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Why Short Workouts Can Work for You

Stress Management
There's been tons written on the biggest, baddest, and most silent killer in our society today: stress. Many health experts feel stress has more to do with disease than any other single factor. In our fast-paced, industrialized world we're surrounded by umpteen factors that can get our blood pressure rising: finding a job, apartment, or spouse; dealing with hostile co-workers, traffic, tidal waves, invading armies, and more. Even "good" stress like getting married or moving into a plush new home can leave you frazzled.

There are many strategies to deal with stress (and many books that deal exhaustively with the subject), but one common problem we find with people who suffer from chronic stress is a feeling of little or no control in their life. One simple but very effective way to gain a sense of control is to plan your day so that you exercise regularly. Even if you're doing a short but brisk 30-minute workout, the sense that you're doing something "just for you" is incredibly therapeutic.

Hear the Hormones
When you're under stress, two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, are released in your body. During extended stressful periods of time, excessive amounts of these hormones are emitted, often with rather devastating effects:

  • Depression of cartilage and bone formation.
  • Inhibition of the inflammatory response.
  • Depression of the immune system.
  • Changes in cardiovascular, neural, and gastrointestinal function.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Weight gain.
  • Depression.
Remember the all-nighters you pulled in college or when you had to prepare for one of the most important meetings of your career? Odds are, soon after the event was over you got sick. That's because high amounts of stress-induced cortisol lowered your immune system making you more susceptible to getting sick.

What does all this have to do with exercise? Exercise can help reduce your stress, which will in turn reduce high levels of cortisol in your body.

Work Out Your Stress
We've already talked about how exercise helps you deal with stress – 30 purposeful minutes of lifting or a brisk walk in the park can do wonders to soothe the savage beast. When you experience the dramatic changes in both your mood and overall state of well-being, you'll be amazed.

One often-overlooked point is the importance of finding the activity (or activities) that suit you best. If you know that running or an aerobics class is just what the doctor ordered, but you absolutely loathe running or group activities, you're actually adding to the stress level in your life. Experiment with the variety of options at your disposal: in-line skating, hiking with your dog, ultimate Frisbee, mountain or road biking, and soccer are just a few. As the philosopher Joseph Campbell said, "Follow your bliss."

Keeping Up Good Habits
Anyone who's ever started an exercise program knows it's difficult to begin and easy to stop. For most of us the demands of work, family, illness, and more threaten to derail even the best intentioned among us. The key is to stay focused on your goal of good health and fitness.

Keep It Moving
Stu Mittleman, an exercise physiologist who happens to be one of the best ultradistance runners in America, typically runs 20 miles a day, six, even seven days a week. (An ultra marathon is any race over 26.2 miles.) In 1986, Mr. Mittleman set a world record by running 1,000 miles in under 12 days. When Joe was interviewing him for a profile, even he was amazed how he was able to endure so many miles on his slight frame. "Why," Joe asked, "do you run 20 miles every day?" Without pausing, Mittleman said, "Because I don't have time for more." While few of us will ever run that much in a week let alone one day, Middleman's point is sound – our bodies are made to move. Still skeptical?

This explains why being inert for hours at a time feels so bad. Just think about how you feel at after a long airline flight or when you're tied to your desk all day: Your back, neck, and shoulders hurt. The same holds true when you oversleep. Often you feel hung over. Only when you get up and go are you able to shake the cobwebs and feel more energetic.

While this sounds counterintuitive, when you're inactive for too long, your circulation becomes sluggish, your joints become stiff, and your muscles tighten up. This physical discomfort clouds your ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Confined to your seat, you start rolling your shoulders, swiveling your head, jiggling your legs – anything to try and jump-start your stalled engine. The moral of the story? Stop sitting around so much and move. And here's the obvious but oft-neglected point: Do something you enjoy.

Head Games
Sports psychologists tell us that your mind is 85 percent responsible for whether you win or lose, succeed or fail. This is why it is important to prepare yourself psychologically for virtually everything you do. In-tegrating exercise into your life is no exception.

Psychologically, working out offers a handful of invaluable benefits.

  • Exercising for as little as 15 minutes in a day can rev up a sluggish system by increasing circulation and oxygen intake as well as removing metabolic waste from muscles. This boost of energy comes from the release of endorphins, which reduces (or alleviates) stress and provides you with a feeling of well-being.

  • Exercising for even short segments reminds you that you're involved in a healthy lifestyle. In other words, by making sure you weave physical activity into the fabric of your life you're more likely to become conscious of what you're eating and whether you're drinking enough water.

  • Working out with others is a great way to meet positive-thinking people. In addition, hooking up with a partner or two usually means you won't miss a workout.

Next: Page 4 >>

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Short Workouts © 2001 by Deidre Johnson-Cane, Jonathan Cane, and Joe Glickman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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