As I noted last week, I believe that the key to the future in an aging society is found in not only increasing our life span but also increasing our health span. Crucial to this effort is maintaining function through movement — through that thing we call exercise.
Though the current national exercise base line is 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, many experts are suggesting that much more is needed to achieve optimal benefits. According to two studies recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine involving more than a half-million people, those who exercised 450 minutes a week (which comes out to about an hour each day) were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely. Achieving this level of activity does not require a gym membership or a personal trainer. You can get the benefit with a mix of vigorous to moderate actions, including taking a brisk walk. My strong recommendation is that you direct it toward nature.
I know I have been hitting this "call to the wild" pretty hard recently, but with reason. In multiple studies of exercise behavior, it has been found that one of the most reliable indicators of whether people will continue to exercise is that they find exercise satisfying. Outdoor exercise has been shown to contribute to increased energy and revitalization — along with decreased anger, depression and tension — when compared with indoor exercise, and participants enjoy their workouts more and are likelier to stay with them. Researchers believe that our state of mindfulness during exercise, which they define simply as awareness of what is happening in the moment, affects the exercise. It can alter our sense of satisfaction. People seem to find more pleasure in movement when it occurs outdoors.
What needs to be added to the list of benefits is that outdoor activities not only are good for revitalizing the mind and body but also enhance our sense of spirituality.
The wonders found in nature, both imposingly large and intricately small — from the vista of the Grand Canyon to a monarch butterfly in flight — have been shown to have the power to lift people beyond the mundane day-to-day experience of the world, to spark a heightened moment in which we find ourselves inspired and awe-struck. It's what keeps campers, hikers and sailors coming back for more.
This sense of awe is one of the characteristics of what is often called a religious experience. A humble expression of awe not only is found at the root of religion but also has been found to create a sense of awakening among those who believe they are immune to such things.
A 2013 study published in Psychological Science that applied a decidedly nonspiritual scientific method to the "awe-struck" phenomenon confirmed that the awe-equals-religion equation is a very real and powerful experience for believers and nonbelievers alike.
This much-talked-about study was designed to elicit feelings of awe in subjects and see how that affected their sense of spirituality. The researchers learned that it seems to be ingrained in our nature to seek a spiritual answer for things we can't otherwise explain.
"At its most powerful, the experience of awe is a startling, breath-taking moment that shatters identity," physicist and astronomer Adam Frank recently wrote for NPR. "More important, it's in response to those profound experiences of awe that we are often set on our paths to know more."
"The laws of nature do not seem to be what satisfies the sense of uncertainty that awe elicits," said psychology professor Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College, one of the authors of the study. "If I throw 10 people at the Grand Canyon and ask how many come away with a secular answer and how many come away spiritual, I'd tip the scales in favor of spiritual." Like it or not, awe trumps empiricism — and like it or not, too, we'd probably be a poorer species if it didn't.
So let's add to our venture into nature the opportunity for an awe-inspiring moment and all the rewards it can bring.
With Memorial Day weekend upon us, I can't leave without a salute to our military by giving my heartfelt thanks for your service and the inspiration you provide to us all. I'd also like to bring to your attention a powerful TV series honoring our fallen heroes, called "Brush of Honor," which premiered this week on INSP. The series follows fine artist Phil Taylor as he travels the country using his considerable skills to create portraits of loved ones lost in war as a remembrance for their families, other service members and their friends. It is an inspiring series not to be missed.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.