The Art of Self Care, Part II: Exercise

Keith Thompson, LMT

A well-rounded self-care plan includes four components: physical, mental, emotion and spiritual. In our last post, we discussed diet and nutrition aspects of the physical component. In this installment, we will address another part of the physical component: exercise.

The studies supporting the benefits of exercise are proven and endless. Finding an effective exercise plan should be based on several factors.

One easily overlooked factor is age. What you called exercise when you were 20 may not suit you at 40. It is important to educate yourself on the many different types of exercise routines as they relate to age. A good example of this is that as humans age there is an increased need for exercise modalities that build muscle tissue due to age-related atrophy of muscle groups. A smart weight-lifting program not only helps rebuild muscle mass but will also increase strength and enhance balance.

Another important reason for finding routines that are more appropriate to your particular age group is that it can significantly reduce your chances of injuring yourself. For some, running can increase the chances of injury if they are exploring aerobic exercise routines, whereas cycling or swimming are routines that create less stress on the joints of the body. As well, including flexibility modalities in your plan can significantly help you not only to avoid common injuries, but enhance movement, balance, endurance and overall self awareness. Some modalities to consider are gentle yoga routines, Hanna Somatic Education and Feldenkrais techniques.

Another key ingredient to add to your plan is variety. It is important to engage your body in as much movement as possible. The human body is designed to move. The more we move in healthy ways allows us not only to build endurance and strength, but also enhances coordination. Explore exercise routines that engage not only your core muscles but also find routines that challenge your fine motor skills. Walking, swimming, tai chi, various forms of martial arts and outdoor sports such as kayaking and hiking can provide a rich diversity of movements that lead to better health.

Recent research has conclusively shown that regular exercise routines that safely allow you to bring your heart rate to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate create new long term memory. At that rate your heart and brain releases a protein BDNF. “It serves as ‘Miracle-Gro’ for the brain, fertilizing brain cells to keep them functioning and growing, as well as spurring the growth of new neurons.”  Ratey, John J.  Spark:  The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain.  New York:  Little Brown & Co. , 2008.  276.  Print.

Yes, certain forms of aerobic exercise can make you smarter! The more types of movement you expose your body to also allows the part of the brain that coordinates movements,the motor cortex, to create rich new neural connections which then leads to higher levels of proprioceptive intelligence. In other words you move better and sense your world more intelligently. I highly recommend Dr. Ratey’s wonderful book, Spark, for more information on how the brain is positively influenced by exercise.

It’s important. It’s vital to have an exercise program that fits your specific needs within the context a self care program. What adds to the importance is that you have fun. Yes, make this fun! As you consider and choose from the various exercise routines that will benefit you the most, allow yourself to define these activities as your play time. Researchers are now showing that when activities we engage in are defined as playtime, these activities allow our brains to become more complex, responsive, skilled, socially adept and flexible which in turn builds complex, socially adept, skilled and responsive human beings. In other words, when you consider your exercise routines as play, they not only benefit you overall but the community you live in. It’s a winning formula!

Next time, we will talk about the mental component of your self-care plan. If you would like more information about exercise and how it can help you feel better and move better, please feel free to contact me.