Exercise As Therapy

Exercise is now recommended for more than sports conditioning. Health providers are recommending it for therapy for everything from obesity to depression.

There once was a time when you saw someone exercising or working out that you could assume they were either training or conditioning themselves for participation in sports, or simply for their own physical health benefits. While that is still often the case, exercise is now used for so much more than training, or even physical health improvement.

Exercise is now looked to to help treat and prevent illness. Exercise therapy has been defined as any regular physical activity that is performed to improve health, but "health" can encompass mental as well as physical health. Here we will look at various ailments and see how exercise therapy can aid in the healing or prevention of them. It is important to note that before beginning any exercise routine you should consult with your physician as to what would be appropriate for you.

Obesity: We've always known that more physical activity can help us burn those calories and either shed or prevent the onset of a few extra pounds. Daily physical activity helps to offset the daily caloric intake. To prevent weight gain, exercise as a brisk daily walk will do the trick. If your goal is not simply to prevent weight gain, but to lose what is already there you will want to progressively increase that walk, both by distance and by speed. If you are extremely overweight or out of shape do not jump into strenuous aerobic exercise. Studies have shown that the health benefits of exercise can be achieved with low intensity exercises such as stairclimbing, walking and even gardening. Low intensity exercises not only give the benefits of burning calories, they also improve strength, flexibility, cardiovascular function and your mood!

Diabetes: Physical activity has actually been proven to help those suffering from diabetes. Exercise does this by improving circulation in the body and lowering blood sugar levels. Some that have suffered from diabetes were able to reduce their insulin intake after starting and sticking with an exercise program. Others that began a program when they were borderline diabetics were able to stay off medicines completely. One study has shown that when diabetics added weight training to their exercise regimen their blood sugar levels began to stabilize and their medication worked more efficiently.

High Cholesterol: When we think of fighting high cholesterol, we immediately think of changing our diet, which is definitely one of the first things we need to alter. But along with adding proper nutrition to our lifestyle we should add an exercise program. How will exercise help? Exercise raises the HDL (good) cholesterol in our bloodstream. The HDL helps clear away the LDL (bad) cholesterol. Any exercise will raise HDL levels even a little, but if you want to reap the true benefits of exercise's cholesterol lowering capabilities, it is recommended that you get 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three to four times a week. Caution: The problem with this is that many people with high cholesterol have been only moderately active for some time so it is best to start out with something simple like brisk walking. Again, it is very important to speak with your physician before adding exercise to your daily routine.

High Blood Pressure: Being physically active can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure by as much as 52%. The best exercise therapy to begin with for those with hypertension is walking.

Stress: Exercise has long been known to be a stress reducer. Why? Vigorous activity increases our pulse rate and blood flow and helps use up the adrenaline in our bodies that is put there in stressful situations. Although vigorous or aerobic exercise works best for stress reduction, even a walk or brisk walk will help alleviate stress.

Depression: Exercise can help people beat depression for a number of reasons, some of which we can prove and understand, and some of which we can't. What is proven? Physical activity and exercise causes the body to release endorphins, which are naturally occuring chemicals in the body that are known to elevate moods. Other ways exercise can help overcome depression are speculative, yet real to all of us who have experienced them. Our moods are lifted after activity because we've accomplished something we set out to do, which increases our self-esteem. Perhaps we are in a better mood because we are improving our physical appearance and condition, or simply because exercising takes our mind off the problem that was causing our depression in the first place. Regardless, we do know what can't be scientifically proven, and that is that exercise can raise our spirits.

So we've seen how exercise can be used as therapy in a variety of situations, but what exercise is best? That should be decided by you and your care-giver, who knows your overall health and what your limitations may be. But let's take a look at just some of the many forms of exercises that are commonly used as therapy.

Walking: Walking is probably the easiest way for a sedentary person to begin an exercise program. Anyone can do it regardless of money or space constraints and it usually is ok regardless of most physical conditions, but check with your doctor first.

Aerobic activity: Any activity that raises the heart rate and sustains it for at least 20 minutes is considered aerobic, whether it's jogging alone or dancing with a class. If you are looking to greatly improve cardiovascular function or lose weight, aerobics are usually recommended. For optimum cardiovascular benefits, exercise must become a permanent part of a daily/weekly routine. However, it is imperative you get approval from your physician before starting an aerobic program, especially if you have been sedentary.

Weight training: Weight training helps build muscle tone, condition the body, and reduce stiffness. For years it has also been known to strengthen our bones and help prevent osteoperosis or bone loss in post menopausal women. As mentioned previously, it has also been claimed to regulate blood sugar in diabetics.

There are many other forms of exercise that can be explored if you are looking for a type of exercise therapy. There is everything from water aerobics or aquacize to T'ai Chi or Tae Kwon Do in the martial arts fields. When choosing an exercise as therapy you need to first consult your doctor and together determine the results you are looking for. Do you want to improve your mental well-being? Then any form of physical activity will do. Are you looking to increase muscle tone or improve cardiovascular function" Then your therapy needs to get more specific. Be sure to choose an exercise therapy that you will enjoy and be able to stick with. Above all, remember that regardless of the results you are seeking from your therapy, any exercise is better than none.

Now the next time you see someone jogging down the street remember, they may not necessarily be training for the next local marathon. They may be trying to lower their cholesterol, get their blood sugar in check or simply forget about their stressful day.

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