You come home after a long day at work, change clothes and head right back out the door for a run. After a few minutes of stretching and then moving into a slow jog, you start the real workout. Your heart rate increases and you are working up a sweat. You feel alive. Every move is controlled, you have your rhythm and you are edging towards the sweet spot that some call a ‘runners high’. After forty-five minutes or so you slow down in order to cool down and end your workout as you do three to five times a week. If someone asked you, “why do you do it?” you’d probably just say you feel better when you workout and miss it when you do not. However, when done regularly, exercise does so much to keep you healthy it takes an article like this to help you to appreciate all the benefits.
So, here is a list of 10 benefits of regular physical exercise that will resonate with most people:
1. Exercise helps you SLEEP BETTER
For those with some level of insomnia, regular exercise improves your sleep patterns by helping the body reduce the level of brain activity back to normal so that you can relax and sleep. i The sleep benefits may not happen the same night that you decide to work up a sweat. However it does give your body a reason to rest and allow your muscles to recover. ii Start your body on the road to consistent sleep patterns by making exercise a regular part of your daily life so that your body knows when to sleep and rejuvenate.
2. Exercise LOWERS EMOTIONAL STRESS
Exercising increases the level of endorphins which are your body’s feel good hormones. Regular exercise decreases your body’s reaction to life’s stressful situations and improves your cardio recovery. iii Some refer to exercise as meditation in motion because of this calming effect. Overtime you simply become less likely to stress out and stay stressed every time life throws you one of its unpredictable curve balls. Even better your reaction is less intense and you feel more in control. You can choose from many different types of aerobic exercises: karate, running, treadmill, elliptical programs etc.
3. Exercise IMPROVES BONE HEALTH
When the body is required to bear its own weight it improves bone strength. As you continue to exercise your body builds up the bone and muscle to accommodate the activity. You can get the same benefit from lifting free weights as you can from aerobic activities and with less impact to the joints. Some great weight bearing exercises for bone health are walking, running and dancing. iv Also, according to The National Institute of Health the best exercises to strengthen your bones will be weight bearing and lifting weights. v .
4. Exercise IMPROVES CIRCULATION
Most exercises for fitness increase your heart rate and that improves circulation by increasing the blood flow. The increased blood flow helps move all those nutrients and oxygen to the muscles where they are constantly being used. Not only does the blood carry what your body needs it also helps to move away waste products also known as detoxification. Your body naturally circulates the blood to fuel the body and with exercise the entire process is sped up. In an article co-authored by Luba Lee FNP-BC, blood circulation vi is improved by most physical activities from stretching to running. You can also boost circulation by playing sports, swimming, biking etc. She adds that even a massage increases local circulation in the soft tissue.
5. Exercise helps IMPROVE BALANCE
Any exercise that requires balance is going to improve your body’s ability to maintain balance when you really need it. Which, according to the American Heart Association can help prevent falls especially in older adults and stroke patients. Yoga is strongly recommended when it comes to improving balance. The slow movements when practicing Tai Chi are also great at forcing you to focus and balance your body. As with most exercises start slow, stick with it and you will notice improvements in your balance over time. The American Heart Association also states you can simply walk around your home heel to toe or try standing on one foot for prolonged periods.vii
6. Exercise DECREASES the likelihood of a CHRONIC DISEASE
Many studies have shown that exercise helps to decrease your chance of getting a chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Harvard’s School of Public Health reports that these diseases are actually preventable by exercising regularly and eating right. In a similar article in Pub Med Central doctors published a study that concluded “Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic disease”. viii Lastly, in a trial led by Dr. Anne McTiernan they found “Physical activity fights the intra-abdominal fat that can fuel risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes” and that “Getting regular, moderate-intensity exercise may be critically important for men and women who want to reduce their risk”ix The study included a goal of 6 hours of exercise per week and Dr. McTiernan states it is never too late to benefit from regular exercise. The specific exercises mentioned were walking, running, swimming and more.
7. Exercise IMPROVES FLEXIBILITY
Flexibility exercises such as Pilates and Yoga are great for increasing and improving your range of motion. For some people flexibility may mean recovering from a surgery and for others just being able to comfortably squat or bend in order to play with their child. There are many different exercises you can perform in order to increase flexibility depending on your goals and current physical condition. Besides Yoga ad Pilates you can always increase flexibility by simply stretching and sometimes holding the stretch. If there is a movement you find difficult, with your doctor’s approval, try moving into that position slowly and increase the movement over time. For example, if you cannot comfortably touch your toes today just lean forward and safely reach as far as you can towards your feet. Repeated attempts should take you closer to your goal and over time your body will gain flexibility and you will see increased range of motion.
8. Exercise IMPROVES COGNITION (brain function)
The Mayo Clinics’ Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D in a Q&A related to Alzheimer’s, says that exercise increases the flow of chemicals that protect the brain.x He says that 30 to 60 minutes (of exercise) a day may help keep your thinking, reasoning and learning skills sharp and reduce your chances of developing dementia. Dr. Joseph Mercola more directly states that exercise preserves and grows brain matter by triggering the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). xi Harvard Medical school states that in a study of animals, exercise increased the flow of oxygen rich blood to the thought region of the brain and spurred new brain cells and brain cell connections. This resulted in “brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance in aging animals.” xii
Running, walking and other aerobics exercises have been shown to improve brain function. However, Dr. Mercola recommends a comprehensive program that includes high intensity training (HIT), strength training, stretching, and core work.xiii Also, in a study of women led by Dr. Liu – Ambrose where they performed weight training twice a week, the women showed less shrinkage of their white matter. White matter is defined by WebMD as the area of the brain that “helps you problem-solve and focus. It also plays an important role in mood, walking, and balance”. In this study the women that exercised more also walked quicker and smoother than the other women in the study who worked out less. xiv
9. Exercise helps you maintain a HEALTHY WEIGHT
Most people who start or increase their daily exercise will lose some weight however depending on your body type and the exercise you are doing you can sometimes gain weight. Especially, when you incorporate weightlifting because you are building muscles and muscles are heavier than fat. Fortunately, after a few months the muscles will burn more calories than the fat you lost and may cause overall weight loss.
The CDC states the best way to maintain a healthy weight is 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity such as walking a 15 minute mile or playing with your children. The other option would be vigorous intensity exercise for 75 minutes per week such as swimming, running and jumping rope. The more intense the exercise the more calories burned and likelihood of weight loss.xv The exercise and frequency required to maintain your healthy weight will vary for each individual. As with most health related choices it is best to work with a medical professional to find out what is best for you.
10. Exercise IMPROVES APPEARANCE
One of the best parts of exercising regularly is that it makes you look so much healthier at any age. While exercising your blood delivers nutrients to your skin which creates a healthy glow, the sweat detoxes the body and your body looks so great you gain confidence. You may also notice increased muscle definition, improved skin elasticity and improved overall wellness. Any and all physical activities that safely increase your heart rate and put your body in motion can make you healthier. There are targeted exercises to improve the appearance for specific body parts, however to improve your overall health you should incorporate whole body activities such as: walking, running, swimming, dancing and playing.
Exercising regularly makes you a winner in so many ways. Everyone should partner with a medical professional to make sure they are doing what works best for them. Exercise along with a healthy diet almost guarantees optimal health. The challenge is to get started then acknowledge your improved well being as you go and enjoy your journey.
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