How Do You Play at 42?

Stress is a major component of daily life, both at the workplace and the home; thus, de-stressing activities are necessary for mental and physical health. Although any pleasant activity that can take your focus away from the daily grind can be beneficial, leisure activities that include physical exercise are the best choice. Sitting in front of an electronic device and engaging in a session of Candy Crush may make you less angry and relieve stress, but it does nothing—and is detrimental—to physical fitness.

Benefits of leisure time and physical activity

For example, a recent Finnish study of 831 young men had their leisure time physical activity assessed via a questionnaire. The investigators found that the men with low leisure time physical activity reported 6-13% more stress and 6-12% less mental resources than those who had moderate or high levels of leisure time physical activity. The men with low cardiovascular fitness experienced 8-9% more stress and 7% less mental resources than moderate and high cardiovascular fitness groups. Although the study was conducted on young men, the results are applicable to all age group and both genders.

Physical fitness increases happiness, reduces pain

Beyond increasing physical fitness, exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which promote a feeling of well-being and reduce pain. Not uncommonly, when one is feeling out of sorts, endorphins can have the most benefit. For example, a competitive-level cyclist felt miserable during her menstrual period and didn’t feel like exercising; however, because she needed to keep up her training, she got on her bike. She found that after riding a few miles, her discomfort eased and she felt refreshed.

Getting motivated by doing what you enjoy

The previous example points to an important requirement for leisure activity: You must be motivated to participate in it and set aside some time. It must be an activity that you enjoy—if you view the activity as a chore rather than fun time, you will probably discontinue it in short order. Group activities, such as a cycling club, an aerobics dance class, or an athletic team, often are more motivating than solo activities. Studies have shown that outdoor activities has advantages over indoor exercise. For those fortunate to live in a Sunbelt climate such as Southern California, outdoor activities can be partaken year-round; however, in other sections of the nation, outdoor exercise is limited to a portion of the year. In that case, indoor exercise equipment, or a gym membership, is an option. For all around fitness, an elliptical trainer is a good choice, because unlike many bicycle-type devices, it exercises your upper body as well.

When one is forced to swap a pleasant bike ride down a rural road for an indoor exercise device, the fun is diminished to nonexistence; thus, you must find ways to reinsert it. For those with an unlimited budget, devices are available with a large viewing screen that can display pleasant scenery and track your calorie expenditure. The budget conscious exerciser can exercise in front of a TV screen connected to a DVD player. This allows one the opportunity to exercise your way down a country road, a tropical forest, or whatever Purchase a DVD with musical accompaniment or play your favorite tunes while you exercise. Music with an upbeat tempo will encourage you to burn more calories.

A common excuse to avoid leisure exercise is a lack of time. However, most spend some time each day in front of a TV or other sedentary activity. Replace some of that lethargic leisure with a fun exercise activity. You’ll be glad you did.