It's awesome that over the past few years the fitness industry has slowly adopted the language of lifestyle change. But magazine covers and Instagram feeds still reveal ab photos aplenty. Transformation Tuesday is still a weekly occurrence.
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Indeed, the belief that exercise is a great way to lose weight is still too common. The idea that weight-loss is a great way to motivate yourself to exercise is still far too popular. Though talking about making long-term lifestyle changes for overall health and well-being has become trendy, the prevailing weight-loss narrative hasn't fallen out of favour.
This needs to change for five reasons
The first is that research has shown that when it comes to losing weight, exercise plays a less significant role than originally thought. It's certainly not the largest factor, nor is it half the equation as the popular refrain "eat less and move more" implies. People who are active tend to be health conscious and eat better, but the weight-loss results have far less to do with the movement of the body and far more to do with the movement of the fork.
The second is that, contrary to popular belief, weight loss is a weak motivator. Studies show that people who maintain long-term lifestyle changes do so for intrinsic reasons. They do it to for their health and well-being. Looking good in a bikini or with your shirt off is certainly a pleasant and enjoyable by-product of exercising more, but long-term motivation must be more than skin deep. As long as weight loss remains the primary motivator, permanent change may remain elusive.
Lean people need to be every bit as active as those who are overweight.
The third is that linking exercise to weight-loss perpetuates the mistaken idea that exercise is predominantly good for you because it helps you lose weight. This is misleading. Being more active positively impacts your blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, strengthens your bones and muscles, and improves the functioning of your heart, lungs and brain. Regardless of any impact it has on your waistline, physical activity is overwhelmingly good for you.
The fourth is that talk of weight loss leads to the false assumption that physical activity is only important for those who are overweight. The truth is that regular exercise is instrumental for good health no matter how much you weigh. Lean people need to be every bit as active as those who are overweight. Whether you're young or old, tall or short, slim or robust, or anywhere in between, exercise is an essential part of leading a happy and healthy life. Period.
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The fifth is that losing weight isn't a lifestyle. Getting active to lose weight may seem admirable, but what happens when you reach your goal? Where you end up in life has a lot to do with where you start --
weight loss isn't the best place. It's important to set yourself up for long-term success, and losing weight simply doesn't provide the incentive and motivation necessary to sustain long-term change.
Making exercise about weight-loss leads down a dangerous path
Exercise alone is not an effective way to lose weight, nor maintain it, which leads to frustration. When losing weight is your sole motivation and you struggle to see results, you're more likely to quit. If you don't realize that the benefits of exercise are independent of weight-loss, and if you don't value those benefits (like having more energy, growing stronger and feeling less stressed), you have no reason to keep going.
Linking exercise to looking good has caused us to drastically undervalue its importance.
Being physically active needs to stop being treated as a means to an end. Our bodies were made to move and that's just what they should do -- not to fit into a pair of jeans, or to look good for beach season, and certainly not for more Instagram likes -- but because much like eating, breathing and sleeping, it's a vital part of life.
Oddly enough, linking exercise to looking good has caused us to drastically undervalue its importance. Getting active has much more to do with what you gain and much less to do with what you lose. That's what we should be talking about.
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Here's a motivating reason to get moving: regular physical activity can increase blood flow in a way that has a direct affect on sexual function, explains HuffPost blogger David Katz, M.D., founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center At Griffin Hospital. In fact, a recent study published by Emory University researchers in the Journal of Sexual Medicine identified a link between physical activity and erectile function among men between the ages of 18 and 40. "The men in our study who exercised more seemed to experience a protective benefit against erectile dysfunction," study co-author Wayland Hsiao, assistant professor of urology at Emory School of Medicine, said in a statement. "We hope that early screening for ED may be a gateway issue to help motivate young men to live healthily on a consistent basis so that they can possibly avoid health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. We see this as just the beginning."
In the burgeoning field of epigenetics, scientists are discovering how environmental factors, including diet, stress and toxins, can change the way our genes are expressed, essentially turning certain genes on or off, and affecting which are passed down from generation to generation. One factor that can play a role? Exercise. Two recent studies have illustrated just how regular physical activity can affect gene expression. The first study, conducted by Swedish researchers illustrated how inactive young adults demonstrated an immediate shift in their muscle cells' genetic material after just a few minutes on a stationary bicycle, HuffPost reported when the findings were released. The second study, conducted by researchers from the Harvard School Of Public Health, found that walking an hour a day can slash genetic tendencies toward obesity. We'll walk to that!
Sweating it out could help you get your glow on post-workout, too. As Dr. Katz explains, your skin is the largest organ in your body. And as we slough off tons of skin cells each day, we need to give our body the right construction materials -- healthy foods, regular exercise, plenty of oxygen -- to rebuild. " If you've got good construction material," he says, "you can build healthy skin cells and you have good skin." Skin also tells the story of what's going on inside your body. "The skin is the window dressing. It's really reflective of overall health," Katz says. And that means if your body's natural detoxification system is healthy, including the kidneys, liver and spleen, it'll translate into a healthy looking glow. Those body-sculpting benefits of working out don't hurt either. "Skin draped over muscle looks great, skin draped over an excess of subcutaneous fat, not so much," Katz says.
Here's a health shocker: moving your feet may have health benefits all the way up to your eyes. According to a recent paper published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, regular exercise may be linked to a lowered risk of developing glaucoma. Researchers, evaluating 5,650 men and women between the ages of 48 and 90, found that people who engaged in moderate physical exercise 15 years prior had a 25 percent reduced risk of low ocular perfusion pressure, a risk factor for glaucoma. "It appears that OPP is largely determined by cardiovascular fitness," author Paul J. Foster, M.D. Ph.D., of the University College London Institute of Ophthalmology said in a statement. "We cannot comment on the cause, but there is certainly an association between a sedentary lifestyle and factors which increase glaucoma risk."
Breaking a sweat during the day may just mean better beauty sleep at night. According to a large study published last year in the journal Mental Health and Physical activity, people who exercised at a moderate or vigorous level for at least 150 minutes a week (that's just over 20 minutes a day) reported 65 percent better sleep quality than their more sedentary peers. "Increasingly, the scientific evidence is encouraging as regular physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep," study author Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise science at Oregon State University said in a statement when the findings were released. And that, in turn, could have a whole host of additional benefits, as poor quality sleep has been linked to increases in inflammation, high blood pressure, and increased blood glucose levels in people diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.
Looking at your body holistically, what's healthy for the whole body -- good nutrition, plenty of rest, supportive relationships -- is also good for the brain, explains Katz. And the same goes for regular exercise. "If something is good for your brain, it's probably good for you," he told The Huffington Post. "And if it's not good for you, it's probably not good for your brain." In the short term, exercise means increased blood flow to the brain, which can help you stay sharper. So instead of taking that coffee break, which provides an artificial stimulant to help you focus in the short-term, consider a walk instead. "Exercise does the same thing and it confers a lasting benefit into the bargain," he says. (Added bonus: sitting for too long has been associated with a host of health problems, including increased diabetes and cancer risk.) In fact, one Swedish study published last year in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that taking exercise breaks at work for two-and-a-half hours a week was associated with improvements in productivity. Physical fitness also has brain benefits in the long term, as well. Studies have linked regular activity to decreased risk of dementia and improved memory.
Roughly 36 million people in the United States suffer from migraines, according to the Migraine Research Foundation -- and the oftentimes debilitating headaches take their toll in more than 113 million lost work days each year. Characterized by intense pain in one side of the head and often joined by symptoms of nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound, migraines tend to run in families and are triggered by a variety of factors, from foods to stress to environmental changes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Treatments can include drugs taken at the onset of an attack and preventive medications -- and a recent, small study suggests that exercise may be just as effective at the latter. The findings, published in the journal, Cephalalgia, suggest that regular physical activity may be able to prevent migraines as well as drugs or relaxation therapy, The Huffington Post reported when the study was released last year.
The brunt of flu season may be behind us, but regular, moderate exercise may help us to stave off a springtime cold by upping the body's defenses against viruses and bacteria. A sedentary person is likely to catch two to three upper respiratory tract infections each year, HuffPost reported earlier this year, but a moderately active person can cut that number by close to a third. But the effect reverses in the case of intense exercise -- marathoners, for instance, may have a two-to-six-fold increase in contracting an upper respiratory tract infection in the weeks following a race.
As much as we all sometimes dread the prospect of working out, the truth is that you'll actually feel better after you're done. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that produce a sense of euphoria in the brain. (Who can forget the famous Legally Blonde quote: "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't." Just us?) Recent research has further confirmed the link between working out and happiness -- last month, Penn State researchers published findings suggesting that people who are more physically active reported greater general feelings of excitements and enthusiasm, The Huffington Post reported when the study was published. "Our results suggest that not only are there chronic benefits of physical activity, but there are discrete benefits as well," study researcher Amanda Hyde, a kinesiology graduate student at Penn State, said in a statement. "Doing more exercise than you typically do can give you a burst of pleasant-activated feelings. So today, if you want a boost, go do some moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise."
Could daily workouts be the real fountain of youth? Maybe so. A Taiwanese study published last year in The Lancet suggests that even just 15 minutes of physical activity a day can extend life expectancy by three years, compared to people who didn't exercise.
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