Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Cure for What Ails You, in Mind and Body

Eureka! We have found a cure for aging. Happily, it is also the cure for many mental health problems. 

The cure is: exercise. Yes, indeed, as we have often remarked on this blog, and as our friends over at Maggie’s Farm remind us even more often, physical conditioning is as close as we will ever come to a miracle cure.

OK, it’s not quite a miracle, because you need to work at it, but still, exercise does so many good things for your mental and physical well-being that you have no excuse for not working it into your daily routine.

Gretchen Reynolds sums up the latest research in the New York Times. She begins with the current information about high intensity interval training (HIIT) … considered to be the best form of aerobic conditioning. It means that you should alternate intervals of sprinting and jogging. 

Perhaps most obviously, this has been a decade of greatest HIITs, with multiple studies and subsequent columns reiterating that super-short, strenuous workouts — known as high-intensity interval training — improve fitness and health to about the same extent as much longer, more moderate exercise. Since 2010, I have covered seven-minute, four-minute, one-minute, 20-second and 10-second interval routines, with each workout’s declining length increasing its allure. For many of us, the exercise of choice may be the briefest.

If that is too daunting a challenge, or if you would rather not perspire, other studies have discovered that you can live longer if you move more:

In one of my favorite studies from this year, researchers found that older women who regularly strolled about two miles a day, or a little more than 4,000 steps, lived longer than women who covered only about 2,000 steps, or a mile. Going that lone extra mile altered how long and well women lived.

In various recent studies, active older people’s muscles, immune systems, blood cells and even skin appeared biologically younger, at a molecular level, than those of sedentary people.

As Reynolds points out, it’s great therapy for your psyche. We bring up this point often enough, but apparently not often enough:

… scientists have found and reaffirmed the extent to which movement, of almost any kind and amount, may remake how we think and feel. In one study after another, physical activity beneficially remodeled the brains of children and the middle-aged; lowered people’s risks for dementia or, if dementia had already begun, slowed memory loss; and increased brain volume, tissue health and the quality of connections between neurons and different portions of the brain.

Exercise is good for your moods, such as they are:

Exercise also seems able to buoy moods far more than most of us, including scientists, might have expected 10 years ago. In observational studies, physically active people proved to be much less likely to develop depression or anxiety than sedentary people, no matter what types of activities they chose.

Walking, jogging, gardening, weight training, swimming, biking, hiking or even rising from an office or living room chair often and strolling across the room seemed to make people happier and less prone to mood problems than remaining still.

The greatest remaining mystery is why, given the scientific evidence, so few of us work out regularly:

I hope, too, that scientists might eventually help us to better understand why, with everything we know about the benefits of exercise, so few of us manage to get up and work out regularly.

We can, Reynolds suggests, activate ourselves if we feel that we are doing it for someone else. Even if we are doing it because we have been told that our dogs need more exercise and that we should go out and do it with them.

Other than that, the reason we do not exercise is that we have become soft and decadent. We have been told that we can solve all of our problems by taking a pill or even downloading a new app. Exercise seems so paleo. It seems so retrograde. It seems like work. And we can’t have that.


UbuMaccabee said...

Why spend a little bit of money on a gym membership and a couple pairs of swear pants and do something you don’t want to do when you can spend tens of thousands of dollars to sit in a chair and talk and take pills? A lack of will is a substantial part of what what people ascribe to mental illness. I wouldn’t like myself much if I were fat and weak and drugged up, and spent my day confessing my private thoughts to strangers.

sleepyoldbear1 said...

It was a commonplace of the Renaissance that the sedentary academic life was subject to what they termed melancholia.