Healthy Living in the Real World (cont.)

"The mind is the original use-it-or-lose-it organ," says Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, and chairman of the American Health Association. "If we challenge ourselves mentally, we do not lose mental functioning as rapidly as we once thought." Mental exercise can include daily reading, learning a second language, or taking up a creative hobby, such as painting or playing a musical instrument. "Anything that is novel and stimulating induces the mind to stay vital, young, and flexible," Pelletier tells WebMD.

"Studies...have shown people who practice basic relaxation techniques are less susceptible to infection."

Learning to manage stress is another vital component to mental health. Pelletier, who is co-author of Stress Free for Good: Ten Scientifically Proven Life Skills for Health and Happiness, recommends learning one or more stress management techniques, such as abdominal breathing or meditation, during a noncrisis period. "This is a mental fitness. It takes practice and discipline. The human nervous system is enormously more complex than a piano, so you need lessons." The time you invest will not only strengthen your mental resilience but offer physical benefits as well. Pelletier points to studies that have shown people who practice basic relaxation techniques are less susceptible to infection.

"When people see [a recommendation of] 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week, they say 'no way' and don't do anything," says Walter R. Thompson, PhD, author of the ACSM Fitness Book. But even smaller amounts of physical activity have benefits, so anything you can do is better than nothing.

Thompson says the first step is to figure out which activities you enjoy. "What do you like to do? If you don't like it, you're not going to do it." For example, if you enjoy walking but loathe the idea of lifting weights, don't sign up for a strength-training class. Focus instead on walking whenever possible. Take the stairs instead of the elevator and make time for a quick walk during your lunch break. Conversely, if you enjoy strength training but not aerobic exercise, you can still get a cardiovascular workout by doing many repetitions with lighter weights.

That sounds good, you think, if only there were 25 hours in a day. But take a close look at your schedule and you'll probably find pockets of time where you could be more physically active. "People who think they are too busy should analyze their day," Thompson tells WebMD. "Everybody can find time, with no exception."

Published May 9, 2005.

SOURCES: USDA Dietary Guidelines. American Dietetic Association. American Dental Association. American Academy of Dermatology. American Psychological Association. American College of Sports Medicine. National Sleep Foundation. Dave Grotto, RD, American Dietetic Association spokesman; director of nutrition, Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care in Evanston, Ill. Richard Price, DDS, American Dental Association spokesman. Robin Ashinoff, MD, director, Dermatologic Mohs and Laser Surgery, Hackensack University Medical Center. Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, clinical professor of medicine, University of Arizona and University of California at San Francisco; chairman, American Health Association; co-author, Stress Free for Good: Ten Scientifically Proven Life Skills for Health and Happiness. Walter R. Thompson, PhD, professor, Georgia State University; author, ACSM Fitness Book.

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Last Editorial Review: 6/6/2005 1:41:16 PM