Find Your Why
By: William H. Neumeier, PhD
Is the statement, “exercise is good for you” news to any of us? When another television commercial, celebrity pundit, or new exercise comes around, does it change the central message that exercise is good? Some of the new trends will do their best to convince you that a certain type of exercise is better, but it does not change our fundamental knowledge that exercise is good. Health, achieved through physical fitness, has been admired for centuries. Past presidents, countless athletes and celebrities, writers such as Mark Twain and philosophers dating back to Hippocrates are attributed with quotes about the benefits of regular exercise. Society has known for a very long time that exercise is good. So why do we continue to ask questions about exercise?
Exercise is a beneficent action; what else is there to know? First of all, many of us may readily admit our knowledge regarding exercise’s benefits, but surveys indicate few of us regularly participate in exercise. The CDC estimates the percent of adults aged 18 or older that meet recommended weekly physical activity amounts for aerobic and muscle-strengthening is only 21.7%. Thus, the first “why” we must answer is, despite knowing exercise is beneficial to overall health, why do more people not participate in exercise?
Also, other variables of exercise can lead to very different results. These variables are, exercise frequency, intensity, time and type. For example, if a person exercises once a week at a low intensity for 10 minutes on a treadmill, how does this compare to a person that exercises seven days a week at a high intensity for an hour in the pool? Or, comparisons can be similar and only differ on one variable. A researcher may choose to keep frequency, intensity, and time constant but vary the type of exercise. Or, a researcher could vary the frequency, but everything else remains equal. Once you consider all the different possibilities and their potentially different outcomes, you begin to understand the need for continued investigations on exercise. But still, some exercise, regardless of frequency, intensity, time and type is still better than zero exercise. So why must we continue?
We must continue because even though the benefit of exercise is generally accepted, we do not entirely know why. Research continues to answer this question through investigations into how exercise impacts our body. We are still learning a lot about how exercise may impact the brain, or certain cells, or a particular tissue. Within the past few years the American College of Sports Medicine, the leading organization for the area of exercise and research, has launched a campaign titled Exercise is Medicine. The goal of the Exercise is Medicine movement is to encourage physicians to prescribe exercise for health. We know exercise is beneficial for a number of ailments, but we are not entirely sure how or why. Therefore, we must continue our quest to understand how exercise delivers its beneficial effects.
There are many things that we have a fundamental grasp of, but when we investigate closer, we notice complexities and intricacies previously unobserved. Exercise is one of these things. Yes, exercise is good; but every day we are learning more about why exercise is good. Research will continue to unveil new information about exercise. News articles will continue to report on exercise, companies will continue to advocate for a new type of exercise, and people will continue to choose an active lifestyle. We may never be able to fully answer the question “why is exercise good?” Yet despite all the questions and information surrounding exercise, every person has his or her own motivation to exercise; his or her own “why,” and in the end, that’s a good thing.