Not long ago, exercise programs were limited to variations on the basics: jogging, walking, team sports like basketball or soccer, and if you were lucky enough to have a pool at home or at a gym, a few good laps. . Even the exercise machines tended to only simulate the same activities. Treadmills, stair climbers, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines were a bit like the hamster-wheel version of trying to enjoy the outdoors, indoors.
The emphasis was on discipline, and going as far and as hard as a beating heart would take. Pushing to exhaustion and stumbling around in sweat-soaked clothing were good signs. But times are ‘a changing’ and, with a growing obesity epidemic gripping the nation, contributing, in part, to a growing health insurance crisis, this can only mean good things to come. Texas’ obesity rate alone is 27%, 3 percentage points higher than the national average.
This isn’t to say that a tough, sweaty workout doesn’t have its place. Particularly for young people and healthy joints, strenuous exercise sessions can show incredible benefits. But, in the last fifteen years, new research methods have shown that increasing endurance and decreasing the risk of certain diseases, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and diabetes, and improving muscle strength, loss of fat content, reduced stress levels, and better overall health can be achieved through practices such as qigong, interval training, yoga, and interactive fitness-based video games such as Dance Dance revolution.
Texas is also waking up to this need for varied exercise options, and cities like Dallas and Austin foster thriving yoga studios, Pilates classes, and martial arts academies.
These may all seem like familiar options to the Texas young adult crowd, but a little over a decade ago, qigong master Chunyi Lin couldn’t attract half a dozen students. Now, he runs his own center in Minnesota, travels the country holding workshops, and teaches classes to sixty or more people at a time. Qigong [has been] growing like crazy in the United States in recent years… People want to be more proactive with their health care.”
Americans are turning less and less to their individual health insurance companies for lab prescriptions, and more and more to take control of their own health through preventative care, including stress reduction techniques.
In addition to cardiovascular fitness, the increasingly health-conscious population is seeking longevity, stress reduction, and overall physical and mental improvements. Let’s face it: Americans are stressed. People in Texas and the rest of the nation are beginning to realize that stress alone is causing a good deal of mental and physical problems.
Qigong, a broad term for various types of energy-based practices, is becoming at least a partial solution to this problem. Through the use of slow, measured movements and deep breathing, this ancient Chinese physical art has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation, increase focus and concentration, enhance immunity, reduce stress levels, and provide better overall well-being. An even more popular practice, yoga offers a variety of exercises, from sweat-inducing regimens and muscle cramps to measured deep-breathing sessions suitable for all ages.
Interval training is also hitting the market again. After a brief period of popularity in the ’90s, the exercise program seemed to fade, kept alive by cloistered professional athletes and specialty fitness chains like Curves. Interval training alternates between short bursts of high-intensity activity and slower, lower-energy periods. After short interval cycling training sessions that spanned two weeks, a 2005 double-blind study found that 75% of subjects increased their endurance by 100%.
Another study this year found that after two weeks of similar training (involving seven interval workouts), the practice improved its participants’ cardiovascular function by 13% and their fat-burning ability by 36%. The results were similar for all fitness levels, from the borderline sedentary to dedicated athletes, according to Talanian, the study’s lead author and an exercise scientist at the University of Guelph in Ontario. That means almost anyone can do it and you should expect to experience tangible results within a few weeks.
Interval training seems to work so well, in part, because high-intensity bursts recruit new muscle fibers, while low-intensity bouts allow those muscles to get rid of waste products created during training. Contrary to popular belief from a decade ago, this method actually increases endurance by a greater percentage than high-intensity, steady-pace exercise sessions. These relatively quick and tangible results, for most athletes, keep them training.
Consistent training not only means feeling and looking better, but also increased immune function, which in the long run translates into a lower incidence of disease. Athletes aren’t the only ones who love it; health insurance companies do too.
“Any form of exercise that recruits new muscle fibers will improve the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates and fat,” said Ed Coyle, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas, Austin.
The only real guidelines? Bursts of higher energy should raise heart rate to 80-85% of optimal performance, and periods of lower energy should never last long enough to drop heart rate to resting levels. Interval trainers should always warm up first, take 24 hours between sessions to give the body time to recover, and never attempt the program if they are over 60 or at risk of heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease. without consent. from a qualified physician.
Technological trends cannot be ignored either. As usual, the children lead the way. Dance Dance Revolution, an interactive Japanese video game that hit the Asian market about ten years ago, is now recognized as such a popular, effective, and entertaining exercise that more than 1,500 American schools are expected to integrate it into their curriculum by 2010. to a growing obesity epidemic.
Recent studies in Houston and Dallas revealed alarming trends in obesity in children under the age of 18, and Texas schools are now considering revamping their physical education programs in response. Dance Dance Revolution can be a smart choice: Using a foot-touch pad and on-screen cues, participants learn increasingly complicated and progressively faster dance moves. The game can be played individually or in competition, which appeals to a larger audience. You don’t have to be particularly athletic or competitive to participate; the only requirement is the will and the ability to move at the right time.
“I’ll tell you what, they don’t run like that here for basketball,” said Bill Hines, a physical education teacher in Morgantown, West Virginia, where the game was integrated.
So maybe the workouts don’t have to be so much work. Through variety and an open mind, anything that gets the body moving, raises the heart rate, or reduces stress levels is worth a try. And it can even be a rewarding cultural experience. Qigong classes, martial arts like aikido and jujitsu, and ashtanga yoga can raise more than just fitness awareness levels. Who knows, you might even get a discount on your health insurance premium over time… And don’t worry, pronunciation guides usually come with the class.
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