Aerobics Program For Total Well-Being: Exercise, Diet and Emotional Balance
By Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H.
What Is Total Weil-Being?
One of the great principles of the universe is the principle of balance. If the earth were a few miles closer to the sun, it would be an inferno. If it were a few miles farther away, it would be a desolate, frigid desert. But in its present location, balanced at an ideal distance from the sun, our planet is in a perfect position to sustain an exciting proliferation of life forms.
The atoms that are the basic building blocks of all matter on earth are another example of this perfect balance. The nucleus of the atom is made up of neutrons and protons, an incredibly harmonious organization. Yet, it is through the splitting of one of these atoms that the cataclysmic eruptions of nuclear power take place. To function properly, every part of our world, no matter how miniscule, must be in a state of complete equilibrium.
And so it is with our bodies.
The human body is just another part of the universe that is meant to be in perfect balance. We have been constructed in such a way that we need just so much exercise, no more and no less. We need just so much food of certain types. And we need just the right amount of sleep and relief from the tensions and stresses of daily life.
If a person goes too far in either direction - too little or too much exercise, food, or rest - then his or her entire physical and psychological system gets out of kilter. And where there is a lack of balance, there is also a lack of personal well-being.
By the same token, on the positive side, where there is balance, there is a sense of well-being. And where there is perfect balance, there is what I call total well-being.
I have been exploring this principle in great detail recently in my research at the Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas. And my growing conviction about the overwhelming importance of this principle of total well-being through balanced living is what has prompted me to write this book.
Even as my other books on aerobic exercise have been selling in the millions, and while many countries have been implementing the concepts in those books, our physicians and medical researchers at the Aerobics Center have continued their explorations of the frontiers of preventive medicine. We have studied and worked with thousands of patients and are now ready to present our latest findings to you in this book.
And let me say this right at the outset: I believe that our most recent conclusions about what it takes to be in a perfect state of physical balance, or a state of total well-being, are more important for your present and future happiness than anything I've ever written before. In short, I'm convinced that if you embark on a personal quest to achieve total well-being - a quest which will be outlined in detail in this book - you'll begin to enjoy an exciting array of personal benefits that you may have assumed could never possibly be yours.
Just to give you a taste of what can happen in your life, here are some of the benefits of total well-being that data from our research have shown us can be yours for the asking:
- More personal energy;
- More enjoyable and active leisure time;
- Greater ability to handle domestic and job-related stress;
- Less depression, less hypochondria, and less "free-floating" anxiety;
- Fewer physical complaints;
- More efficient digestion and fewer problems with constipation;
- A better self-image and more self-confidence;
- A more attractive, streamlined body, including more effective personal weight control;
- Bones of greater strength;
- Slowing of the aging process;
- Easier pregnancy and childbirth;
- More restful sleep;
- Better concentration at work, and greater perseverance in all daily tasks;
- Fewer aches and pains, including back pains.
This list could go on and on, but I think you get the point. In short, the achievement of total well-being can completely transform your life and make you a happier, more productive person.
But now, in more specific terms, what's the formula for reaching this state of total well-being?
Our extensive research at the Aerobics Center has convinced me that there are three basic human needs that must be satisfied if you hope to achieve the overall balance that is a necessary prerequisite for total well-being. As the word "balance" implies, these needs must be met in a way that will keep your body and mind in harmonious equilibrium. I've referred briefly to these needs before, but now let me mention them again in a little more detail because they comprise the backbone of what I'll be saying throughout the book.
Basic Need 01: Aerobic Exercise
The term "aerobic" means "living in air" or "utilizing oxygen." But this word hasn't always been understood particularly well.
For example, shortly after my first book was published, I was asked to speak on the subject of aerobic exercise, or "aerobics." Unfortunately, though, the reporter who wrote up the announcement about the lecture in the local newspaper wasn't familiar with exercise concepts. So when I arrived, I learned that he had said, in effect, 'Be sure to come and hear Dr. Kenneth Cooper talk about aerobics, the bacteria that utilize oxygen."
Needless to say, that is not my definition of aerobics.
Aerobic exercises refer to those activities that require oxygen for prolonged periods and place such demands on the body that it is required to improve its capacity to handle oxygen. As a result of aerobic exercise, there are beneficial changes that occur in the lungs, the heart, and the vascular system. More specifically, regular exercise of this type enhances the ability of the body to move air into and out of the lungs; the total blood volume increases; and the blood becomes better equipped to transport oxygen.
Aerobic exercises usually involve endurance activities which don't require excessive speed. In fact, when recommending various kinds of aerobic exercise, I always stress that it's better to use long, slow distances (or "L.S.D.") than it is to rely on short, fast bursts of energy.
But at the heart of any effective aerobic exercise program is the basic principle of balance. For example, most people should achieve a balance in terms of the distances they cover during any exercise period. Recent research has shown that unless a person is training for marathons or other competitive events, it's best to limit running to around 12 to 15 miles per week. More than that will greatly increase the incidence of joint and bone injuries and other ailments; on the other hand, less mileage will fail to achieve the desired improvement in the body.
If you run more than 15 miles per week, you are running for something other than fitness and the emotional balance, good health, and good looks that accompany it. You may be running to prepare for competition or to prove something to yourself if you go for long mileage, but you're not running for basic fitness!
One of the most startling examples of the importance of getting out of your seat and getting some exercise, no matter how ill-suited to exercise you think you are, involved one of my women patients. She came into my office with terrible back pains - so terrible that she could not walk farther than 75 to 100 yards before the pains forced her to stop.
As you might expect, all her activities and social outings were severely limited because of her disability.
I'll admit that at first, I advised surgery as the best approach to her problem, which was the result of pressure on a nerve from a lumbar disc. But she refused surgery; and after watching what exercise had done for some of our patients at the Aerobics Center, she decided to cast aside her sedentary ways and elected to try exercise herself.
On her own, she experimented with walking on a treadmill, and soon discovered that she could walk without pain when the treadmill belt was tilted up to a certain incline. The more she walked over a period of several weeks, the less pain she experienced. Soon, she found she could lower the incline on the treadmill more and more, until finally she was walking on a flat surface - and without any pain for the first time in months.
Next, she started some slow jogging with her walking routine, and eventually began jogging continuously from 3, to 5, to 10 miles at each outing. As this book goes to press, this 46-year-old woman has run nine marathons, with her best time being 3:03 hours - a great time for a woman or man of any age!
In this woman's case, then, we have a person who had developed problems with her back, probably as a secondary reaction to the combined problem of poor muscular tone and an old injury. She didn't have any dietary or other problems, but her physical system was out of balance because of her failure or inability to engage in sufficient muscular activity. But when her body regained its balance, she was freed to undertake all sorts of physical activities that had been denied her before. The balance achieved by exercise enabled her to reach a state of total well-being for the first time in years.
In my opinion, this principle of balance through physical activity simply reflects what the human body was originally intended to do. Think back on what you know about early men and women (and people living in traditional societies today). Physically, they were quite active, with the hunters in the band often running miles to track down game and the tribe members at the campsite gathering wood, picking berries, and otherwise constantly moving about.
Also, tales abound of the feats of the American Indians, who might run hundreds of miles, with little time for rest, to deliver messages from one tribe to another. We might assume that they were unbalanced toward too much exercise, just as we sometimes tend to be unbalanced in the other direction. But their bodies were conditioned to operate at maximum performance over the long haul - for days at a time - and to achieve physical heights that seem almost superhuman when compared with our own meager powers of strength and endurance.
Granted, we have made great "progress" in terms of science and technology. And some would also argue that we've come a long way in developing more civilized political and social systems. But in the area of physical endurance and personal energy, I think we've fallen light years behind our forebears.
In our time, despite the upsurge in concern about the well-being and appearance of our bodies, most people are employed in sedentary office jobs. They walk from the parking lot or bus stop to the office, and from their desk to the water cooler or company cafeteria. Except for occasional bursts of tennis or golf on the weekends, that's about the extent of their physical activity. And this lack of physical activity very likely puts a relatively low ceiling on their potential in the other pursuits of life. That, of course, was the problem with my patient until she decided to do something about it.
But as I've indicated, I don't believe our bodies were constructed for such a lack of exercise, and the latest medical research supports my belief. We know now that exercise helps a person develop stronger bones, a more positive mental attitude, better circulation, and greater protection against heart disease. So it seems to me that once we begin to recapture some of the physical activity of primitive people - activity which our bodies and minds desperately need in order to function properly - we'll be well on the road to achieving total well-being.
Basic Need #2: A Positive Eating Plan (P.E.P.)
I should say right here that I have nothing against the word "diet." But because the idea of a diet has sometimes been associated with a short-term crash program to achieve weight loss, our nutritionist has developed a concept at the Aerobics Center called the Positive Eating Plan, or P.E.P. Our P.E.P. approach stresses the development of eating habits that are designed to last for a lifetime, and that's a goal I'd like you to work toward in your own life.
As with aerobic exercise, the fundamental principle that lies behind good eating habits is balance. If you find, after reading this book, that you need to lose some weight, you don't have to cut out every one of your favorite foods or go on some lopsided fad diet. Instead, we'll show you ways to keep a tasty balance in your daily menus even as you reduce the calories you consume.
One rather dramatic example of what can happen if a person's diet and weight are out of balance involved a 48-year-old businessman. He had been running distances of 3 to 6 miles, several times a week, for at least 8 years, and he was extremely regular about his exercise program.