The “no pain, no gain” mentality is prevalent in our culture when it comes to exercise. But if you are out of shape, overweight, or are no longer a spring chicken, jogging or lifting weights might not be advisable. Here are three gentle ways to get physically fit and stay mentally healthy for life while avoiding the possibilities of injury.
Strike a Pose with Yoga
Yoga is a practice of poses and breathing techniques designed to strengthen and balance your body that originated in India 5,000 years ago.
Your first thought about yoga might be getting contorted into some pretzel pose. While some advanced positions are very difficult, there are many levels and styles of yoga. One of the most popular is hatha yoga which combines elements of several other yoga forms. Due to its slower pace and easier movements, it’s perfect for beginners.
The core components of most general yoga classes are poses or postures that increase strength and flexibility and controlled breathing to increase energy and quiet the mind.
Physical benefits are increased flexibility, balance, strength, and range of motion. Emotional benefits include stress reduction, better sleep, and improved concentration, mental balance, and mood.
Many people have found that yoga is a “gateway” practice that leads them on the path of a healthier lifestyle. Serious practitioners are so enthusiastic with their results they almost could convince you it’s the elixir of life!
When Mayo Clinic talks up yoga, you know it has gone mainstream. They report that yoga might help with a variety of health conditions, such as cancer, depression, pain, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and high blood pressure.
Tai Chi — Meditation in Motion
If the idea of getting down on the floor to do yoga doesn’t appeal to you, consider tai chi. This Chinese martial art form is often described as meditation in motion.
It involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner, accompanied by deep breathing. You’ve probably seem images of Chinese seniors practicing outside in a park. It can be done by nearly everyone regardless of age or physical condition. There are tai chi programs designed for seniors, people with arthritis, and even people in wheelchairs.
Tai chi looks so easy yet gives your brain and your body a surprisingly good workout. You may find, as I did, that it’s surprisingly mentally challenging to move the body in new and unfamiliar ways!
Studies have shown that practicing it just three times a week can increase brain volume and improve memory and thinking. Some researchers believe it may be useful in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Tai chi is an excellent stress management technique that can reduce anxiety and help you sleep. Harvard Medical School found that while tai chi won’t leave you out of breath, it still addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and even aerobic conditioning. It can help serious health conditions including arthritis, low bone density, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and Parkinson’s.
Engage Your Core with Pilates
At only 100 years old, Pilates is a relative newcomer compared to yoga and tai chi. This gentle, non-aerobic form of exercise lengthens and strengthens muscles to improve posture, without stressing the joints, and uses the abdominal muscles to create core strength.
Pilates has long been popular with dancers and athletes for injury rehabilitation. The exercises can be done on a mat or a special Pilates exercise machine, either at home or in a studio.
The six principles of Pilates – centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow – engage your brain while you master each exercise.
Taking a class gives you the added benefit of a social activity. Staying socially active is very important for longevity and mental acuity. Finding yoga classes near you should be relatively easy. There are many yoga studios — find one near you at YogaFinder.com.
Pilates classes won’t be hard to find, either. There are Pilates-only studios, and many gyms and dance studios offer Pilates classes, too. Find classes near you at FindMyPilates.com.
Finding a local tai chi class could prove more challenging. You might find one at a local fitness club, the YMCA, or through continuing education programs.
You might prefer starting your exercise program at home – either for convenience or because you’re self-conscious in a group setting. If that’s the case, no worries! There are many excellent DVDs and online programs you can tap into, instead.
These three gentle exercises can be done by anyone regardless of age or condition. Start now and you will be creating a healthy habit that you can continue to do for the rest of your life.
Tai Chi Increases Brain Size, Benefits Cognition in Randomized Controlled Trial of Chinese Elderly at ScienceDaily.com
The Health Benefits of Tai Chi at Health.Harvard.edu
Yoga: Tap Into the Many Health Benefits at MayoClinic.com
Deane Alban is co-founder of BeBrainFit.com and author of Brain Gold: The Anti-Aging Guide for Your Brain. She has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. Her passion is teaching others how to rejuvenate their brains and overcome the common, but avoidable, problem of midlife mental decline. Sign up for “Brain Builder” – her free newsletter for the latest natural ways to stay mentally sharp for life.