By Jim Nicolai, M.D., medical director, Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval
As a health coach who is constantly looking for ways to make healthy living simple, I am fascinated by the benefits of a form of activity called functional or integrative exercise. Basically, it just means moving more.
I’ve written about this in my book, Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living. Integrative exercise concentrates on making movement fit into a regular routine by broadening its scope to include the work of daily living, including things like gardening, household chores, grocery shopping, and yard work. Good data suggests that spending time doing more, preferably outside, can lead to just as many benefits as exercising at the gym. When the healthiest old people are studied, most of them are not running marathons or attending aerobics classes; but they are usually doing some kind of regular, functional activity to keep moving.
Exercise is a key ingredient to achieving health. Not only does it help maintain normal weight by burning excess calories, but it can also modify the way your brain regulates hunger, in effect making you less prone to food cravings. Exercise boosts mood in healthy people. Like laughter, regular exercise can be a treatment for depression that is just as effective as medication, with less relapse. For all of those who know the secret of exercise, movement creates energy; it does not take it away. So exercise can also be quite effective for fatigue of any kind.
The biggest challenge for guests who come to see me at Miraval is not them exercising (which they seem to love and do quite well at the resort), but how to fit it into their daily lives. Most individuals who stop exercising mistakenly think that they have to spend hours on end going to the gym to appreciate the benefits of extra activity. This is completely false.
Significant psychological and physiologic changes begin to occur in the body with as little as 75 to 90 minutes of extra walking per week. A study conducted at Harvard found that burning just 500 extra calories weekly can make a significant impact on all causes of mortality. For an average person walking at 4 mph, approximately 100 calories are burned every 15 minutes. Walking or briskly moving your body for 15 minutes five days per week can decrease your risk of dying of anything. That is powerful. As a matter of fact, it may be good, maybe even better, to break exercise down like this in small chunks throughout the week as opposed to in just one or two larger episodes.
So rather than jumping on the treadmill or going to the gym, if you feel better gardening or mowing the lawn, walking your dog, landscaping your front yard, or having a major shop at the grocery store, have at it. It’s totally good for you.
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Working Out at Work: 10 Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk
How to De-Stress at Your Desk: Stress Management Tips for Work
10 Tips on How to Increase Energy & Beat the Afternoon Slump at the Office
Breathe with Purpose: 4 Breathing Techniques for Wellness
Dr. Jim Nicolai is a board-certified family practitioner and a graduate of the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, under the direction of Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Nicolai has a special interest in whole-person medicine, addressing patients as mental and emotional beings, energetic and spiritual entities, and community members, as well as physical bodies. His expertise is in combining conventional medicine with the intelligent use of complementary and alternative therapies, including herbs and other botanicals, vitamins and supplements, lifestyle management, and stress reduction. Read more about our Wellness Week experts.
Dr. Nicolai’s book Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living was released by Hay House Publishing on January 2, 2013. $14.71; amazon.com