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Exercise: The Many Benefits of Moving the Body

The psychological benefits of regular exercise cannot be overemphasized. Any kind of exercise can help you to balance your body systems. Moreover, exercise can naturally give us what some drugs try to accomplish, elevating certain brain amines that make us feel happier and more energetic. Most of us are aware of studies that prove brain endorphins are released after a certain amount of sustained exercise, creating a feeling of invigoration and well-being. (Marathon runners seem particularly susceptible, experiencing euphoric, altered states of consciousness while they run.

The subject of exercise spawns all kinds of controversy and seemingly contradictory information. Ten years ago we were told that exercise was only effective if you exercised for 30 to 40 minutes, 3 to 4 times a week at 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. We are discovering that for sedentary people, minimal exercise such as a leisurely stroll or gardening can be very beneficial and should be strongly encouraged. Views are also emerging on how much time we should spend exercising. Research now indicates that three ten minute bursts of exercise can be just as good as a thirty minute session.

Exercise and Depression
In light of its connection to the biochemical makeup of the brain, exercise can be an effective tool for fighting depression. Simply exercising will help lift your spirits. Learning to walk briskly every day or to jog at a moderate pace not only eases the blues, it provides untold physical benefits as well. Vigorous regular exercise can help releive insomnia, poor appetite, irritability and anxiety, all symptoms that usually accompany depression. In her book, Depression and Natural Medicine, Rita Elkins writes:

Two of the basic requirements for a healthy and happy life are fresh air and exercise, to which the benefit of sunlight exposure is also added. If we were smart, we would view exercise as crucial to our survival. Unfortunately, even when we feel relatively happy, its hard for us to make time to exercise. If we're depressed, we have to fight our way out of a force that can paralyze us.

We need to get out of our houses into the fresh air, even on an overcast day. A cloudy day still gives us a light intensity around 10,000 lux, which is substantial. For anyone suffering from a seasonal affective disorder, exercising for 30 minutes outdoors is the equivalent of a daily session of light therapy, which is usually obtained from a purchased light box. Exercising outside can also raise the oxygen level of our cells, directly impacting how much physical and mental energy we generate. When we breathe deeply, we expedite the removal of carbon dioxide and other waste products from our systems. It is interesting to know that some experts believe that during states of depression, regional blood flow to brain tissue is usually decreased. Exercising helps to remedy this. In fact, some people believe that it is virtually impossible to sustain a mental state of anger, depression or anxiety during and right after vigorous exercise. Some studies have shown that jogging for 30 minutes three times a week can be even more effective than psychotherapy sessions. For women who suffer through the hormonal upheaval of menopause, regular exercise has literally saved them from an emotional crisis and depression.

Dr. John Greist, the author of a renowned discourse entitled Running Out of Depression, conducted a study of 28 depressed patients and found that those patients who ran controlled their depression much better than those who were treated with psychotherapy. Even if you can only get out three days a week, the emotional benefits of regular exercise cannot be overstated.

Exercise and Stress Management
Understandably, if you are experiencing high stress levels, exercising is the last thing you feel like doing. Frequently, when we feel stressed we want to withdraw, not only socially but physically as well. Did you know that some health care experts believe that becoming too sedentary creates stress itself? Nume

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