Post No.: 0325
Keeping regularly active and physically fit is not only good for a child’s physical health but is also good for their concentration and academic performance at school. Active kids tend to be more academically motivated, alert and successful. Regular exercise can physically improve one’s resistance to illness, it (counter-intuitively) raises the feeling of having more energy and alertness every day, it improves the efficiency of physiological functions (e.g. regular bowel movements), it helps us to better cope with stress (by rebalancing our stress hormones e.g. adrenaline), and it improves the quality of our sleep. Exercise can also mentally improve one’s self-esteem and confidence (body confidence as well as confidence in the face of new challenges), it teaches discipline and dedication, it increases our self-control and calmness under pressure, and it improves or maintains our brain function (hence is vital for the elderly too). Overall, regular exercise makes those who do it happier as well as of course healthier. Woof!
So the benefits of exercise are mental as well as physical. Some may argue that the link between physical exercise and greater happiness levels are only correlations, and that people who love to exercise were simply happier in the first place. But exercise causally produces more of certain chemicals in the brain and body that promote vitality and feeling good (e.g. endorphins, serotonin, dopamine). Exercise has been shown to increase the secretion of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) protein. BDNF has been found to be important for learning and long-term memory retention. Exercise triggers the release of enzymes that break down LDL cholesterol – the ‘bad’ cholesterol that can collect in and block your arteries. It can also increase your HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol, levels.
Yet the benefits of exercise don’t even stop there. Post No.: 0306 emphasised how strengthening the body can also strengthen the mind – but a strong body can do even more than that. Children growing up into adults with healthy habits is not only about them mentally feeling and looking good, and being physically strong and able to last the distance in the face of tough tasks – there are even environmental (less needless car journeys when people are comfortable walking or cycling), economical (better productivity), political (less strain on healthcare systems) and social (less antisocial behaviour) advantages in the long-term too! Healthiness affords ‘vitality’, which is the essence of ‘life’ itself – so being healthy is for the total goodness of people and of nations, and improves and generally has positive side or knock-on effects throughout society.
Sport teaches valuable life skills to kids, such as setting goals, planning and strategising; and team sports may create friendships between team members that are durable. It improves your confidence when you know that you can train, progress and reach your goals. It promotes a sense of achievement. If children say they’re bored then physical games should be included in their imagination as things they can attempt to innovate and play. Sports should be a consideration if you need ideas for something wholesome that your children could do.
Exercise strengthens bones. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and they’re one of the many reasons why exercise makes us feel good. Feeling good through exercise and (more-or-less inevitably) looking good when being fit is better than what any cupcake or chocolate bar can merely temporarily give; especially when accounting for the potential deferred costs of putting on too much fat, which might contribute to making one feel bad about oneself in the long-term instead. Self-confidence is crucial for one’s happiness, and knowing that you are fit and able to conquer any mountain you face is the best long-term, sustainable way of achieving self-confidence. Exercise goals have meaning for they serve the goal of self-improvement, and as we experience our personal journey towards reaching these goals, they can improve our life satisfaction when we achieve that furry sense of self-improvement too.
People who are regularly active are also less likely to smoke, take recreational drugs or binge drink – probably because when you’re on the road of a healthy lifestyle, you’ll not want to sabotage it. And well you don’t need to smoke or vape to reduce your stress levels because regular exercise does that for you, you don’t need the pleasure of recreational drugs because regular exercise gives you safer natural highs, and the calories from binge drinking aren’t worth it or the discipline to exercise regularly possibly translates to the discipline to not drink too much too.
Girls who exercise are also less likely to get breast cancer or osteoporosis later in life. The risk of cancers in general is reduced for all genders. There seems to also be a connection between obesity and early puberty, particularly in girls. (Overweight children tend to grow faster and enter puberty earlier thus obesity may play a role in the earlier onset of breast development, which is usually the first sign that a girl is entering puberty.)
Exercise might assist in cancer recovery. Well healthy people must follow a healthy and active lifestyle to keep fit, thus unhealthy and not-so-well people must especially follow an active lifestyle to become fitter. In other words, the fit must keep active, thus the unwell must even more imperatively get active if and when they can be! (And this ‘if and when’ is partly dependent on hoping that it’s not too late for those who aren’t currently sufficiently active to start.) Being regularly active and trying one’s best to keep healthy in general won’t guarantee one a long and major-disease-free life – some people are luckier than others – but it’s personally sensible to live a healthy lifestyle in general to maximise one’s chances of living a long and major-disease-free life. Exercise does not just affect the physical but the mental strength to recover too, so even if one becomes struck down with an illness, injury or disability – an otherwise fit and healthy person has a greater chance of recovering from or coping with a physical or mental illness, injury or disability. Physical goals can also give people the motivation to carry on living if they suffer from depression.
All types of exercises are good – how much effort you put into them (the intensity), how long (the duration) and how often (the regularity) you do it is what primarily matters. And the more you do something, the easier it gets (and the easier life and any kind of problem or task will broadly start to feel too) – so the hardest part is getting started on the road towards such good lifelong habits, or really the hardest part is undoing any bad existing habits, hence why raising children with good habits in the very first place is the very best thing we can do for them.
Being active isn’t just healthy but cool. Top sportspeople are mostly cool. Being active should be or remain a part of every culture. In some cultures, children are brought together to do some light exercise in the schoolyard just before school starts, and this helps improve their alertness at school. This also happens at some companies with employees just before work starts or during breaks. Better health leads to better productivity and in turn better profitability, so to get the most out of a workforce and reduce employee turnover, we need to proactively look after the health of the people in our organisations, as well as in our countries. It’s in a firm’s or country’s long-term interests. We also need a better work-life balance because performance levels inevitably drop the longer we work without rest; and a lack of concentration, bad decisions and mistakes can occur as a result of being over-stressed and over-worked too. Lots of people say that they have no time for regular physical activities because they are too busy elsewhere – but something is wrong in these people’s lives if this is true.
So sports and regular exercise are definitely more than just about the physical aspects. There’s the intrinsic reward of being and feeling healthy, strong and able rather than being and feeling in chronic weakness, pain and in doubt of your own capabilities. More than physically losing fat mass and/or gaining a lean or muscular body tone or the general visual improvements in front of the mirror – having an active lifestyle improves our self-esteem through facing challenges in the gym, field, court or wherever and conquering them, and it’s about the feeling of knowing that your body can perform how you want it to perform. This feeling is far more than mere vanity.
The mind and body are inherently interconnected and affect each other. A holistically healthy life involves a combination of mental and physical approaches. It starts with and is anchored in the mind but must ultimately result in and continue with positive action, such as participating in regular physical exercise.
You sometimes hear of people who exercised for a period of time and felt great. Maybe their aches and pains disappeared, maybe they mentally felt terrific. But then they took this feeling for granted and so stopped exercising, and so stopped feeling so good too. We must keep the regular exercise up!
Woof! I love walking, exploring and sniffing out interesting scents in new environments. If you don’t currently partake in regular physical activities then I hope this post will embolden you to do so with some positive encouragement!