Move those muscles

EXERCISE MAKES us healthier. No doubts about that but what exactly do we mean by "healthier"? There was a time when health meant just the absence of disease. These days, however, it means a positive state of physical, mental, and social well-being.

The good news is that exercise makes one healthier even when the definition is broad. It significantly enhances Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQL), a term that basically means a person's satisfaction with life. Strangely enough, the mental benefits of exercise are easier to capture than the physical ones. Detailed questionnaires reveal that regular physical activity has a profound effect on the mind. It enhances a person's mood and self-esteem and broadens the self-concept each person has of himself.

Fit people are not just better at daily tasks, but they also see themselves as being efficient and strong. This leads to higher confidence levels and sense of self-worth. Physically fit people remain independent well into ripe old age and this is a very important benefit for the elderly, who often have to take care of themselves after the children move out.

Tasks involving lifting and climbing require not just strength but also confidence and regular exercise improves both the physical and mental capacity for daily tasks. With joint problems and heart ailments, chronic pain and tiredness commonly affect the elderly. Exercise increases one's ability to bear pain and even positively affects one's perception of its intensity. It increases energy levels with an effect that is as much mental as it is physical. The quantum of these benefits, however, depends on the status of the ailments. The good news is that people who rate really low on the health scale experience the most benefits. Even patients with heart and lung ailments, who show no discernible improvement, reported improved mood and feelings of wellness after physical training.

Exercise increases the mind's ability to process and retain information and solve problems. Anyone who has ever gone out for a walk to chew over a problem knows this, but we can also measure this effect in reproducible psychological tests. Regular physical activity increases one's math scores. It improves reaction times and reflexes and makes one more alert. In short, the quality of life improves with regular physical activity. And that may ultimately be more important for people rather than just living longer, which exercise helps accomplish anyway.


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