Ask almost anybody what they think are amongst the most important things in life and invariably “being healthy” will be right up there. Of course, the are lots of different opinions out there on what actually constitutes “healthy” these days along with a myriad of ways that we are encouraged to keep ourselves fit and active, so in this article we’re going to look at some of the most popular choices.

Walking

Since we have to learn to walk before we can run, it seems apt to start with the simplest and most accessible of exercises. Whilst some might sneer at the idea of a gentle ramble being of any value, the truth is that moving in a way that is largely effortless and enjoyable is the best way to introduce your body to regular exercise. Research shows that low-intensity aerobic activity improves alertness and encourages positive thought so starting slowly and building up the pace can have a surprisingly beneficial effect in both physical and mental health terms. The recent “Couch to 5km” scheme from the NHS, whilst aimed at getting people running, actually recommends a gradually intensifying series of walks before slowly easing into more run-based activities.

Running

This brings us neatly on to running, which remains one of the most popular means of improving or maintaining overall fitness. Exercise releases endorphins, wonderful chemicals which make us feel better about ourselves and can increase our motivation and confidence. The effects can be so noticeable that this has led to the term “runner’s high” but beyond the simple feel-good factor running gives us time to analyse, process and understand things far better than simply sitting staring at four walls. So whilst running is regarded as a good lead-in to cardio workouts, it’s also provides a good mental stimulus too.

Yoga

Yoga continues to be a diverse and popular form of exercise having originated in India, possibly as early as the 5th Century. It is designed to improve physical, mental and spiritual well-being through various disciplines based on traditional Hindu philosophies and is widely thought to help people with relaxation, focus, stress-relief and general well-being as well as having more substantive physical benefits such as improved stamina, suppleness and muscular control. Yoga is also regarded as an excellent form of physical therapy, particularly as it is generally consists of “low-impact” exercises. These are less likely to involve the risk of physical injury during exercise,  which cannot always be said of some of the more physically intensive workouts!

High Intensity Interval Training

HIIT has become one of the most popular forms of fitness training of late and typically take 30 mins or less per session so won’t make huge demands on those already stretched for time. However whilst they may be short, High Intensity Interval Training sessions are far from sweet, involving maximum bursts of extreme effort interspersed with more gentle recovery periods. They are an incredibly efficient way to improve cardio and burn calories and so can give people a real burst of adrenaline, helping to improve mood and self-esteem as well as physical fitness,. Conversely HIIT workouts aren’t recommended for use every day as they can lead to overtraining and increase the risk of injury and are aimed more at those looking for sudden, short term improvement rather than those looking at something more sustainable.

Whilst each of these activities is perfectly good as a solo venture, there is also a huge social element attached to most of these forms of fitness with clubs and societies all across the country dedicated to enthusiasts at various levels and this “social” element also contributes enormously to the health and well-being of their patrons.

…and finally

The final exercise we will consider is one literally outside the box,for whilst a jigsaw puzzle may not seem to provide much in the way of exercise at first glance, there is growing evidence that this once humble past-time has far more to offer than meets the eye.

Research has shown that jigsaw puzzles help us with a vast range of life skills, so much so that they are regarded as an important tool in everything from early childhood development through to a potential weapon against ageing and afflictions such as dementia.

In terms of physical skills, jigsaws can help us develop both our fine and gross motor skills, visual recognition, coordination and manipulation and are an excellent tool for relaxation which helps both with our breathing and our heart rate. Mentally they challenge us to employ logic, to analyse and adapt and to use relatively advanced cognitive processes such as deductive reasoning without necessarily being aware we are doing so, largely because we are enjoying what we are doing so do not regard it as being “exercise” as such. Similar endorphins to those experienced during more strenuous physical activities can be released  simply by successfully completing a challenging jigsaw puzzle, bringing improved feelings of achievement and self-worth with them.

In combination we can see that activities we might regard as being aimed more at improving physical fitness can actually be extremely beneficial to us mentally as well, whilst a more “cerebral” exercise, whilst offering a workout for the brain can still be just as important in helping with our general health and well being.

For more information about how jigsaw puzzles can help with aspects such as childhood development, through our adult lives or in combating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, visit the link here.

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