It's not just a hopeful theory that staying active will significantly improve your physical and mental health. The research findings on the subject are overwhelming at this point. Study after study proves that exercise increases longevity and decreases mortality from a wide range of diseases. In fact, inactivity should be considered a diseased state, given that exercise is absolutely known to:
* Reduce muscle tension. Exercise works your muscles, releasing the energy they've stored from involuntary contractions under stress, and allows them to relax. When your muscles are relaxed you will be too and so will your colon.
* Increase your ability to fight illness. When you're physically fit it's not just muscles that function better, but internal organs as well. This includes the organs of your digestive tract. The greater physical stamina and resiliency you'll gain from exercise will not only reduce your risk of suffering an IBS attack in the first place, but allow you to more quickly recover from one.
* Regulate bowel function and increase the efficiency of your entire digestive process. In particular, few things are more effective than exercise for preventing and relieving constipation.
* Provide a healthy catharsis for stressful emotions such as anger and hostility, allowing their productive, physical dissipation. Tomorrow you'll learn just how sensitive the colons of IBS sufferers are to negative emotions, and why it's crucial that you release these feelings. Exercise is an ideal way.
Exercise is also a great way to:
* Produce endorphins, brain chemicals that act as painkillers and can induce a state of euphoria. Exercise is in fact so beneficial to creating a positive mood that it is considered an effective treatment for clinical depression. Imagine what it will do for you when you're just having a bum day.
* Improve the quality of your sleep. One of the first signs of stress is the frustration of tossing and turning all night long, and you'll learn on Day 5 just how a sleepless night directly corresponds to an IBS morning. Exercise leads to a healthy, pleasant exhaustion that allows you to fall asleep more easily and then sleep more soundly.
* Reduce the biochemical impact of worry and stress on your body. When you're under stress, neurotransmitters are activated, hormones released, cortisol produced, and entire body systems accelerate or slow their functions. IBS attack, anyone? The byproducts of this response can continue to negatively impact your body and health. Exercise minimizes the effect of these byproducts and reduces their physical impact.
* Provide a form of moving meditation. Any exercise that involves a consistent repetitive motion can alter your state of consciousness. In other words, you'll obtain the beneficial effects of meditation (which are dealt with directly in tomorrow's chapter) without actually meditating. Your breathing and movement during exercise can produce a state of tranquility and calmness in the aftermath, giving you pronounced physiological benefits.
* Improve your self-image and increase your self-esteem, both of which directly correlate to a greater ability to tolerate stress. People who exercise feel better about themselves, are less susceptible to stress, and thus less prone IBS attacks.
* Allow both introspective solitude or social support. Depending on your personal preference and choice of sport, exercise can provide you with a solitary escape from stress (long runs down quiet country roads) or a recreational play period with teammates who share the fun (softball games in the park). Both offer a respite from daily worries, an increase in energy levels, and reduced levels of stress. Choose one form of activity or the other, or alternate between the two. Either way you win and your IBS loses.
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 The specific health benefits of exercise include: greater longevity; improved cardiovascular health; lower risks of diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, lung disease, gastrointestinal disorders; common colds and flu, and leg cramps; improvements to central nervous system diseases; healthier pregnancies; prevention and cure of obesity; and promotion of psychological and emotional well-being including mental acuity, reaction time, creativity, and imagination. (What Are the Specific Benefits of Exercise? Well-Connected via WebMD.com, Harvey Simon, M.D., Editor-in-Chief, Nidus Information Services, Inc., 41 East 11th Street, 11th Floor, New York.)
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