The lifespan of Americans has either stalled or decreased for about 10 years. Most of us have been taught since childhood that we need to exercise and remain active. But why?
One side of the equation contains the risks of a sedentary lifestyle. Unfortunately, a sedentary lifestyle is a very attractive and very easy trap to fall into. Streaming services, cable television, and satellite television mean that most Americans do not even need to leave home to see a movie. And young people develop sedentary habits early through video games and social media platforms. Screen time on mobile devices allows children to play with friends and socialize without ever leaving their bedroom.
People who are sedentary are more likely to be obese, develop heart disease, and suffer Type II diabetes. But the effects of screen time and sedentary jobs are not limited to physical disease. A sedentary lifestyle also leads to higher levels of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
The other side of the equation contains the benefits of an active lifestyle. Here are ten benefits of living an active life:
An active lifestyle leads to a reduction in some of the most deadly health conditions. The top natural causes of death are heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Fortunately, an active lifestyle can reduce the susceptibility to all these health conditions.
Exercising just 20 minutes per day, five days per week can have immeasurable benefits to cardiovascular health. This includes any form of exercise including walking, weight conditioning using exercise machines, and swimming. Rigorous exercise like swimming can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These are both risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Swimming and aquatic exercise is often viewed as one of the best ways for people to transition from a sedentary lifestyle to an active lifestyle. Swimming and aquatic exercise is low or no impact because buoyancy supports the swimmer’s weight. In fact, swimming is used to increase strength and flexibility for many lower body conditions from back pain treatment to ankle pain treatment.
At the same time, water provides an excellent source of resistance. Vigorous swimming for an hour can burn as many as 650 calories.
Risk factors for cancer include smoking, poor diet, alcohol consumption, and obesity. Living an active lifestyle is generally incompatible with all those risk factors. Just as importantly, living an active lifestyle makes people conscious about the lifestyle choices they make so they can avoid habits that increase their risk of cancer.
Higher Quality of Life
Not only does an active lifestyle improve the quality of life, it can extend life. Obesity, for example, is a significant factor in early death. Living an active lifestyle helps people to regulate their weight. Not only does exercise, such as running or swimming, burn calories, it also helps to regulate insulin and blood sugar levels. This reduces the risk of one of the worst chronic diseases — diabetes.
Quality of life also includes building physical resilience. An active lifestyle builds muscle, strengthens bones, improves agility, and increases balance. Falls are among the top causes of visits to the hospital among the elderly. An active lifestyle is not limited to aerobic exercise like running and swimming. It also includes strength training, stretching, yoga, bicycling, and sports like bowling and golf.
Studies even show that an active lifestyle can improve your immune system. As you age, you will become more susceptible to inflammation, viruses, and infection. Living an active lifestyle can boost your immune system so that it has the ability to fight disease. This can both lower the risk of contracting diseases as well as improve your ability to recover from them.
An active lifestyle is not just about physical activity. An active lifestyle also includes staying mentally active. Working, reading, engaging in hobbies, and attending concerts are just a few examples of ways you can keep your mind active.
Studies show that seniors who play games, read, write, solve puzzles, create art and graphics, and otherwise maintain an active mind can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Staying mentally active also gives you a creative outlet so that you are not just improving your mind, but also enlightening those around you.
More importantly, hobbies give us something to look forward to. This helps people maintain a positive outlook. For example, golfers and fly fishermen often look forward to their next outing before they even return home from their current outing.
Set an Example
Every parent knows that parents do not just live for themselves — they also live for their children. Setting a good example for our children by living an active lifestyle will help them to be more engaged with the world, live healthier, be happier, and seek out a high quality of life.
When children go to the library with their parents, they develop a love of reading and learning. When children play outside with their parents rather than watching TV with them, they develop a love of exercise and fresh air. When children spend time camping and fishing at a campground with their parents, they understand the importance of nature and our place in the world.
Significantly, this requires very little effort on the part of the parent. You just need to live an active lifestyle and include your children. The fantastic thing about child development is that they will learn on their own just by being a part of your active lifestyle.
For example, taking your kids swimming will teach them a love of exercise and physical activity. Swimming is fun and, with swimming lessons, safety barriers, and effective pool filtration systems, relatively safe. By including your kids as part of your active lifestyle, you can create a new generation of active Americans.
An active lifestyle can also include maintaining your appearance. A trip to the medical spa rather than sitting on the couch at home can renew your appearance and boost your mood.
An active lifestyle may even reduce the need for drastic cosmetic treatments. Maintaining a healthy weight and nutritious diet can improve muscle tone and reduce fat deposits. Using sunscreen during outdoor activities can keep skin healthy and smooth.
For men, an active lifestyle can reduce the “spare tire” around the waist. This not only improves your appearance but can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease.
Physical activity helps to balance hormones. This improves mood and keeps you on an even keel. It also causes your brain to release endorphins. These are natural painkillers that that can produce the “runner’s high.”
Endorphins work with the opiate receptors in your brain to alter your perception of pain but also to create a sense of euphoria. Most importantly, these endorphins provide the benefits of morphine or other opiates without any of the negatives.
As you incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, your brain’s reward system will begin to recognize value of exercise, releasing dopamine and serotonin to reinforce its salience. As a result, you become “addicted” to your new active lifestyle. This makes it both easy and rewarding to stay active.
Physical activity also improves your outlook. Exercise helps you to set and work toward goals. By consistently and engaging in physical activity, you will see goals accomplished and feel the gratification that comes from it.
Swimming, running, and other physical activity also improves metabolism. This means that your body works more efficiently and has more energy. Ironically enough, more exercise often means less fatigue as your body becomes a finely tuned and efficient machine. You will also eat less and burn more calories as your body is reshaped by reducing fat deposits and building muscle.
All these benefits can raise your self-esteem and give you more confidence. Looking better, feeling healthier and more fit, thinking more clearly, experiencing greater happiness, and having a more positive outlook can give you more confidence at work and social events. You may even feel like you have changed your branding and created a new you.
An increase in confidence can have tangible effects. Your sense of self-worth and confidence levels have a direct effect on your earning potential. When you have greater confidence and self-esteem, you are more likely to take calculated risks and try new things. Whether this means taking a new job, going back to school, opening a business, inventing and branding a new product, or moving to a different city, self-confidence is often the key to unlocking new opportunities.
Moreover, you are more persuasive and better able to express yourself. Leadership abilities are often essential to moving up the job ladder. No one will follow a meek manager or director. But a confident manager can often maximize his or her team’s potential.
Build a Social Network
An active lifestyle also includes having an active social life. Working, volunteering, and even walking the dog in the park can give you many more opportunities to meet people and engage in social settings than sitting on the couch at home.
Studies show that rather than bringing people together, social media platforms are very isolating. While the causation has not exactly been worked out, some theorize that rather than making people feel involved, social media makes people feel left out. Moreover, social media bullying and tribalism can create negative emotions in people who spend a great deal of time interacting over social media platforms.
Real social interaction, on the other hand, can play an important part in a healthy, well-rounded life. An active social life increases empathy, tolerance, and compassion. This is in direct contrast to social media platforms where anonymity can give rise to the most vile and nasty behavior.
Social interaction also creates social bonds and a sense of community. These bonds can be called on in times of trouble, such as natural disasters or personal tragedies. They can also help to build strong institutions such as church groups, charities, and governments.
In addition to the societal benefits of an active social life, social networks can help delay the onset of dementia. Just the act of communication can light up parts of the brain that are key to memory and abstract thought. Moreover, discussing interesting topics and distant memories exercises the brain in a unique way that helps to maintain orderly brain function.
Build Family Bonds
When most people think of an active lifestyle, they think of family time. Whether at the playground or campground, doing things with your family can pay enormous long term dividends.
- Improve communication: Spending time with family means talking with family. You may be surprised when you discover not just how you can discuss things with your family, but how much you can discuss with your family without being judged and remaining loved.
- Encourage teamwork: Family activities often build the family’s ability to cooperate and work as a team. This fosters communication and a recognition of each family member’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Raise academic performance: Children who spend time with their parents tend to concentrate better at school and get higher grades than those who do not get family time.
- Reduce behavioral problems: Family time allows parents to pass on their values and morals to their children. For example, parents who watch TV with their children can discuss what they have seen through the lens of the parents’ moral code rather than leaving children to figure things out on their own.
- Learn conflict resolution: Whether it is a disagreement between parents, between parent and child, or among children, families that spend time together will need to peacefully resolve problems. The best way for children to learn conflict resolution is to see it in action.
Family time does not need to be an expensive planned activity, such as a family vacation. Studies show that many of these benefits can come from just eating dinner together as a family. Not only does this allow you to develop family bonds, but it can build memories that your children will value as they become parents.
At the end of the day, we all need to sleep. People who live an active lifestyle tend to sleep better. This means that people who exercise fall asleep faster, remain asleep longer, and experience more restful sleep than people with a sedentary lifestyle.
Physical activity can reinforce circadian rhythm by providing the body with a regular schedule. This alerts the body to when it should be awake and when it is acceptable to sleep.
Moreover, as physical activity smooths out the metabolism and blood sugar levels, the body is more prepared to sleep at nighttime rather than craving food when blood sugar levels are too low or laying awake when blood sugar levels are too high.
Most importantly, physical activity is a great stress reliever. Not only does exercise allow the body to balance the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, it gives you time to think through stressful situations. Rather than laying awake at night with anxiety mulling over work or personal problems, physical activity allows you to put those situations to bed.
An active lifestyle provides physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits. An active lifestyle allows you to escape the risks of a sedentary lifestyle, and pass the benefits of an active lifestyle on to your children. In the meantime, an active lifestyle can help you to live a longer, happier, healthier, and more productive life.
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