A body at rest, stays at rest. A body in motion, stays in motion.
Hello, everyone! Today we are going to dig deep into the importance of exercise. Do you ever look at those “gym rats” or people who ran their 56th ½ marathon and think, “…good for them, but that is NOT me. I’d like to have that type of motivation, but my couch is so comfortable!”
Well, I have a confession. I am one of those people. The “couch” type of people. I love the comfort of my home, my couch, and my big fluffy bed but that does not mean that I do not exercise. Truthfully, exercise is not my favorite thing. I do not wake up thinking, “I can’t wait to get to the gym” or “I can’t wait for a nice long run after work.” Yet, I do admire those that do. I think some (a lot) of people can relate.
Even if I want to choose my couch 10/10 time over a workout, I dig a little deeper and still work out. Why? Because I understand how the body works and what the body needs to thrive. As an Occupational Therapist that works in the orthopedic setting, I get how we “tick.” Let us break it down, by body parts, how crucial exercises is to our health and wellbeing.
Joints: The joints need lubrication so they can move more fluidly. When you move, lubrication increases around your joints. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are supporting structures around the joints. When you exercise, these structures strengthen and provide better stability to each joint. With increased stability, simple tasks like walking or reaching, become easier to do.
Lungs: The lungs need ample oxygen to work properly. When you exercise, your lung capacity increases. This increases blood flow to the muscles and provides you with energy to keep moving. Exercise also helps remove carbon dioxide, which is a waste product. Increased exercise reduces your risk of lung related diseases.
Heart: Exercise helps improve blood flow and lowers your blood pressure. When this happens, your risk of diabetes, stroke, or heart diseases (to name a few) reduces. Blood is the river that carries oxygen to your muscles and other parts of your body. Again, flooding them with energy.
Brain: Oh, boy. There are hours and hours of fascinating research (that I urge you to read) that I could talk about regarding the benefits of exercise and your brain. Here is the simple version. When you exercise, your brain starts releasing neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are like chemical messengers between the nerves in your brain. Specific neurotransmitters increase in levels when you exercise and stimulate your mind. Increased levels of these specific neurotransmitters will help decrease your stress levels and increase your attention, concentration, and overall happiness, just to name a few. Also, a lot of the times people do not work out alone. Socialization too, has a tremendous benefit on your brain health.
Sleep: There is also a lot of research that proves that exercise helps improve your sleeping habits. There are physiological effects that have to do with your body temperature raising during exercise and reducing by the end of the day. This drop in body temperature will produce drowsiness and help your body sleep better at night. If we go back to the brain, exercise reduces stress and anxiety (remember those neurotransmitters?). Less stress and anxiety equal better night’s sleep. Here is an added bonus: If you go outside to exercise, not only are you increasing your vitamin D intake (which is great for all of us), but that sunshine is an important component to help your body create a good sleep wake cycle.
Weight loss: If you are like me, “heck with all of that other stuff, I just want to lose weight!” Right? Well, sure. We all want to be the best version of ourselves. Of course, exercise will help this, along with a healthy diet.
Here is the vicious cycle that we see all too frequently as therapists in the clinic: the getting started part. If I try to walk, it hurts more. So, if I do not walk, I do not hurt. Therefore, I do not walk. Okay, follow me here… there must be a point where you mentally and physically realize that you will feel better if you allow your body to hurt a little bit during the process of getting into shape. You must push past that point of discomfort and give your body a chance to feel good again. Yes, it may hurt a little bit, but even when you are in shape you may feel a little sore after a workout. That is okay. It is okay to push your body, but it is also important to know your limits. If you do not know your limits or need a little motivation, seek out your doctor or your Physical or Occupational Therapist and they will know exactly how far to push you.
But you must start.
Maybe today is the first day.
Gather your tribe that supports you. Get off that comfy couch. Take a deep breath and take that first step to a better you.
Amy Livengood, OTR/L, CEAS II
Hello! I am Amy Livengood and I have been a practicing Occupational Therapist since 2004. I graduated from Keuka College in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State with honors. Following graduation, I began practicing in the pediatric setting. I originally worked with school-aged children but have also ventured into early intervention services, working with children birth – 3 years old. In June 2006, I had the opportunity to join the team at Chautauqua Physical & Occupational Therapy, focusing my profession in a privately-owned outpatient orthopedic clinic in Jamestown, New York. I took the dive and have been doing outpatient hand therapy for almost 14 years now. Since then I have become a certified ergonomics assessment specialist and, most recently, specialized in lymphedema. I am grateful to work for an amazing practice that encourages me to grow and thrive in a profession that I love and am truly passionate about. I have been blessed to be married to my amazing husband, Jonathan for 14 years. He has given me my greatest accomplishments, my children, my daughter Khloe Grace 12 years old and my son, Kale James 10 years old.