Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Starting the Day Right....

I've made a discovery: A day that begins with physical activity tends to stay more active and motivated than one that doesn't.

A year ago, on October 5, 2011, my son began an event called "Scott's Year of Fitness Challenge," in which he challenged his family members to be active every single day. "Be active" meant just that: we had to do something active every day. "Active" was left up to each of us, but there was an implication that the activity should be something significant, something intended to improve cardiovascular fitness, build strength, increase flexibility, foster endurance, etc. On those days when we were sick, frantically busy, or stuck in airports, we decided that we would have to do at least 10 minutes of anything for it to count.
And we've done it! We've hiked, kayaked, swam, run, lifted weights, walked, rafted, biked, elipticaled, treadmilled, rowed, skiied, Zumba'd, Yoga'd, gardened, and more. Stuck in airports, we've walked the concourses to get in our time. Stuck in bed for a week after a surgery last spring, I still managed to walk a little and lift weights-- enough to not break my streak. We're stronger, we've lost weight, and I think each one of us feels better and probably happier: I know I do.

In my own case, I joined a gym, started taking my dog for longer walks, and took up swimming. And that takes us back to the first sentence in this blog: my discovery that when I start the day with activity, the day not only feels better in general but tends to find me trying to stay active. When I wake up and make the decision to head for the gym or pool as a first step in my day, it sets the day up for success. I get home and find the day still young and full of potential, and I'm filled with a sense of having done something really wonderful for myself. I feel awake and alert (and a little sweaty) with my blood pumping and my senses alive, ready to meet the day.

These observations make sense from a physiologic point of view, for in the early morning, our cortisol and catecholamine levels ratchet into high gear, giving us a jump start that pulls us out of sleep-state and inspires readiness. To me, morning exercise magnifies this effect. It increases my sense of well-being and, I think, makes my outlook even more positive. After all, if I know I've already taken care of myself, doesn't it make sense that that would increase the enthusiasm and vigor with which I take on the world? Being active early also encourages me to find ways to stay active: taking my dog for an extra walk, doing some yard work, or maybe going for a late swim. No doubt this has to do with the endorphin-stimulating effects of physical activity, which are said to be on the same line as those associated with sex and dark chocolate....

All but nine of my son's 365 "Challenge" days have now gone by-- the year is almost up, and guess what? We've had so much fun and feel so good after doing this, we're going to do it for another year! Not only that, but we're now going to open the group to our friends who want to join up. (Message me on Facebook if interested!) I'm one hundred percent sold on the idea of daily activity, and I'm thrilled with the changes it's made in my life. (Did I mention that my meets-the-radiological-criteria-for-total-knee-replacement knee feels better, too? As in functional and with minimal pain?)

Here's the bottom line: our bodies aren't made to sit. They're made to be up and about, taking us out into our world, making us work and stretch and push and sweat. Give it a try for a week or two, and see what you think.

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