From a Doctor’s Point of View…Summer offers lots of exercise benefits

Summer is in full swing here and our local trails are full of visitors and locals alike – hiking, exploring, breathing, and connecting. I have had many people share with me that when spring and summer come, it is much easier to get off the couch and move their bodies.

Perhaps it is the collective energy of others, the longer days, or the warmer weather that makes it easier this time of year. Take a moment to recall the last time you moved your body and it felt good. What were you doing? Who were you with? What did you have to overcome or arrange to get there?
We all need time spent moving our bodies with intention. I will use the word exercise to refer to this phenomenon, but do not let it limit the images in your mind. Lifting weights and running on a treadmill are only a couple of the many healthy ways to move. Your movement practice needs to align with your values and goals. We are all guilty of “shoulding on ourselves.” This involves behaviors such as sitting down on the couch and thinking “I really should exercise more” or finishing up the dinner your husband cooked and saying “we should eat healthier.” When you make yourself feel bad for something that you think you should do but do not actually have a desire to do, it only adds to the pile of should that keeps you from authentically exploring action.
Exercise is not the key ingredient of weight loss: Speaking of “should,” many people have the idea that exercise is what they need to do to lose weight. The good news, or perhaps the bad news, is exercise is a very small component of weight loss. Studies show that you need to get 420 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise for it to generate weight loss. Exercise does help with weight maintenance, but for weight loss, focus on what you are eating.
The benefits of moving our bodies are too numerous to list, but below are a few.
Feel good chemicals: When thinking of exercising muscles or training for a competition, it is easy to overlook our brains. Exercise has been well-studied as a powerful antidote for depression as well as anxiety. Endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin levels are all increased with regular exercise.
Sleep: If you struggle with sleep, getting regular daily exercise can be a wonderful way to make sure that both body and mind are tired come bedtime. Gentle stretching can also be an excellent bedtime routine.
Memory: Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week has been shown to be one of a very short-list of evidence-based interventions to decrease your risk for developing dementia.
Joint health: Many people with pain or arthritis will be the first to tell you that, while movement sometimes hurts, lack of movement hurts more. Maintaining strength in the muscles that stabilize your joints and keeping active range of motion are hugely beneficial for pain and arthritis. Often when looking for an exercise routine, it is best to find an activity that maximizes movement while limiting impact.
Injury prevention: Maintaining our leg strength is one of the best ways to prevent falls. Strengthening your core and stretching can be beneficial. Our bodies are meant to be moved and injury often occurs when we expect our body to move in a way that we have not encouraged it to move. Outside of mechanical injuries, exercise has been shown to decrease risk for heart attacks, strokes, erectile dysfunction, and diabetes.
As with eating healthy, the first step of moving more is getting started. It will take a while for the feel-good chemicals or the improved sleep to be enticing enough to sustain a new routine. I encourage you to start by asking yourself, what practice of intentional movement have I enjoyed in the past or thought I might enjoy if I tried it? If you hate running but try to make a daily jog your new form of exercise, chances of success are very slim.
Start small with your chosen activity. A new routine requires early “wins” to build momentum. Only set a goal that you can reasonably achieve given your current schedule. Once you have set a goal, share it with others. Better yet, invite others to joint you. Often-overlooked components of physical activity that draw us back are community and connection. Whether working out in a gym, going to a yoga class, playing a game of pickle ball, or walking in the woods, movement helps us to feel more connected to the people and places around us. Bring a friend or make one there and give each other permission to be cheerleaders and acountabili-buddies.

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