Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer as children return to school and family vacations come to an end. The slower pace and longer days of summer usually provide more time for play and exercise. In September, that time gets replaced by homework and other school and work-related activities. The decrease in daylight hours also makes it more challenging to get outside in the light. Research shows why exercise should be a top priority for both children and adults as the fall begins. It is common knowledge that exercise improves our physical health in many ways, keeps us fit and helps manage weight. Here are 7 more compelling reasons you need to keep or start exercising this fall.
7 Reasons to Get Moving
1. Exercise sharpens the brain. For children this translates to better focus and concentration in school. For adults this helps us continue to learn as we age. When we do aerobic exercise, our heart rate rises and we breathe faster which brings more oxygen and nutrients to our brain.
2. Exercise that requires coordination further builds the brain “muscles” because it stimulates neuroplasticity which means the brain is forming new neural pathways. The science of neuroplasticity shows us that the brain can grow at any age when challenged with new challenges. If possible, do a variety of different kinds of exercise to get the maximum benefit. Consider different forms of dance, Tai Chi or Yoga, or similar activities. If it’s hard at first, don’t be discouraged. If you keep trying, you will build better coordination and balance over time.
There has been interesting new research on the benefits or riding a bike and learning. Studies have shown that the quality and integrity of the “white matter” of the brain for both children and adults. This improvement in quality of white matter means a greater capacity for memory, attention span and cognitive efficiency. One interesting study showed that those who rode a stationary bike while reading and learning new material had an easier time mastering the material and retaining it longer.
3. Exercise lifts mood. This is very important as the fall days get shorter and the lack of sunlight can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Research shows that as little as 15 minutes of regular aerobic exercise is as effective as many anti-depressants for many especially older adults. Exercising outside provides greater benefits because it gets you out in the fresh air which increases oxygen consumption and allows you to absorb sunlight which is important. This can be achieved with an activity as simple as a walk around the block at lunch, walking your dog after work or riding a bike after school. The “runner’s high” feeling comes from increase in endorphins which kick in as we raise our heart and breath rate sending more oxygen to the brain during exercise.
4. Exercise helps you sleep better. Poor sleep causes difficulties in learning, work productivity and increased stress. The greatest benefit for sleep is morning exercise. However, if nighttime is your only option, make sure your exercise is done at least 2 hours before bed or that the exercise is relaxing like yoga or Chi Gong. A walk around the block after dinner serves to help you digest better which will also allow your sleep to be better.
5. Exercise decreases stress. Regular exercise, whether aerobic, dancing, yoga or walking will help relax you naturally and can help you break unhealthy habits. Often people turn to excess eating, drinking, smoking or illegal drugs to reduce stress. Exercise provides natural stress relief. Often, a quick walk around the block can help us put problems in perspective.
6. Exercise helps you connect to others which is also beneficial to the brain. Whether you go to a class, walk with a friend, ride bikes in the neighborhood or go on hikes with a club, the combination of exercise and connection is uplifting to mood and can increase productivity. Consider a “walking meeting” if you are faced with meetings that could be done on foot. Team sports are also a great way to bond with others while reaping the benefits of exercise.
7. Exercise improves confidence for people of all ages. One word of caution is you need to set realistic goals when you start. Celebrate progress not perfection. Each step you take today that you did not yesterday is a step in the right direction!