Exercise, Ayurveda, and Yoga
Robert Keith Wallace, PhD
This article is adapted from 16 Super Biohacks for Longevity: Shortcuts to a Healthier, Happier, Longer Life.
Every doctor and every health expert agree that exercise is good for your health and longevity. “Walking,” said Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine “is man’s best medicine.” Research clearly documents that exercise helps in the prevention of chronic diseases including diabetes mellitus, cancer, obesity, hypertension, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Physical inactivity is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Yet we live a world where most people don’t exercise even when their doctor recommends it. It is estimated that a third of all adults and four-fifths of adolescent, which is approximately 1.4 billion people, do not meet the recommended criteria. Not even taking a brief walk, just lying on the coach and watching other people exercise. What about retirees who go golfing every day? Sadly, they mostly ride in a golf cart and take only a few steps and a few swings. If you are part of this reluctant group, then this is the time to start one simple habit, take a 15 minute walk each day. If you can do it in the early morning sunlight then you are now practicing habit stacking, which mean you have combined two simple habits together, getting sunlight and walking.
What is the best form of exercise? Most experts agree that the best exercise is the one you will do, which differs for each individual. The recommended amount of exercise in order to achieve substantial health benefits is at least 150 to 300 minutes a week (or 10 to 20 minutes a day) of moderate-intensity physical activity (a brisk walk or doubles tennis), or 75 to 150 min a week (or 10 to 20 minutes a day) of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (jogging or a strenuous fitness class) or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous exercise. Studies find that people who do team sports may be at an advantage since the social interaction often compound the positive benefits of physical activity. Can you do too much exercise? Studies have shown that more exercise can be better unless you strain too much and overexercise when you are feeling pain. The sweet spot for longevity lies around 7,000 to 8,000 steps daily (about 30 to 45 minutes of exercise) most days. Which you can also get by playing sports such as tennis, cycling, swimming, jogging or badminton, for more than 2.5 hours per week.
Improvements in Mental Health
Regular exercise can have a beneficial effect on depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and many different mental functions. This may come as a result of the many effects of exercise on the brain such as increasing the growth of nerves, synapses, and blood vessels, as well as the release of endorphins which make you feel good. Research also shows that exercise promotes gene expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the brain which might account for some of the cognitive and mood improvements.
We now know that skeletal muscles produce small proteins called “myokines,” which act on the muscles but can also have endocrine-like effects by travelling through the bloodstream to distant organs such as the brain and liver. Interleukin 6 (IL-6) was one of the first myokines to be discovered, and it has a wide variety of inflammatory and metabolic actions. The muscles also secrete other beneficial interleukins and factors, such as BDNF and irisin. This new area of research may give us deeper insights into the mechanics of how exercise improves physical and mental health.
Ayurveda and Exercise
Ayurveda prescribes specific types of exercise for different people. If you know your Energy State then you can tailor all your exercise based on what is best for your Ayurveda mind/body nature.
Brief recommendations from Ayurveda regarding exercise.
V Energy State
V Energy State individuals enjoy exercise that involves moving quickly and/or gracefully, however their physiology is not suited for endurance sports. They are sprinters rather than marathoners and must be very careful to not get overtired. Activities like dancing, paddleboarding, yoga are good as well as a gentle-to-moderate, grounding, warming workout.
P Energy State
P Energy State individuals are usually highly competitive and don’t hold back. Possessing stamina and strength, they are often drawn to organized sports. They are also goal-oriented and tend to overdo exercise, paying the consequences later. Above all, P people need to avoid becoming overheated. Active water sports like swimming, surfing, and canoeing are all good for them. If you see people out parasailing, they will almost certainly prove to be P Energy State types.
K Energy State
K individuals generally have good endurance and strength, and regular active physical exercise helps to keep them from becoming overweight and lethargic (i.e. couch potatoes). Running, jogging, and energetic gym workouts are all very beneficial.
Remember, no single Energy State is better than another. We all need to be active.
The word yoga means union, and ultimately the goal of yoga, as expressed in the Vedic tradition, is enlightenment. In the west, we have come to understand yoga as specific yoga postures or asanas, which have become popular and widely practiced. There are many different types of yoga and research has shown that yoga postures improve psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression, and provide health benefits for those with high blood pressure, various pain syndromes, and immune disorders.
Choose whichever form of yoga best suits your individual nature, age, and needs. We recommend the Maharishi Yoga Asana program because it is especially respectful of your body and supports the experience of transcendence.
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