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  • Writer's pictureDave Balzer

Nature's Magic Pill

Movement is Medicine!

Exercise is quite literally Nature's "magic pill". Establishing a daily movement practice improves strength, balance, mobility, stress, immune function, mood, metabolism, sleep, brain function, gut health, and so much more!

Here is an excellent Ted Talk from Dr. Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., Professor of Neural Science and Psychology and Dean of New York University. She discusses the immediate, long-lasting, and protective benefits of exercise.

How would you react if I told you there was new technology created that's been shown to help improve mood, mental capacity, strength, stress, sleep, immune function, and so much more? You'd probably call me a fraud. Or tell me this new tech is too good to be true. The reality is this technology already exists and it's called physical activity and movement.

The problem is our culture, especially since progressing through the industrial and tech revolutions, has become less and less physically active and more focused on quick-fixes to multifactorial problems. As we've seen over the past 50+ years, this attempt at short-cutting health and well-being has led to a massive rise in both physical and mental chronic health conditions. Once individuals head down this path of physical and mental decline it can be very challenging to restore vitality in life, especially when one realizes the "quick-fixes" are not helping (and may be hurting!).

Therefore, the foundation of cultivating health and wellness starts with establishing some kind of movement practice. Physical activity is the first "pillar" in what I call the 5 Pillars of Health.

Up until about 75 years ago, physical activity was just a part of normal activities of daily living. Walking to school or work, preparing food, recreational activities outdoors, and for most people work involved movement and being on your feet majority of the day. The thought of "exercise" didn't even exist as for most people just living life demanded large amount of physical activity. Fast-forward to our hyperconnected and sedentary culture today, and it can be very challenging get the required amount of physical activity our body craves.

Initiating this movement practice is a lot easier, and fulfilling, if you understand the mechanism behind why physical activity improves health and well-being. Dr. Wendy Suzuki discussed in the Ted Talk the effects of physical activity are immediate, long-lasting, and protective.

During a workout, long walk, or bike ride you get the immediate release of adrenalin, dopamine, and other endorphins. These neurochemicals flood the brain and body with with feel-good sensations. Yes, I know what you're thinking... "I don't feel that way after a workout". That is the challenging the part. Our body will adapt to whatever stresses it is put under. Simply put, it can get "good" at being sedentary. Therefore, if we are in-active for long periods the body doesn't feel a need to release these feel-good chemicals... "use it or lose it" to some degree. You are literally missing out on your body's innate ability to make you FEEL GOOD! Your body is made to move, and wants to move! Let it work for you and get those immediate effects.

A movement practice also leads to long-lasting change that promotes improved healthspan, not just lifespan. Healthspan is defined as time spent living a healthy life, free of chronic disease and disabilities of aging. A consistent movement practice extends healthspan by improving cardiovascular function, strength, mobility, memory, mood, balance, and immune function. Long term exercise has been proven to show increases in Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). This growth factor is the key ingredient in nerve cell growth, maturation, and maintenance. Imagine every time you go for a long walk your brain is taking a nice warm bath in BDNF.

Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor and the effects of physical activity also has a protective mechanism for our body. A strong, mobile body is the greatest indicator for longevity and improved healthspan. Not only does it improve strength, memory, mood, immune, and cardiovascular function, but it significantly decreases our risk of falls later in life. For many elderly folks a fall can be a death sentence. I know that statement is blunt, but it is real... Recent research shows if you are over the age of 65 and you have a fall the 1 year mortality rate for that individual is 30-40%. Scary, right!

So, what can and should I do? What is the dosage of Nature's "Magic Pill"? This can be different for everyone and recommendations on physical activity should meet the individual where they are at.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the leaders in researching physical activity, recommend moderate intensity physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes 5 days per week, or vigorous intensity physical activity for a minimum of 20 minutes 3 days per week.

The descriptors of "moderate" and "vigorous" are different for each individual. For some this may be a brisk walk 30 minutes a day 3-4 times per week and a 20 minute body-weight workout 2-3 times per week. One thing is certain... a movement practice should be something you enjoy! Yoga, weight training, cycling, dance, or a boxing class. Just like anything in life, if you're doing something you enjoy, and with purpose, then the likelihood of you making it routine increases. Plus, you'll have an even more robust release of your "feel-good" neurochemicals! An added bonus could be physical activity in a group setting. For many people, exercising in a group can be very helpful in creating community and accountability.

So take a moment from reading this... stand up, reach up overhead alternating arms, now reach across your body rotating side to side, roll your neck side to side a few times, march in places for a few seconds, and sit back down.... how do you feel?

Movement is empowering! So get out there and get your daily dose of Nature's Magic Pill!



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