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Why exercise?

03/22/04 12:00AM By Mary Barrosse-Schwartz
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(Host) Commentator Mary Barrosse Schwartz reminds us that getting plenty of exercise is important any time of year - but maybe especially in mud season.

(Barrosse Schwartz) This time of year the road where I like to walk is softening up and the mud makes it much less pleasant than during the rest of the year. Add to that the spring rains and lingering winter cold, and it's getting difficult to get myself out the door to exercise. To motivate myself, I've tried to quantify the value of physical activity, just to see what I'd be missing if I succumbed to the call of the comfy chair.

Weight control is an important benefit to exercise. Around about the early 40's, the metabolism slows down. To me, walking means I can eat moderately and avoid weight gain because the exercise speeds up metabolism and burns calories. And, it helps build muscle so that I burn fat even when I'm in that comfy chair.

According to medical sources, regular exercise can also help prevent several different diseases that plague millions. Exercise reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by strengthening heart muscle, lowering blood pressure, and lowering bad cholesterol, while raising good cholesterol. It improves lung function, blood flow, and increases the heart and lung working capacity.

Exercise also reduces blood pressure, which is important for people with chronic hypertension. By reducing body fat, exercise can help to prevent and control type 2 diabetes. Exercise can prevent back pain by strengthening muscles, and improving posture and flexibility. Regular weight-bearing exercise helps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis by promoting bone formation.

Some of the more recent research shows that regular exercise promotes release of a chemical called phenylethylamine, or PEA, a natural stimulant produced by the body. People who are depressed generally have lower levels of PEA. Recent research has shown that the brain chemical once thought to be responsible for runner's high endorphins - are released but might not be absorbed by the body as quickly as PEA. Whether the feeling of joy that many people experience from exercise comes from PEA or endorphins doesn't matter. The sense of well-being and the natural relaxing effect is powerful either way.

Regular exercise may reduce the production of fight-or-flight hormones, leading to decreased heart rate in some people. This could be why it seems that very fit people can better handle stress. Add to this that exercise can help you feel more in control and boosts self-esteem.

Walking helps me put the world in perspective. It brings me closer to nature. It helps me slow down and value the beauty of our Vermont landscape. I even sleep better.

Somewhere on the back roads of East Dorset, this is Mary Barrosse Schwartz.

Mary Barrosse Schwartz is a mother, a freelance writer and an artist.
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