Good health and good sense are two of life’s greatest blessings (Publilius Syrus, 85 BC – 43BC).
If the opening statement by Publilius Syrus (85 BC – 43BC) is true, then why does it take a major incident for some of us to get the good sense to do something about good health? Some people opine, “I can’t afford to exercise!” I gently respond, “You can’t afford not to exercise!” Not because I am the reigning queen of fitness, but because I know what it is to fight for what people will tell you that you cannot have. You have to get up and move! I am not talking about losing weight here, but purely about maintaining what you have at whatever level that you have it. Here is a great recipe: “To ensure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life” (William Londen).
Today, I have come a long way from the sedentary lifestyle of having my nose in a book and my body in bed. I have also left behind the awkward teenager who quit the swim team and scheduled her piano lessons during Physical Education class so that she did not have to deal with the uncomfortable changes in her body and the embarrassing explanations to the male swim coach. To be honest, I enjoy being a more active and fairly healthy adult. It took years of working it out, but I actually love to be active, and it is even better when I can do it with someone. But, I had a reason! I started fighting to maintain my mobility after surviving my second car accident in August 2005. Talk about pain! Talk about muscle weakness! Some mornings when I got up it was more than enough to navigate sitting up and getting my feet on the floor. After that, it was being able to stand for more than 10 minutes without wanting to sit for the excruciating pain that I would feel as my muscles got tired of holding me upright.
Today, I enjoy a range of physical activities like walking, biking, swimming, walking/running up stairs, aerobic videos, and more. I especially love walking outside as I get to walk with others. As we walk and share about life, we do not realize how far we have progressed from our starting point until we pause and look back. That’s a metaphor for life right there. Every step is a point for celebration, it is one that we would not have made if we had remained seated at a desk or on the couch. Sometimes I walk alone, but surprisingly I never feel alone as I get to see nature in all its glory. I share with others who are out doing the same thing. There is usually a flower blooming, oftentimes in a garden deliberately planted and carefully tended. However, what is even more striking are the wildflowers that may bloom alone or can be seen from an unexpected bend in the road when you are particularly exhausted and you just want to be finished and move on to the next task that is occupying your mind. That unexpected bloom is life screaming back at you about what is important. It is that whatever has life in it eventually blooms. It is saying, “Your seeds of physical activity are blooming flowers of health in your body, from your brain to all the other organs and functions that it controls.” Just like the flowers that are watered and get nutrients from the earth, so too our physical activity supports an environment for health. But, do not simply take my word for it.
Research has shown through human and animal research that “voluntary exercise can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and other growth factors, stimulate neurogenesis, increase resistance to brain insult and improve learning and mental performance” (Cotman & Berchtold, 2002, p. 295). Simply put, exercise maintains brain function and promotes the brain’s capacity to learn new tasks. For those among us who are concerned about the future cost of healthcare, getting up and moving can be a small action with tremendous impact, that is, yielding peace of mind. You can save yourself (and your country) a lot of money if you will start moving. Research has continued to demonstrate that participation in physical activity is correlated with a reduction in “physical (cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancer, and obesity) and mental (for example, depression and anxiety) disorders across the adult lifespan”(Hillman, Erickson, & Kramer, 2008, p. 58). According to the United States Center for Disease Control (2016), “Obesity and its associated health problems have a significant economic impact on the U.S. health care system. … In 2008 dollars, these costs were estimated to be $147 billion.” Direct medical costs include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity. Indirect costs relate to morbidity and mortality costs including productivity. Additionally, persons experience diminished productivity resulting in absenteeism from school, work and/or community service. The annual nationwide productive costs of obesity-related absenteeism range between $3.38 billion ($79 per obese individual) and $6.38 billion ($132 per obese individual). So, can you really afford to be absent from work? If you do make it to work, can you afford the low motivation, the minimal productivity that results from your exhausted body? There really is only one choice for the future if optimal maintenance of brain health is the goal – exercise and intake of natural products (van Praag, 2009).
So, you cannot afford to not exercise! If you have children, or if you are interested in investing in the next generation, then get moving! The research has demonstrated over the years that a lack of physical activity is one of the major causes of obesity. Exercise not only contributes to improved physical health, but it also aids their academic performance. Regardless at what point individuals incorporate physical activity into their lifestyle, research increasingly supports the idea that physical exercise might lead to increased physical and mental health throughout the lifespan (Hillman, Erickson, & Kramer, 2008). I leave you with some sage advice from Ralph Marston, “Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.”