As I was pulling a 175 lb. sled in the gym this morning, I was inspired to write a blog about exercise. I was genuinely glad to be pulling that sled because for a while I was afraid I was going to have to stop one of the things I love the most – exercising.
For several months I have been dealing with bouts of back pain. I am 46 years old, and in relatively good health, so I was concerned that my back issues could be the start of something major. And where does one go when they want to know about back pain? The Internet, of course. I read about all sorts of crazy things that could contribute to the pain I was experiencing. And most of them involved taking medication or surgery – two things I wanted to avoid in earnest.
So I made an appointment with my doctor, and got an MRI. She concluded I needed to see a spine specialist, which I did. He took X-rays, and then gave me the news – there was nothing structurally wrong with my back. WHEW! He concluded my unusually tight hamstrings (for a woman) were to blame, and prescribed stretching and abdominal work. Now that is what I wanted to hear!
Why I am I writing about this? First, because I personally believe that the exercise I have done religiously for years (more like decades) is the reason my back is in the shape it is. I have written previously about my unsuccessful attempts to lose weight, and the fact that if you calculate my BMI (which has subsequently been deemed a bogus way to determine someone’s fitness level), I am obese. If I told someone that I was having back troubles, I would bet they would assume it was from carrying the extra weight on my frame. Hell, I even thought the same thing. But guess what? It is not because of my weight, it is because of my MUSCLES.
The second reason I am writing about this is to inform the younger, plus-size folk that while I applaud the movement to accept your body the way it is, exercise has to be a part of your life. I follow many of the body-size acceptance bloggers, and I have to say most of them seem pretty young. Carrying extra weight in your 20s and 30s may not seem like it is effecting your body. Wait until you get in your 40s like me, and you may think differently. The key is to keep your body strong, and this means exercise. I have always been a HUGE proponent of exercise, as it has so many benefits beyond your physical body.
If you are exercise-adverse, I implore you to find something you truly love to get you moving. If you don’t like running, don’t. Dance. If you don’t like gyms, get a park pass. Get a Fitbit, challenge a friend, get the app. Find something that motivates you to get out there and MOVE. Here are some great reasons to exercise given by a place you may have heard of – the Mayo Clinic.
No. 1: Exercise controls weight
Exercise can help prevent excess weight gain or help maintain weight loss. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. You don’t need to set aside large chunks of time for exercise to reap weight-loss benefits. If you can’t do an actual workout, get more active throughout the day in simple ways — by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or revving up your household chores.
No. 2: Exercise combats health conditions and diseases
Worried about heart disease? Hoping to prevent high blood pressure? No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls.
No. 3: Exercise improves mood
Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.
No. 4: Exercise boosts energy
Winded by grocery shopping or household chores? Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your daily chores.
No. 5: Exercise promotes better sleep
Struggling to fall asleep? Or to stay asleep? Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime, or you may be too energized to fall asleep.
No. 6: Exercise puts the spark back into your sex life
Do you feel too tired or too out of shape to enjoy physical intimacy? Regular physical activity can leave you feeling energized and looking better, which may have a positive effect on your sex life. But there’s more to it than that. Regular physical activity can lead to enhanced arousal for women. And men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than are men who don’t exercise.
No. 7: Exercise can be fun
Exercise and physical activity can be a fun way to spend some time. It gives you a chance to unwind, enjoy the outdoors or simply engage in activities that make you happy. Physical activity can also help you connect with family or friends in a fun social setting. So, take a dance class, hit the hiking trails or join a soccer team. Find a physical activity you enjoy, and just do it. If you get bored, try something new.
The bottom line on exercise
Exercise and physical activity are a great way to feel better, gain health benefits and have fun. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more. Remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you haven’t exercised for a long time, have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, or you have any concerns.