We all are aware of the innumerable ways in which exercise contributes to a healthy life. And now more than ever, people are waking up to the downside of a sedentary lifestyle, which has unfortunately become the norm for most of us.
Objective of an exercise program
Regular exercise is not only desirable but mandatory for an active and fulfilling life. Many of us believe that daily brisk walking or jogging does it all. Others swear by yoga and for some it is weight training. While there is no doubt that all these forms of exercises will yield positive results, they do not necessarily help to achieve optimum level of fitness if practiced individually. For instance, walking is good for cardiovascular health but may not lend flexibility.
So, the important question that most of us are not asking is, “What should be the objective of an exercise program?” Well, we must approach our exercise regimen with a view to target multiple aspects of physical and mental well-being.
Modern lifestyle takes its toll on your health and well being
Our dependence on time-saving home appliances coupled with our desk-bound jobs has taken its toll on our general well being. Apart from the now notorious lifestyle ailments such as blood pressure and diabetes, the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) has been steadily rising over the past decade. These disorders can develop due to fixed or constrained body posture, repetitive movements, or actions that require muscles to exert force to complete a task. Although not life-threatening, these disorders can impair one’s quality of life.
According to a report published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, MSDs are the most common cause of severe long term pain and physical disability, and they affect hundreds of millions of people around the world. They significantly affect the psycho-social status of affected people as well as their families and careers. Furthermore, the report foresees that the impact of musculoskeletal disorders on individuals and society is expected to increase dramatically owing to increased obesity and lack of physical activity with the urbanization and motorization of the developing world. Therefore, this article focuses on four important components of exercise and how each of them impacts different aspects of fitness and contributes towards improving our overall physical and mental health.
Vital components of a holistic exercise program
There are four basic components that are essential to sustain a sound and healthy body. These are: 1) Stretching 2) Aerobic 3) Muscle Strengthening 4) Breathing exercises (Pranayama).
Stretching exercises help us to improve flexibility and is a mandatory element of an exercise program. Remember to warm up the muscles before stretching – a 10-minute quick walk is enough. According to Harvard Health, stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain the range of motion in our joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise for stretching and flexibility.
Aerobic exercise is a physical activity that uses large muscle groups and can be sustained for more than a few minutes rhythmically. This form of exercise, which is also referred to as “cardio” improves the fitness of our lungs and heart and is also known to stave off depression, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and improve immune function among other things. The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise five days a week or 20 minutes of high intensity aerobic exercise three days a week to maintain good health and reduce your risk of chronic disease. Walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are some of the most popular aerobic exercises.
These exercises make our muscles work harder than usual increasing muscle strength, size, and endurance in the process. They help to improve posture, reduce chronic aches and pains and also slow down the rate of muscle and bones loss associated with growing old. Choose exercises that work major muscle groups in the body like the legs, shoulders, abdomen, back, arms, chest and hips. Include two sessions (of 15-20 minutes each) of muscle strengthening exercises per week in your exercise regimen. According to research undertaken by The University of Nottingham, sedentary behavior can lead to health problems as muscles play a role in blood sugar levels and other key metabolic functions. Therefore, it is important to ensure sufficient habitual activity since immobility and even reducing the number of steps we walk each day can cause adverse metabolic changes and muscle loss.
Breathing exercises (Pranayama)
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word in which prana means life force (breath) and ayama means to regulate or control. Thus, pranayama refers to breathing techniques to control our life force or prana. Among the most common pranayama techniques are: Bhastrika (bellows breath), Anulom-Vilom (alternate nostril breathing), Kapalbhati (frontal brain purification), Brahmari (humming bee), Ujjayi (to be victorious), and Udgita (chanting ‘Om’). The health benefits of regular practice of pranayama are substantial and wide-ranging and cannot be dealt with in a single article. It is also recommended that pranayama should be learnt in person under the guidance of a certified trainer. Here is a list of only a few benefits of practicing pranayama:
- Calms the nervous system and reduces stress
- Cures mental problems such as anxiety and depression
- Induces muscular relaxation
- Reduces blood pressure
- Speeds up healing of tissues
- Increases oxygen in the blood
- Removes blockages in the nose and chest
- Improves working of the lungs
- Strengthens abdominal muscles and improves digestion
Starting today, make movement your mantra. If you have been exercising regularly, then make sure you incorporate all the four components discussed above in your regimen to make it more holistic. Like they say, Better Sore, than Sorry!