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Exercise Boosts Both Health and Spirit

Many people have noticed that they're a lot more tired and feeling a bit down since the tragic events of September 11. One way to improve your spirits is exercise. A good workout releases certain chemicals that can actually lift your mood.

The Early Show's fitness expert Minna Lessig shares and shows how exercise can help you live a longer, happier, and healthier life. It is impossible to be physically active and depressed at the same time. Exercise makes you feel great for a variety of reasons:

First, exercise at an intensity that puts you in a mindless state: If you are challenging yourself appropriately during your workout, the mind is quieted as it concentrates on making your body physically do something. Being in this "zone" means you have moments where you are mindless and purely engaged in movement: It is a restful and rejuvenating state for your mind to be in. Not to mention, chemicals such as endorphins, adrenaline, and serotonin (the body's pain relievers) are released from the brain, which makes you feel happy, upbeat.

Second, exercise frees up negative-based emotions held within the body: Think of each repetition or each stretch as saying goodbye to an upset here or a worry there that you had internalized. Releasing muscle tension is an instant fix that perks one's mood.

Third, when you embark on a fitness program with a specific goal in mind, you develop confidence, self-esteem, and an overall feeling of being in control of your life as you begin to feel and see results. Usually this principle of taking action towards achieving a goal (being proactive) is then crossed over to every area in one's life. It is just the way it is with our externally focused society. As a person begins to perceive himself as feeling and looking better on the outside, there is a good chance for this boost in confidence to carry over internally and result in the person taking on more of a "doer"-type attitude with work and in his relationships with family and friends. Not to mention exercise increases one's energy overall, making it easy to keep busy. Staying busy leaves one no time to feel down.

Age-Specific Points

After age 30, you no longer can take from the body without giving back. And if you've habitually dipped into reserves without replenishing, your body will reprimand you by showing for it.

Example of this principle: A teen can stay out all night and be full of energy and fresh as a daisy the next day. An adult in his 30s to 40s will feel his worst and inevitably have to make up for the lost night's sleep. This applies to the body in every way. Prevention is the way to go, but if you find yourself on the other side of the equation (rehabilitation), there is still much that can be done to reverse the signs of aging.

Everyone needs to be on a balanced fitness program consisting of cardiorespiratory exercise, strength training, and flexibility training. The modes differ with each age group. Graned, there are 70-year-olds who can run a faster marathon than some of our sedentary teens, but generally speaking, here are the guidelines:

Up to 30 years old: You are still building your body--muscle, bone, cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, etcetera. You can do it all if you are healthy and injury free. And you should do it all: You should cross-train your body so that it gets the variety it needs to be its best.

Thirty to 50 years old: Beginning at age 30, physiological processes subtly decline that become obvious around 55-60 years old--decreased cardiac output, muscle mass, basal metabolic rate, joint flexibility, and bone mass. It is ever so crucial for this group to be on a balanced fitness program, and whichever of the three necessary components of a balanced fitness program that one has neglected, he should focus on bringing back into balance while maintaining the other two components. If you lack flexibility, take up yoga. If you lack strength, start weight trining, etcetera. If you've been caring for yourself, this is a period where maintenance occurs: You are on cruise control. You can still do many of the activities you did up to 30 years old.

Fifty years and Up: Higher-intensity workouts are not smart anymore, as they place you more at risk for injury. And with a lower BMR (metabolism) now and decreased cardiac output and VO2Max (amount of blood pumped by heart per minute and the maximal amount of oxygen that can be utilized by the body during hard work, respectively), this means that weight gain occurs or already has occurred. It is best to increase the duration and frequency of exercise as opposed to increasing intensity (how hard you work out) during this period. Women in their 50s can still increase bone density with resistance training and weight-bearing exercise. Yoga and Pilates are great for fulfilling the strength component of your fitness program as you approach your 60s. People in their 70s can benefit tremendously from aerobic walking.

Some Stats

Bone loss: Beginning at age 30 for women and 40 for men, calcium content progressively decreases, leading to progressive bone loss with aging. By age 65, women lose 20%. Men lose 10 to 15.5% by age 70.

Muscle: After age 30, muscle mass decreases due to decrease in size and number of muscle fibers as well as decrease in fast-twitch muscle fibers. Muscle function decreases approximately 25% by age 65. With this decrease in muscle mass, and ultimately basal metabolic rate, there is a tendency to add half a pound of fat per year starting at age 30.

Cardiovascular system: One's maximal heart rate capacity is calculated as a function of age (220 minus your age) and it drops each decade, resulting in a decreased training rate for older adults (lower target zone).

Exercise Examples

  • Squat variations: Young people can do high impact type--plyometric squats; midrange aged can do with weights; and older people can stil do squats using an exercise ball for support (rolling against wall).
  • Pushup variations: Young people can do explosive plyometric pushups using a step bench to build muscle; midrange can do regular pushups or modified; and elderly people can do against the wall.
  • Abs: Young people can involve their whole body and do a full-body crunch. Midrange can do regular crunches and combine yoga work for the core. Older people should focus on core work, keeping abdominal and lower back muscle endurance to maintain good posture--so the boat pose in yoga would be appropriate.
  • Cardio--the classic jumping jack: Young people can be airborne, and even do using a step bench. Midrange can do regular or lower impact, and older people can do very low impact.

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