Benefits Of Exercise
Central Nervous System Diseases:
People with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease should be encouraged to exercise. Specialized exercise programs that improve mobility are particularly valuable for Parkinson's patients. Patients with neurological disorders who exercise experience less spasticity as well as reduction in -- and even reversal of -- muscle atrophy. In addition, the psychological benefits of exercise are extremely important in managing these disorders. Exercise machines, aquatic exercises, and walking are particularly useful.
Older people who exercise moderately may have a lower risk for severe gastrointestinal bleeding. Experts suggest that moderate exercise might even reduce the risk for some intestinal disorders, including ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, and diverticulosis.
Exercise can even improve pain from clogged arteries in the legs, a condition called intermittent claudication. The best approach in such cases is to walk until pain develops; then rest until pain resolves before resuming walking. In six-month studies, people had tripled the amount of time they could walk before the onset of pain.
Exercise burns calories and can help individuals fight obesity. If caloric intake remains constant, regular workouts lead to weight loss. Be forewarned, however, that the pounds won't melt off magically. It takes 35 miles of walking or jogging to consume the calories in one pound of fat. Effective weight loss means a long-term commitment to a regular program of vigorous exercise.
One recent study indicated that for obese patients, a few daily sessions for as short as 10 minutes each was effective in helping the patients adhere to an exercise program. Abdominal crunches may help replace abdominal fat with muscle. To perform this exercise, the individual lies on the back with the head and shoulders raised; he or she contracts the stomach muscles, curling the torso slightly forward. Abdominal fat is a particular danger to the heart, although it is unknown whether doing crunches will specifically protect against heart disease.
Psychological and Emotional Benefits:
Aerobic exercise is linked with improved mental vigor, including reaction time, acuity, and math skills. Exercising may even enhance creativity and imagination. According to one study, older people who are physically fit respond to mental challenges just as quickly as unfit young adults. (Stretching and weight training appear to have no such effects.)
Both aerobic and nonaerobic workouts have been shown to reduce depression. According to one study, exercise was as effective for improving mood in people with clinical depression as some common forms of psychotherapy. Either brief periods of intense training or prolonged aerobic workouts can raise levels of important chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, that produce feelings of pleasure, causing the so-called runner's high.