledging your effort.
- If for circumstances beyond your control you have had a setback, do not let that affect your commitment. Whatever the cause of your lapse, get going again.
- Remind yourself of the benefits, which include more energy, greater resistance to illness and stress, stronger bones, stronger heart and respiratory system, better self-image, and increased confidence.
Cooling Down and Stretching after a Workout
When concluding your aerobic activity, it is essential to allow the body time to cool down for a period of five to ten minutes. By developing a routine for cooling down after exertion, you can avoid muscle soreness, allow your pulse to slowly return to the resting rate, and enjoy the winding-down process after your workout. If you just stopped moving after exercising, the heart would still be beating rapidly without sufficient blood returning to it.
The cooling-down approach should first consist of reducing the speed gradually of the aerobic activity you are engaged in, slowing it right down. This can then be followed by some of the warm-up stretches illustrated previously, which are suitable for both limbering up the body and cooling it down. Just take them slowly and with awareness, letting the muscles relax into them and the heart slow down. These stretches as well as some of the yoga postures in Cultivating An Easeful Body will provide a good transition for the muscles and joints to adjust to the decline of physical exertion, and reduce the chances of musculoskeletal injury.
When planning your weekly schedule take into consideration the following factors:
- After seeking advice from your health professional (if necessary in your case), set achievable goals. Even if it means you will not be meeting the goal of three hours of aerobic exercise per week immediately, try to work up to that with either six 30-minute sessions or three one-hour sessions per week.
- Plan out your weekly program, taking into consideration other HELP components, including stress-management techniques.
- Come up with a schedule that is realistic for you, given your other responsibilities, and then commit yourself to it.
- If after some time it becomes apparent that you are capable of doing more, be gradual in your approach, remembering that it is far better to be consistent in a schedule that may be slightly below your capability than to push yourself to 100 percent inconsistently, with stress.
- No matter what activity you have chosen, make a commitment to it, monitor yourself, evaluate the schedule, and remind yourself of the benefits of regular exercise and the goals you have set.
Helpful Hints for Physical Exercise
- Join or establish an exercise group.
- Exercise to raise funds for charity
- Reward yourself for meeting your exercise goals
- Combine exercise with getting out to nature
- Variety is the spice of exercise
American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM Fitness Book, Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, IL, 1992.
Anderson, Bob. Stretching, Shelter Publications, Bolinas, CA, 1980.
Blair, SN et al. “Physical Fitness and All Cause Mortality”, Journal of American Medical Association, 262, 1989,2395-2401.
Tobias, Maxine & Sullivan, John Patrick. Complete Stretching, Knopf, New York, 1992.
Wicks, John. Guide to Exercise, National Heart Foundation of Australia, Melbourne, 1983.