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Recently an interesting article appeared in the NY Times that caught my eye. The title: “What’s the Single Best Exercise?” Lots of researchers and exercise physiologists weighed in on what physical activity yielded the greatest muscle strength, aerobic power, and the like.
I am not an exercise physiologist or personal trainer, so I’m in no position to enter the debate. But I am someone who exercises regularly. As I was swimming this week, it occurred to me that there was a component of exercise that went unaddressed in the article: peace of mind. I’m all for boosting VO2max and running speed, but for me, the best exercise is 1) one that I can do regularly and 2) one that brings me joy — one that puts all the ‘little stuff’ into perspective.
Let me give you an example: On lap one of my swim Monday, I was fretting about my AMEX card (someone got a hold of my personal info and ran up over $16,000 in charges in 2 days!), my work (so much to do, so little time!), that dent in my bumper (some idiot smashed the back of my car and left without a trace!), and about 30 other things I can’t quite remember now. By lap 10, I wasn’t fretting; I was thinking about blowing bubbles in the water. By lap 20, I don’t recall thinking much at all. I was just enjoying the water and being freed up from the usual amount of earthly gravity for a short time. Not just physical gravity — psychological gravity too.
By lap 10, I wasn’t fretting; I was thinking about blowing bubbles in the water. By lap 20, I don’t recall thinking much at all. I was just enjoying the water and being freed up from the usual amount of earthly gravity for a short time. Not just physical gravity — psychological gravity too.
Exercise is great for what it can do for your body. But it can also do wonderful things for your mind. Studies have found that regular exercise can reduce stress and depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. In addition to reducing pain, endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. That euphoric feeling, often called a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
So my idea of the single best exercise: something you love and can really ‘loose yourself’ in. Something that connects your mind and body and makes you feel “good”. Dancing, walking, biking, hula-hoop — if you love it, go do it! The physical benefits of exercise can not be overstated; but neither can the mental ones!