By Sunny Parmar (COL ’14)
Often when we are confronted with an opportunity to improve our lifestyles, we assess the advantages and disadvantages such a change would bring. Because incorporating this change can be inconvenient, normally we will decide not to go with it, unless there is an element of stress in our lifestyles that begs us to try a change in habit. Therefore, the long-held maxim that it is important to exercise everyday has failed to influence the lifestyles of many people of all ages, especially younger people. There is not a propensity to include exercise in one’s daily routine because it is believed that exercise cannot help solve a person’s problems, whether it be anxiety or inactivity. After all, if you are worried about preparing for your upcoming presentation, why stress now about your physical health? Unfortunately, many people do not understand that exercise can go long way in improving people’s daily productivity. This article seeks to bring a couple of these ways to light using results from scientific studies.
First, incorporating this change in lifestyle allows for better concentrations in one’s daily activities. For one, it offers a respite. Often in the lives of students and busy adults, daily routines follow a fairly basic pattern of constant mental stimulation by problem-solving and communication tasks. Such a routine demands large amounts of concentration over the course of the day. Exercise allows the mind to rest and allow for better concentration during the rest of the day. Another way it helps concentration is by improving blood circulation. Studies show that simply walking improves blood flowto the brain, which means that the brain can process more information(Weinblatt, 2011). Over some period of time, cerebral blood vessels will expand, allowing for more blood circulation even after exercise stops. One study supported this by showing that memory, executive functioning, concentration, and “psychomotor speed” (ability to juggle different tasks at one time) improved over time in a group of participants who exercised versus those who did not (“The Human-Brain Exercise,” 2004). Improvements in any of these four abilities is useful to those in active, engaging lifestyles.
What about those who live sedentary lives? Why should someone who prefers not to get up from the couch suddenly start running around? It is indeed a problem that too many teenagers spend most of their leisure time doing activities that do not require physical (or mental) stimulation, such as watching television and using the computer. The answer to the question above is that exercise is correlated with an increase in general activity. In other words, people who exercise feel more energy in their lives and can be more productive. Thus, those who feel lethargic would no longer feel lethargic after incorporating exercise in their respectivelifestyles. A study conducted in 2004 found that children with higher physical activity levelsspent less time sedentary in their free time (Montgomery et al., 2004). Such a finding proves a point that is often missed about the benefit of exercise: it causes people to be more productive and energetic in other activities of their lives.
Today, there is a vast swath of children, teenagers, adults and elderly that do not use their free time for even a little exercise. It is strange that people can be told something is really good for them, yet refuse to do it or feel no urgency to do it. It must be that these people do not actually understand the value in the activity. Perhaps the media is to blame—advertisements and articles often focus only on how exercise benefits physical health. They may fail to mention how mental health improves as well. Also, articlessometimes imply that an exercise routine is useless if not done for a long period of time. This may be true, but such a statement can deter readers and viewers from beginning at all. Society may also be to blame—our society today has arguably become more materialistic over the years. The focus is on getting objects or achieving grades, not on personal care (physical or mental) or accomplishing goals for one’s own satisfaction.
Whatever is the case, people should be educated about the positive effects that exercise can have on their daily lives. Only then can they effectively decide for themselves if such a change is worth it—the answer will most probably be yes. For those who are searching for a way to begin, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides an answer. It states that adults need 2 hours and 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity” aerobic activity every week—this means any activity that makes you break a sweat, such as riding a bike or playing tennis. It also states that adults should do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week—ones that work all the major muscle groups. These guidelines are flexible in that one may choose to do “vigorous-intensity” aerobic activity for less than 2 hours a week instead. Also, it is important to note that one can fulfill his or her weekly requirement by doing the activity for at least 10 minutes at a time—not necessarily all at once (“How much,” 2011). For someone who wants to improve his or her daily productivity in all aspects of his or her life, these guidelines are a great place to start. If more people can be convinced of the benefits of exercise, then we will have not only a healthier population, but also a more productive one.