Physical Exercise As Therapy: “Joy” and “Medicine”

Two books on the benefits of physical exercise are Exercise Is Medicine (2020) by Judy Foreman and The Joy of Movement (2021) by Kelly McGonigal.

I. The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal

“Movement offers us pleasure, identity, belonging and hope. It puts us in places that are good for us, whether that’s outdoors in nature, in an environment that challenges us, or with a supportive community. It allows us to redefine ourselves and reimagine what is possible. It makes social connection easier and self-transcendence possible.”

Physical exercise isn’t just about losing weight or being fit or being athletic, maintains author Kelly McGonigal. Simply put, moving your body in various ways is better than not doing so. And it’s great not just for one’s body but also for one’s state of mind.

As reported by Megan O’Neill Melle in Parade, there are six cited mental benefits of exercise, paraphrased below:

  1. Stress-busting: Not eliminating stress, but improving one’s management of stress.
  2. Social connection: Due to certain brain chemicals released, moving along with others strengthens one’s ability to enjoy time with other people.
  3. It offers hope: “Hope molecules” inject healing properties.
  4. Brain boosting: For example, protection against Alzheimer’s and relief from depression.
  5. Increased happiness: In a phenomenon known as “collective joy,” there’s an increase in such things as optimism and social connection.
  6. It works with music: Music helps exercise to occur and links to memory in ways that help stimulate such feelings as “strength, energy, courage or happiness.”

II. Exercise Is Medicine by Judy Foreman

In Exercise Is Medicine: How Physical Activity Boosts Health and Slows Aging, health journalist Judy Foreman concludes that physical exercise is “by far the most effective, and safest, strategy for promoting a long, healthy life.” Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can be significantly improved, for example, via regular physical movement.

Publishers Weekly: “The penultimate chapter is especially helpful, covering topics such as what happens when one stops exercising, and the relationship between excessive weight and fitness, and beta-blockers and exercise. Throughout, Foreman includes ‘Inspirational Tales,’ research studies, and boxed sidebars covering chapter-related topics.”

A blog post of Foreman’s that’s particularly pertinent for those who sit while at work is titled “Sitting Kills.” Opening sentence: “It’s not just that physical activity is good for you. It’s that a sedentary lifestyle, as a totally separate variable, is seriously bad.

Other excerpts:

Sitting too much  all by itself – can raise the risk of disease and premature mortality, even if you dutifully exercise.

If you want a short, sickly life, just sit there, for 13 hours a day, like the average American. (In Western countries overall, adults spend 55 to 70 percent of the day – 9 to 11 hours – just sitting.)

Replacing just two minutes of sitting every hour with a bit of moving around helps mitigate the risks of sitting. Better yet, don’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch.

…“(S)edentary physiology” is now considered a separate field of research from the long-established field of “exercise physiology.”

…(P)hysical inactivity causes as many deaths a year globally as smoking.

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