Minor Medical Complaints
Although not strictly a psychological benefit of exercise, it has been shown that physically fit women complain less of minor medical conditions such as colds, allergies, fatigue, menstrual discomfort, backaches, and digestive disorders than do less fit women (Gendel, 1978). The author concluded that many of these complaints may be due simply to a lack of physical fitness.
Two preliminary studies (Ismail & El-Naggar, 1981; Lichtman & Poser, 1983) suggested that exercise training increases mental functioning, as shown by scores in a variety of tests of mathematical and other reasoning abilities; scores increased when subjects took the tests after exercising. Rats that exercise for life also show improved memory retention as they age (Samorajski et al, 1985).
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I have found that of all sports persons, runners and other endurance athletes are by far the most conscious of their physical and mental health. This results, I suspect, from the process whereby endurance athletes learn to “listen to their bodies. ’ ’ Early in their athletic careers, endurance athletes learn that the physical demands of running and other endurance activities are such that these activities can only be performed with pleasure and satisfaction if the body is well cared for.
The result is that endurance athletes become aware of their health and follow good health practices (Heinzelman & Bagley, 1970), not because they are primarily health conscious but because they are performance conscious. The potential long-term health benefits of this attitude should not be dismissed lightly. For example, Breslow (1979) showed that longevity and physical health are very strongly influenced by seven health practices: avoiding smoking; exercising regularly; eating moderately and controlling body weight; eating regularly; eating breakfast; drinking alcohol moderately or not at all; and sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night. It was found that a 45-year-old person who followed all seven health practices had a life expectancy of some 11 years over a similarly aged person who followed three or less of these rules (Belloc, 1973). By comparison, the greatest medical advances we have known, which have taken place since the turn of this century, have increased the longevity of men and women aged 45 by a mere 4 years (Breslow, 1979). Thus, Breslow has concluded that “the patterns of daily living, including eating, physical activity, use of alcohol and cigarettes, largely determines both health and how long one lives” (p. 2093).
On this basis we can say that running, because it positively influences all these behaviors, is one of the most powerful health tools we have ever known.
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