Monday, August 01, 2011

More on the Benefits of Riding

Exercise has numerous beneficial effects on brain health and cognition, review suggests

ScienceDaily (2011-07-25) -- A new article highlights the results of more than a hundred recent human and animal studies on how aerobic exercise and strength training play a vital role in maintaining brain and cognitive health throughout life. Researchers also suggest questions remain in the field of exercise neuroscience -- including how exercise influences brain physiology and function and the relationship between human and animal studies.

It is an easy point to make.  Like the horses we ride, humans were meant to move.  We were all designed to walk, run, jump, climb, hunt, and flee from danger on footAs we grew and morphed, we lost the desire to see the planet from the treetops and built wheels from which grew treadmills and office chairs.  Horses, lacking the old opposable thumbs that made it possible for us to shoot each other and hitch rides on passing eighteen-wheelers, continued to live a more-or-less natural and physically active life.  It's only when we intervene and take Nature out of the equation that horses begin to look (and probably feel) like us:  soft and frequently unhealthy.

My saddle-esque desk chair that's supposed to keep my
core doing what cores do without any effort on my part

Two posts ago I shared the recent research that indicates that 1) exercise and the stress-relief that comes with interaction with animals keeps us from losing our minds earlier than necessary, and 2) head whacks have the opposite effect, so we need to use care and common sense in our efforts to be horsey.  My last post suggested that our efforts to customize our horses sometimes result in their downfall; that they are rarely born warped and bent, but can be made that way by us.  We do to them what we do to ourselves.  Exaggeration in service to style is never good, species notwithstanding.

Today's article presents yet another bonus of exercise.  According to the author's summary of research done at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, starting early on the aerobic side--we're talking children now, who we all know can use less time indoors interacting with the X-Box and more outdoors interacting with the world--actually creates smarter humans.  Now, if that's not a top-notch goal, I don't know what is.  Just check out the evening news tonight and you'll agree.

More effort is required in my gym
so I don't spend as much time
there.
At this point the results are still tentative.  A connection seems to be clear, but more data will be needed to clinch it.  Still, given that vitamin and herb supplements, exercise DVD's that promise Ten Minutes to Firmer Thighs, funny shoes with foam rockers to tone the wearer's butt (I own four pairs, so I'm not one to criticize), belts that shock the abs into submission so no work at all is required by their owner....none of these have any sort of conclusive scientific support.  If we're going to buy into those, why not buy into the more obvious conclusion that brain power and appropriate use of our bodies are probably linked?
Getting fit is best approached with baby steps.

Before you rush out to buy your kid a pony so he'll excel in school, it's also important to note that injury rates in equestrian sports are on a par with dirt bike racing/jumping, skiing and other snow and ice sports, and Austrian rules football (stats here).  It's not in the reports, but I would not be surprised to find out that riders who are not in good physical condition, who do not wear appropriate safety equipment, and who are not in the hands of a good, safety-conscious instructor during the learning process probably get hurt more often.  Riding requires balance, attention, and core muscle strength that don't come free and can't be bought from late night infomercials.  They require work and dedication, and that's all the more reason to put riding on the list of Things to Do to Improve Your Life.

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