(Health Watch-4), By Haruna M. Sabo
Anyone, who has been following the trend of our discussions on preventive health, cannot be in any doubt about the important place of mental and physical exercises in all health programmes. Readers are, therefore, urged to give much attention to this aspect of the discussion so as to derive maximum benefits from previous and subsequent health information being unfolded.
Medical science tells us that the human body is a primitive organ, which responds more naturally to primitive urges than artificial stimulation. That is why it is necessary to indulge occasionally in activities, which re-enact the primitive way of life as long as they are not harmful to self or others.
We know that the primitive, or early man, had no such fortified or well-protected shelter as evolution and civilization have made easily available to us today. Thus, he had to compete, at all times, with animals and reptiles for food, shelter and, consequently, survival. He was, therefore, more involved in physical movement or manual work than we do today.
Being so close to nature and other living creatures, it was easier for him to commune with Almighty Creator to receive inspiration on what to do to evolve to a more advanced species and fulfill his destiny on earth.
Still discussing the early man; history tells us that he was blessed with strong physical stamina and sharp reflexes because of his constant exposure to danger posed by other creatures. With such natural endowment, he had the ability, in most cases, of escaping to safety whenever they threatened his life.
His condition made it necessary for him to move from place-to-place not only to protect himself but also, as earlier indicated, to search for food, which at times included some of the animals or reptiles. All these made him so physically fit and mentally alert that his health and lifespan also benefited from them.
Modern technology has reversed our lifestyles from those of the early man, and since our bodies are slow to adjust to the styles of living forced on us by modernity, the body revolts occasionally by easily succumbing to malfunction, ill health and early death, if not given proper attention.
Modem transportation systems, sophisticated communication gadgets, improved farming equipment and other labour and time-saving devices have considerably reduced the need for us to move about or exert energy to accomplish our desires. We rear animals to serve as food, and these have taken care of the need for the modern man to use force or tax his energy to kill them as was done by the early man.
So, from the simple lifestyles of our ancestors, who experienced less stress that consumed physical and mental energy than we go through today, we have developed into a complex society of unhealthy people, physically and mentally. This has contributed, in no small measure, to the turbulence attendant in many parts of the modern world.
Today, our survival no longer depends on physical fitness. Nevertheless, some level of physical activities is essential for all of us, and we can achieve fitness only if we work actively towards it. Unfortunately, too many people, particularly in the developing world, simply accept or resign themselves to physical deterioration and early ageing as a natural phenomenon, which cannot be altered.
However, in recent years there has come a gradual realization that man through his efforts cannot only improve his personal appearance and physical comfort, but can actually extend his lifespan and usefulness to society.
People, generally in the enlightened world now know that inactive people have more health problems than active people. Studies have compared the heart and blood vessels of people, who did active work, such as farmers or carpenters, with those of people, who were sedentary or sat in one place most of the day. In every study, the active people suffered less heart disease.
Also, active people tended to live longer than inactive people, other things being equal. Thus, regular exercises for physical fitness have been organized for citizens in some developed countries, and this is receiving active attention in some forward-looking developing countries now that the enormous benefits of exercises have been well known.
That explains why in some countries like China and Japan, regular physical exercises have been made an integral part of the lives of citizens and even made compulsory for certain categories of persons. This has reduced the frequency with which they have had to visit a clinic for medical attention.
In some countries, companies are known to employ the services of preventive health specialists or simply physical exercise experts to take their employees through regular physical training sessions to keep them fit enough for improvement in efficiency and to cut down costs on medical bills.
What is actually the secret behind the great attention being given to physical fitness in many parts of the world today? What is the reason for the special attention by some corporate bodies, who now encourage their workers to exercise their bodies and, in some cases, provide these facilities free-of-charge for the convenience of their employees to engage in regular physical exercise?
Blood Circulation and Respiration
When oxygen and nutrients combine in the body, they produce energy in the cells. The body stores some nutrients, but it must constantly replenish its supply of oxygen with each breath. Efficient blood circulation and respiration supply each cell with a maximum amount of oxygen and remove a maximum amount of waste within a given time.
Certain exercises prompt this process. Exercises, which increase the volume of inspired air to continue the expenditure of energy, are called AEROBIC EXERCISES, while exercises, which do not require extra air, are called ANAEROBIC EXERCISES. More will be said about these exercises during the practical aspect of our discussion.
Muscles and Tendons
The strength, endurance and power of the muscles are determined by their fitness. We need physical strength to lift or move anything, which is the amount of force a muscle produces when it contracts. Endurance is the ability of a muscle to work overtime.
Power is the speed at which the muscle can contract and, therefore, apply strength. We develop strength, endurance and power when we engage in aerobic and anaerobic exercises.
This is the range through which a joint can move. Inactivity reduces flexibility. When joints are not moved through their full range of motion, the muscles and tendons can shorten and limit movement. Lack of exercise can promote the development of certain diseases, which normally occur at the joints.
Benefits of Exercises
You would have observed from the foregoing that exercises do not just promote an increase in physical fitness but also a range of secondary and, perhaps more important, benefits to the entire body. Regular exercise improves sleep, reduces headaches, creates a feeling of wellbeing, and increases concentration and stamina.
Chemicals called Endorphins are released into the brain during exercises, and these chemicals promote a sense of positivity and happiness that will last for some time after the actual activity. This is an effective tool in the fight against depression and a vital move in the preparation for a peaceful, relaxed and disease-free life.
On the whole, physical exercises affect the cardiovascular system by increasing blood volume and the number of red blood cells, thereby improving the body’s ability to remove wastes and deliver oxygen to the muscles and other tissues. This tends to produce a feeling of less fatigue and the development of more endurance, as already indicated.
The heart is strengthened, which enables more blood to be pumped with each beat, and the pulse rate is lowered, allowing the heart to rest longer between beats. In addition, recent evidence shows that a slower heart rate reduces the buildup of plague in the arteries. Blood pressures drops because blood vessels increase in size and become more pliable.
The levels of high-density lipoproteins rise, which is also associated with reduced plague buildup. As a result of these changes, people who exercises regularly are less likely to die of coronary artery and other related diseases.
Through regular exercises, respiratory muscles are strengthened and lung efficiency is increased. These changes, along with those in the cardiovascular system, heart and blood vessel(s) improve the body’s ability to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. The result is that we use energy more efficiently and have more stamina.
Also, increasing our level of exercise increases the number of kilocalories burned, resulting in loss of weight. Finally, exercise prevents the loss of minerals from the bones – a loss that was once thought to be a natural consequence of ageing. This and other instances of biological rule of “use it or lose it” has led some researchers to wonder whether many of the changes of ageing result from disuse, or from a natural decline.
The Effects of Mental Exercise
The effects of mental exercise on health have not been well researched because of their abstract nature, but proof of ongoing research is given in PUNCH of 11th October, 2000, which reported a study on the effects of learning on longevity. This report highlighted a discovery that, due to active learning, parts of the brain were able to grow new cells as people aged, contrary to earlier popular belief that the brain cells reduced their activity as the body aged.
According to the report, previously it was believed that the brain cells did not replicate during the later stages of adulthood. The new evidence did suggest that keeping the mind active encourages the growth of new cells. New cells could mean a longer lifespan.
When brain cells are increased, the chances of living long also increase because of the increased capacity of the brain to generate electrical energy to power the activities of the whole body.
So far, we have been discussing the physical effects of exercising the brain. This then leads to the third aspect of our discussion on the three determinants of health – a positive mental attitude. So, we are reserving this for the next edition of this magazine.
Those, who have read the previous series, will naturally be able to see their relationship as well as relevance and why it is necessary to take them together for health promotion.
Culled from Our VISION magazine, Vol.5 No.4, 2004
(To be continued next Tuesday)