The Physical And Psychological Essay, Research Paper
The word >exercise= has become synonymous with modern living. Health experts and fitness gurus alike are constantly stressing the importance of physical activity. At the same time, however, the average person seems to be getting less and less exercise. Escalators, elevators, television remote controls and automatic garage door openers have all decreased the need for physical activity. Although all of these modern devices act as great time-savers in a hectic world, physical activity is essential to one=s health. Opting for the stairs rather than the elevator can be very significant in determining one=s level of health over the long run. It is important to remember that the human body was not built to be sedentary, but rather an active, well-tuned machine. For this reason, being physically active is essential to good health because it increases one=s self-esteem, improves bodily functions, and enhances one=s ability to deal with stress.
Exercise Improves Bodily Functions
According to Murray (1995), the entire body benefits from regular exercise largely as a result of improved cardiovascular and respiratory function. Exercise enhances the transport of oxygen and nutrients into the cells. At the same time, exercise enhances the transport of carbon dioxide and waste products from the tissues and into the bloodstream, and ultimately to the eliminative organs. Pollack (Murray, 1995) states that regular exercise is particularly important in lowering the risk of heart disease. It does this by lowering cholesterol levels, improving blood and oxygen supply to the heart, increasing the functional capacity of the heart, lowering blood pressure, lowering obesity, and exercising a favourable effect on blood clotting. Regular exercise also increases stamina and energy levels. Lark (1996) further states that exercise improves brain function by promoting better oxygenation and blood circulation to the brain, and increasing the output of beta-endorphins. Also, exercise improves physiological functions by stabilizing blood
sugar level, reducing food cravings, improving elimination through the bowels and kidneys, and reducing blood pressure. Hoffman (1997) states that exercise enables one to deal more easily with all sorts of stresses, both physical and emotional. The human body needs to move, to maintain the strength of muscles and bones as well as the flexibility and mobility of muscles, nerves and joints. Coleman (1994) also emphasizes the importance of physical activity by stating that many diseases can be made better by exercise. Finally, Powell (1994) states that the countless benefits of exercise include improved cardiovascular efficiency, increased efficiency of oxygen utilization, increased metabolism, and increased muscular strength. Exercise also helps to lower the level of blood fats, and helps to reduce anxiety and depression.
There are also countless other benefits of exercise. According to Coleman (1994), one of these benefits is that exercise helps against arthritis because it prevents muscles from seizing up. Furthermore, Coleman states that exercise can help to cure circulation problems. By preventing blood from stagnating in the veins, one is less likely to suffer from cold hands, cold feet, and varicose veins. Exercise also prevents the heart from becoming weak and flabby. A well-thought out exercise programme improves the power and strength of the heart, and without exercise, the slightest exertion may put the heart under strain. Coleman (1994) continues by saying that exercise relieves indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other digestive problems caused by sitting too much. Furthermore, exercise may help one sleep better without the use of pills. This argument is strengthened by a study conducted by Leathwood, (Murray, 1995) which showed that exercise significantly reduces sleep latency and improves sleep quality in sufferers of insomnia.
This extensive list of the benefits of physical activity effectively proves why little physical activity can be a very harmful trend. The effect of physical activity in one=s life is enormous. To increase the length and quality of life, it is essential to make exercise a daily routine.
Exercise Contributes to an Increased Self-Esteem
The physical benefits of exercise inevitably lead to an increase in self-esteem. Musk (1996) states that one of exercise=s many benefits are that it builds self-esteem. He states that exercise helps people feel more relaxed and sociable. Exercise also helps reduce body fat, build muscle, increase energy levels and provide a sense of being more sexually attractive. In turn, all these benefits lead to an increase in one=s self-confidence. Vedral (1998) states that the countless benefits of exercise include the loss of excess body fat, reduced pant or dress size, improved stamina, increased strength, increased energy, improved posture, and reduced pain from arthritis. All of these physical gains contribute to an improved outlook on life, self-image, and self-confidence. Hoffman (1997) also states that the enhanced body image that comes with regular exercise is based on reality. With a regular exercise programme, one will see vast improvements in physical appearance and body image. Also, improved muscle tone results in an enhanced sense of confidence and independence. Hoffman further strengthens Vedral=s argument that dropping to a smaller dress size as a result of exercise contributes to an improved self-image.
Finally, Joyner (1994) strengthens the psychological benefits of exercise by stating that a regular exercise program such as walking builds self-esteem. Sticking with a regular exercise plan develops self-discipline, which engenders feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. By exercising, one may achieve a personal victory over laziness and low self-respect. Moreover, the
positive physical development that results from regular exercise contributes to an increase in one=s self-confidence.
The increase in self-esteem that accompanies the physical benefits of exercise further strengthens the value and importance of physical activity. Undeniably, looking good equals feeling good.
Exercise Enhances One=s Ability to Deal With Stress
Eliot (1994) states that the body requires physical activity. Exercise is a vital component of any stress-reduction program because it helps to reduce the physical symptoms associated with immediate or chronic stress. Markham (1994) also states that physical fitness is an excellent way to fight stress and stress-related illnesses. Coleman (1994) emphasizes these points, and states that stress muscle tension and pain are interlinked, interdependent and inextricable. If one is under stress, their muscles will be tense. If the muscles are tense, they will be painful. The pain one gets when they are under stress depends on which muscles are tensed. Exercise can help to break up this pain and tension in many ways. During exercise, one may put aside their daily worries. By concentrating on the exercise, life=s stresses are forced to the back of one=s mind – and both the mind and body benefit. Also, by stretching the muscles, exercise helps to remove accumulated tensions. As the tension disappears, so does the pain.
According to Hoffman (1997), many of the accumulated stresses in the body are a result of frustrations and disappointment and uncommitted anger. The body=s natural response to stress leads to a build-up of muscle tension. The change in the muscles is designed to enable one to fight or to run away. Usually, however, one does neither. By exercising, one is able to empty the muscles of these accumulated stresses and tensions.
Coleman (1994) states that regular exercise encourages the body to produce soothing and healing hormones called endorphins. These hormones, which will be discussed in more detail later, are the body=s own versions of opiates. Furthermore, a regular exercise program that improves one=s general health and fitness will increase one=s resistance to stress and reduce one=s susceptibility to stress-related illnesses. People who exercise regularly produce lower levels of a stress-related hormone called adrenalin and experience less dramatic blood pressure and heart rate rises during ordinary types of everyday stress. As a result, regular exercisers are far less likely to suffer from heart disease.
At the same time, Coleman (1994) states that the production of a chemical called noradrenaline increases dramatically during and after exercise and helps combat depression, increase happiness levels, and tackle stress. Lark (1996) agrees with Coleman, and further states that exercise improves resistance to and relief of anxiety episodes. This is accomplished because exercise reduces the fight-or-flight response, promotes cardiovascular resistance to stress, decreases skeletal muscle tension, reduces pent-up aggression and frustration, and promotes a feeling of calm and peace. Also, exercise improves psychological functions by decreasing anxiety and nervous tension, producing a sense of well-being and even elation, reducing depression, and promoting the development of beneficial habits. Boucher (1994) further states that physical activity is the determining factor in keeping physically fit and thereby self-managing internal conditions of resistance to stress. Glasser (Boucher, 1994) says that activities such as jogging reduce muscular tension, and that this is essential to stress resistance.
Murray (1995) fully agrees with these experts, who states that, to deal effectively with stress, an individual must concentrate on four equally important components which are like four
cornerstones or four legs on a table. One of these four cornerstones is exercise; lack of attention to this key factor will ultimately lead to a breakdown in the bodily system, much as the breaking of a leg of a table would lead to total collapse of the table. Murray states that although the immediate effect of exercise is stress on the body, with a regular exercise program, the body adapts to this stress. The body=s response to this regular stress is that it becomes stronger, functions more efficiently, and has greater endurance. For this reason, exercise is a vital component of a comprehensive stress management program and overall good health. In a study conducted by Farmer, (Murray, 1995) it was found that increased participation in exercise, sports and physical activities are strongly associated with decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and malaise (Murray 1995). Eliot (1994) reaffirms the views of these experts by stating that exercise can lower anxiety, relieve temporary depression, and help increase a person=s sense of
control and self-esteem. For this reason exercise is essential in any program of stress reduction. In Goldberg (1994), Cooper states that the better condition people are in, the more oxygen they are actually able to use out of the air they inhale. They may not need this extra oxygen most of the time, but in stressful situations they do, and it can make the difference between health and disease, or even life and death. Boucher (1994) further states that the discharge of physical and emotional tension that accompanies a vigorous session of exercise directly and immediately reduces anxiety and stress.
Furthermore, Boucher (1994) states that the long-term physical benefits of exercise are that they build up one=s resistance to stress and promote beneficial psychological changes. A healthier heart reacts less dramatically during episodes of anxiety and stress. When anxiety causes the adrenal glands to produce stressor hormones, a conditioned heart will not show a
significant rise in heart rate. Lark (1996) strengthens this argument by stating that, in a stressful situation, a fit person may have only a slight rise in heart rate, while a sedentary person may experience a terrifying pounding of the heart and shortness of breath.
It is clear to see the inescapable role that exercise plays in reducing one=s level of stress. By reducing one=s level of stress through exercise, one may also enjoy the benefits of being physically fit and having a higher self-esteem.
Exercise Increases Endorphin Levels
As previously mentioned, regular exercise has been shown to enhance powerful mood-elevating substances in the brain known as endorphins. Goldberg (1994) states that physical exertion is a powerful endorphin trigger. These compounds exert similar effects to morphine; when endorphin levels in the body are high, they improve one=s general sense of well-being. Pert (Markham, 1994) is convinced that endorphins are @mood chemicals which play an intimate role in the complex healing process.@ According to Carr (Murray, 1995), there is a clear association between exercise and endorphin elevation, and when endorphins go up, mood follows. Monat (1994) states that endorphins accumulate in the brain, and this explains why people=s moods improve if they do exercise regularly and why they feel bad if they are used to exercising and have to stop.
In a study conducted by Lobstein (Murray, 1995), the beta-endorphin levels and depression profiles of ten joggers were compared to those of ten sedentary men of the same age. The sedentary men tested out more depressed, perceived greater stress in their lives, had more stress-circulating hormones, and lower levels of beta-endorphins. Furthermore, in Goldberg (1994), a study by Gambert bolstered the @runner=s high@ theory. Analysing blood samples from
subjects who had run for twenty minutes on a treadmill, Gambert found an enormous increase in their beta-endorphin levels; in one case, a jump of more than 400 percent. Carr and McArthur (Goldberg, 1994) also completed an experiment designed to test the effects of a normal exercise
routine on the endorphin levels of volunteer subjects. Blood samples were taken from several healthy but non exercising women at the beginning, middle, and end of a four-month training program. The results showed an overall increase in the women=s beta-endorphin levels, and, in addition, Carr et al. observed that these levels were gradually elevated to nearly eighty percent as the training sessions continued. Conditioning seemed to augment the effect, which the two researchers believed accounted for the fact that the more exercise one does, the better they feel. Finally, Goldberg (1994) states that there are intriguing connections between stress, endorphins, and the immune system. Experiments conducted by Linn (Powell, 1994) on a group of healthy undergraduates, showed that those who suffered more psychological symptoms of stress were observed to have much lower levels of beta-endorphin.
These studies clearly show that endorphin levels are very sensitive to exercise and helps firm up a biochemical link between physical activity and well-being.
It is easy to see why exercise is critical to good health. Not only does exercise provide many physical benefits and help prevent many avoidable diseases, but it also enhances=s one self-esteem and ability to effectively cope with stress. Also, exercise allows for the release of endorphins in the bloodstream which helps to elevate mood. If all of these reasons are not
motivation enough to move someone into action, perhaps the idea of dying from a heart attack at the age of thirty is. It is time that more people consider increasing their level of physical activity as a resolution for a healthier, more beautiful millennium. References
Boucher, F. & Binette, A. (1994) Living Well with Stress. Canada: Editions de Montagne.
Coleman, V. (1994). Stress and Relaxation. Great Britain: Reed International Books Limited.
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Goldberg, J. (1994). Anatomy of a Scientific Discovery. USA: Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
Hoffman, L. (1997). Better Than Ever. USA: Contemporary Books.
Joyner, S.C. (1994). The Joy of Walking. USA: Betterway Publications, Inc.
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