Fitness is one of my favorite wellness tips to talk and write about! Unlike telling my patients and their parents to eat more veggies, get to bed earlier, or drink more water, intentional movement can be a lot of fun and many of the benefits you’ll experience will be instant.
First, let’s focus on the instant gratification.
When you get up off the couch or get up from your desk and start moving, the physiologic magic begins! Your brain immediately starts to produce natural chemicals like endorphins and dopamine which boost your mood, increase energy levels, and reduce stress. So instead of watching another movie or playing another video game, get up and move so your inactivity doesn’t cause a vicious cycle that most Americans experience on a daily basis. They eat too much unhealthy food, feel a little depressed due to the negative effects of that food on the gut microbiome, and then eat more food to “feel better”. (Look back to my article on How To Improve Your Mental Health or at our recent Nutrition News video, Mood and Food). Instead, text your friend, grab your kids, or ask someone you know to go for a walk, bike ride, hike, jog, or anything that involves physical activity to make the most of the day.
If you do have the luxury of going outside, you’ll also reap the direct benefits of getting fresh air into your lungs and the sunshine (vitamin d) on your skin. I wish more people knew that being active and having a consistent fitness routine helps optimize their cardiovascular system and helps send more oxygen and nutrients to their body’s tissues.
Now, let’s focus on the fun.
For the parents who are reading this, do you remember how awesome it felt to just go outside and play when you were a kid? You loved it because in addition to all of the benefits that I mentioned above, you got to see your friends, make new ones, get dirty, laugh out loud, play an impromptu game of hide and seek or hop scotch, get a little scraped up, work up a big appetite for dinner, then sleep like a rock after a nice shower because you were exhausted (in a good way). It’s the same for all of the children who are reading this. You may not go out and ride your bikes from the moment you come home from school until the streetlights come on like adults did when we were young because society has changed a little in regard to how much freedom you guys have to roam the neighborhood. However, there are plenty of ways to make fitness and exercise fun in 2021.
Here are two simple examples:
1) Make up some fun/goofy/challenging Tik Tok dance routine but don’t worry about recording it and sharing it with the world. Instead, just focus on the smiles, movement, sweat, and laughter by yourself in the mirror or with a few friends and family members who also like to dance.
2) Speaking of friends, fitness enables you to find others who share similar interests. The next time you have lunch, talk about what your interests are and which physical activities you enjoy. Chances are, you’ll find someone else who also likes to go hiking, kick the soccer ball around, or play catch. Whether it’s an organized program after school, you and a friend meeting up, or just you with a family member, it shouldn’t be that hard to find someone else who might be feeling a little lonely or bored and would prefer to share some time with good company as well.
Fitness also has long-term benefits.
As you get older, physical fitness will help keep your mind sharp. Exercise releases important proteins in your brain that allow it to continue to perform at optimal levels throughout adulthood. This helps prevent early onset of many neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Staying active also burns calories, helps you digest food more efficiently, and lowers your blood pressure which can help prevent obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
A person who is physically active on a consistent basis has better balance and flexibility. Improved balance will help prevent you from falling off your bike, taking a misstep on the stairs, or experiencing a serious injury when you trip on some uneven pavement. And, since exercise helps to keep your muscles strong and helps to keep your joints, ligaments, and tendons flexible, you’ll enjoy the daily benefits of better posture and increased mobility.
Now that I’ve told you about all the ways that fitness can be fun and how you can feel better, stop reading this and go outside! Go swim, ski, pick up a hula-hoop, kick a soccer ball, dribble a basketball, walk around the house, turn on some music and dance, go walk the dog, go walk someone else’s dog who may need some help, go pick up a piece of trash from your neighbor’s lawn, cook a nutritious meal for your family, play charades, do some yoga, see if you can do 10 push ups, lift some light weights, or go clean your room! (just kidding on that last one.) 🙂
Just get up, move, raise your heart rate, sweat a little, and HAVE SOME FUN!