I had a very special moment last week that I'd like to share with you. After 30 years of Brazilian jujitsu training and a lot of hard work and preparation, I was honored by being awarded third-degree black belt status by the United Fighting Arts Federation, an organization I founded in 1979. The foundation is the governing and sanctioning body for the martial art form known as Chun Kuk Do (meaning "the universal way").
I'm proud of this achievement, and I mention it to illustrate the importance of constantly finding goals in fitness training, no matter your level or exercise option. The struggle we face once we've developed a healthy degree of fitness is how to remain consistent with our training while being reasonable and realistic based on the limitations age brings on. One way is by constantly setting well-thought-out goals for ourselves.
So many people believe that as they age, vigorous exercise is unsafe or that it is no longer an alternative for them. Many stop exercising altogether. But recent studies are proving that belief to be not necessarily true. For mature adults, the key is having proper medical supervision and advice before selecting an exercise activity and level. Many low- to moderate-risk individuals have been cleared for vigorous intensities of training by medical professionals. A recent report in the American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal found vigorous activities to be a healthy choice for low- to moderate-risk individuals and even effective at preventing or reversing the deficits associated with many chronic ailments.
In the end, we tend to stay with an exercise form if it is enjoyable to us. For me, the martial arts have been the cornerstone of much of my life and remain so today. Beyond the development and well-being of our family, they are the instrument for what my wife, Gena, and I see as our life's work, our KickStart Kids program. With its focus on at-risk middle-school children, we have seen this program serve as a lifesaver for tens of thousands of young people by building strong moral character and a sense of purpose and direction in them through the martial arts training.
Throughout my life, I have witnessed firsthand the many body and mind benefits derived from martial arts training — from cardiovascular improvement and muscular strength to balance and posture to improved self-esteem and self-confidence.
A report published in the May 1985 issue of Psychology Today put it this way: "People who continue to practice the martial arts for prolonged periods are different from the general populace in these ways: they have a lower level of anxiety; an increased sense of responsibility; they are less likely to be radical; they have an increased level of self-esteem; and they are more socially intelligent."
This connection between the mental and the physical health benefits of martial arts training has slowly come to the attention of Western science during the past 30 years or so, along with the acknowledgment of the benefits of a system of moral values that martial arts embody. Included in this system are a respect for property, the importance of sincerity and the quest for perfection of character. The connection to this form of mindfulness that Asian practices such as yoga, meditation and martial arts share has much to do with their increasing popularity today.
A 2009 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also verified some of the physical benefits. Researchers examined two control groups between the ages of 40 and 60, one sedentary, the other Korean karate students. The physical characteristics of both groups with respect to age, weight, height, body mass index, resting heart rate and blood pressure were the same. After exercising on a treadmill, the martial arts students were found to have much higher levels of glutathione, the body's most highly concentrated antioxidant defense, in comparison with the sedentary subjects. Researchers concluded that these antioxidant levels may be an effective intervention for improving overall health by protecting against the adverse effects of oxidative stress, which is associated with the free radical theory of aging.
A 2012 report published in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy by Ron Roberts, a senior lecturer in psychology at Kingston University, noted several studies demonstrating the effectiveness of traditional martial arts in reducing aggression. One study examined a group of British middle-school boys with problematic behavioral problems and another control group. The treatment group had in-school training in traditional martial arts. Schoolteachers were asked to rate the students on impulsiveness, resistance to rules, self-concept and inappropriate behavior. After three months, teachers rated the martial arts students as less impulsive and less aggressive toward others. This result absolutely mirrors what we have seen since 1990 with students in KickStart Kids. It is a program that continues to have a positive impact on the lives of our more than 80,000 alumni.
Young or old, if you are looking for a healthy exercise option, I submit to you that the growth in popularity of martial arts would seem to indicate that both as a discipline and as a value system, they have much to offer.
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.