Miguel Rivera, M.D.
The medical evidence citing the health benefits of physical activity (PA) is extensive. Increased levels of physical activity are associated with better health outcomes for virtually every disease known, from cancer to heart attacks, to diabetes, arthritis, depression, and dementia. The health benefits of PA are not limited to the physical body, PA improves mood and immunity, lowers anxiety, and improves sleep. PA increases capacity for daily functioning, and increases longevity.
PA is a great stress reducer, as a result, it protects all body systems from the increased physical, mental, and emotional requirements of the “Fight or Flight Response.” With reduced stress comes better mood and less anxiety, improvements in sleep, lower blood pressure and pain levels, increased energy, and increased muscle tone and strength. Regular physical activity promotes weight control, increases bone density, and improves immunity giving us added resistance to illnesses like colds, viruses, and even cancer.
PA is also highly protective for the brain and all cognitive processes. A 2010 Harvard University paper presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference presented data from the Framingham Study. The Framingham Study is an ongoing community-based sample of men and women living in Framingham, Massachusetts. Since the year 1948, every two years participants have been evaluated for cardiovascular risk factors. A dementia study began in 1975. After more than 20 years of follow up, compared with those with lower levels of activity, participants reporting at least moderate physical activity had a 45% lower risk for dementia over time. Those that were on the lowest level of physical activity had a 45% higher risk of developing a dementing illness. Over 20 published research papers agree with these findings.
The good news is that it does not matter how old you are, or in what kind of shape you are in, if you begin to exercise you will feel better, function better, and live longer. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2009 reported that even for the “very old,” those after age 85, starting a physical activity program resulted in improvements in function, quality of life, and longevity.
Amazingly, disciplines like yoga, tai chi, and chi gong, are even more beneficial than regular exercise! Research shows that the combination of slow body movements with moment to moment mental awareness increases levels in the brain of neurochemicals responsible for improving mood and lowering stress.
A 2010 study compared yoga to a metabolically matched walking program. Participants in both groups did 60 minutes of their intervention, three times a week for a total of 12 weeks. The yoga intervention was associated with greater improvements in mood and anxiety than the metabolically matched walking exercise. Blood levels of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter associated with lower anxiety and better mood, was increased in the yoga group, but not in the exercise group.
There are many forms of physical activity, and many ways to derive its health benefits. Recent data is casting doubts on the old wisdom that running long distance is safe and cardio-protective. New evidence in long distance runners points to right ventricular damage and other cardiac issues. For health, moderation is key.
TriYoga, with its mindful, flowing movements of the body and the breath, is an ideal way of deriving both the physical AND the mental benefits of physical activity, at its highest levels.