On top of the world!


Imagine being a young adult at the peak of perceived invincibility. That 17 through early 20s stage when you feel like Jack in “Titanic,” “I’m on top of the world!” The era with road behind to show a few lessons learned; and the seemingly endless road ahead, full of possibilities. This is the age where partying late and getting up early for an exam is possible. Where you feel the most free, before bills settle permanently in your peripheral. Children can’t wait to get to this milestone and older adults generally look back on this era with a wistful smile and a slow shake of the head.

Young adults are thought to be at the zenith of health. Exercise was believed to benefit the physique of young adults, but a recent study finds a connection between young adults gaining mental benefits from exercise when oxygen sweeps through certain regions of the brain.

Running towards a healthy lifestyle

Linda Machado Ph.D., leads the study, finding a link between physical activity and oxygen availability in frontal-lobe hemoglobin concentration of young adult females. Machado and her team selected 52 healthy females to see if their cognitive brain functions could benefit from exercise.

This study was initiated in response to the, “trends for increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the importance of optimal cerebrovascular and cognitive functioning.” In the last few years, Machado noticed how more students were developing less active lifestyles. Cognitive functions in, “healthy young adults are at peak developmentally,” yet, evidence from this study reveals, “these [cognitive] functions can nonetheless benefit from regular engagement in physical activity in this population.” Unfortunately, bodies cannot stay in this “top of the world” age forever and need exercise. Yet, young adults are exercising less and less.

Especially in college, young adults are appearing to be more sedentary. Machado references a separate study showing 31.1 percent of young adults worldwide are physically inactive. The factors leading to this may vary, but young adults are choosing to do less. Consider the evolution of idioms in recent decades. What use to be “hang ten,” “dyn-o-mite” and “groovy,” are now “chilling,” “hanging,” “chillaxing” and “kicking it.”

The results are only the tip of the iceberg

Machado summarizes the study, “Our findings suggest regular engagement in physical activity may improve brain functioning even in young adults in their prime.” Physical exercise is important to people of all ages, but can benefit young adults in more than just aesthetic aspects. Machado adds, “Both blood supply to the brain and cognitive functioning appear to benefit from regular exercise.” She mentions how this is only the springboard for more research to come. The idea of incorporating exercise is easy to imagine, but following through with it is another story.

Exercise for mental health: How to begin

Young adults may have a fickle relationship with exercise and for understandable reasons. Schedules tend to fill up with assignments, studying, work schedules and family gatherings. Exercise sometimes seems impossible to dedicate 30 minutes to an hour each day. Yet, starting at full throttle may not be the best option. Exercise for optimum mind and body wellness is not a race or a contest, so go at a pace in harmony with personal physical strengths and the best the body can give on a particular day. The human body is not robotic and abilities vary daily.

Author, world-class endurance athlete and coach Christopher Bergland dives into the topic of incorporating exercise each day. “If the traditional recommendation of 30-60 minutes of exercise most days of the week is daunting, discouraging, or overwhelming to you,” Bergland writes, “break your exercise quotient into ‘doable doses’ of light activity.” Bergland highlights the idea of exercising in smaller increments during the day. Even a smaller time of exercise is better than sitting on a couch.

While young adults can benefit from exercise in newly discovered ways, exercise will benefit health regardless of age. Machado had the participants follow exercise regimens, but you do not have to make a strict and harsh regimen right away. Building personalized exercise routines may take time, but can continue well into adulthood.

White River Academy provides residential treatment and care for troubled boys from ages 12 to 17. The academy offers guidance through a disciplined education program and instilling character values through service projects to promote positive growth. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

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