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That couch potato lifestyle is costing you more than camaraderie at the neighborhood softball game. A lack of exercise could be shortchanging your mind, making you unhappy and shrinking your longevity. Aerobic capacity and strength aren't just fitness goals; they are measures of your mental health and predictors of your ability to enjoy life. A daily power walk or a killer backhand might be your ticket to emotional well-being.
Stress is the new norm, and the human body cannot adapt to constant high stress levels. The Mayo Clinic points out that your nervous system triggers an automatic response to stress that releases a rush of adrenalin and cortisol -- and keeps up the deluge until the perception of danger is past. In addition to the detrimental effects on physical health, those hormones stimulate regions of the brain that control fear, motivation and mood. Now you are at risk for sleep problems, memory impairment and depression. Regular exercise relieves the stress response and counters its negative consequences with the positive feel-good hormones that help you to maintain a healthy attitude and an upbeat mood.
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, releases those lovely natural brain chemicals that cheer you up. Neurotransmitters and endorphins are feel-goods that relieve anxiety and lighten depression. The positive vibe lasts even after the exercise is finished. But you only get the magic with regular exercise, and it's a long-term strategy and commitment. The Mayo Clinic recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, three to five days a week, to alleviate depression, and says strenuous exertion is more effective. Running is better than walking, but walking is better than sitting. Here's what doesn't work: skipping exercise and self-medicating with alcohol or another drug; wishing for the dismal feelings to go away. Pick up the pace to help keep depression from slowing you down.
Obesity is a national epidemic. The President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition says that more than 34 million Americans are obese, and a similar number are seriously overweight. Calories consumed plus energy expended is the basic equation that results in weight, so a lack of exercise is a key factor in super-sized kids and adults. Fail to exercise and the stress that leads you to overeat dictates your diet. You forfeit the physical fitness that gives you confidence and a healthy self-image. You turn your back on the emotional release of strenuous activities and sports, and the companionship that is a cornerstone of mental health. Move it and lose it to feel better about yourself and improve the quality of your life.
Aerobic exercise reduces cognitive decline in older adults, according to the Mayo Clinic. So power walk and work the daily crossword puzzle to stay sharp. The increased oxygen feeding your brain when you take that cardio class gives you an edge over your sedentary peers. The Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health emphasizes that exercise contributes to greater independence as you age. Stronger muscles and bones, better balance and an agile memory can make your golden years happier and healthier.