It’s no secret that exercise is good for the body.
Combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, it can also work wonders for cognitive and emotional health — and promote physical healing.
“Recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine suggest three periods of 20-30 minutes of vigorous activity per week or 150 minutes of moderate exercise,” says Allyn Richards, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Spectrum Health. “Even small amounts of exercise can have a positive effect, but the most protective and beneficial effects are found with consistent exercise.”
Aerobic exercise can raise the heart rate and each person can choose an activity level that works best for them.
Walking is a simple, low-intensity activity that offers numerous benefits and is something that almost anyone can do.
Moderate exercise, such as jogging or dancing, is also a viable option for most people, while more intense activities such as running or cycling can provide additional heart health benefits.
Exercise not only helps you get in shape and stay physically fit, it can also help injuries heal faster.
That’s why treatment for injuries has changed over the years, said Phillip Adler, PhD, a licensed athletic trainer and operations manager for Spectrum Health Orthopedic Outreach.
“If you injure your ankle or strain a muscle and you don’t do anything, it won’t get better,” said Dr. Adler. “There are ways to stay active despite an injury and there are ways to use the body part and not make the injury worse.”
In recent years, a patient undergoing knee surgery may be placed in a leg cast or immobilizer for up to six weeks.
Today, a patient can begin passive range-of-motion exercises or other protective rehabilitation the day after surgery, said Dr. Adler.
Someone with a sprained ankle can do calf stretches or active range of motion exercises to activate muscles. Or, if a right knee has been operated on, a patient can follow some exercises for the left knee.
“The whole approach to physical injury has changed,” said Dr. Adler. “We don’t isolate people or try to immobilize them. We’ve found that if a runner can’t run or athletes can’t exercise, they can become depressed.
“As a clinician, I try to keep people engaged in their activities,” he said. “I’m looking for alternatives they can do to stay active and not aggravate the injury.”
Boost your mood
Exercising can boost your mood and reduce stress and anxiety, said Dr. Richards. It can also improve cognitive performance, which aids in focus, attention, and memory.
It can also fight depression.
There is also some evidence that regular exercise can help patients with dementia.
While even short periods of exercise will produce immediate results, consistent activity will have long-lasting effects, said Dr. Richards.
“We find that when people follow exercise programs and exercise on a consistent basis, it can lead to a significant reduction in depression episodes,” she said.
Find what works
Ultimately, you should focus less on the intensity and more on what is sustainable.
“If something is too intense, it can lead to negative effects,” said Dr. Richards. “It should work for you too.”
Take yoga for example. It’s different from aerobic exercise, but it can do wonders for boosting mood and reducing stress.
Also remember that exercise and diet often go hand in hand when you are on the road to wellness. Healthy food can help improve mood.
It’s important to stay flexible in your approach to exercise because it can strengthen your commitment and keep you from getting discouraged.
This means that you don’t have to stay completely focused on the exercise to reap the benefits.
Watch your favorite TV show while riding a stationary bike, or listen to music while you exercise.
“If people find a way to make exercising more fun, they’re more likely to continue doing it,” said Dr. Richards. “And as beneficial as any type of exercise can be, consistency — being able to sustain it — is most important.”