We’re told that exercise is good for you, but most people don’t realise the extent of the range benefits of exercising.
The costs of exercising arise immediately and are fairly easy to see.
These ‘costs’ include the time used in exercising that could be used doing something – anything – else; the cost of going to a gym or having the correct equipment; the cost of missing out on some pleasure such as a television program or time on the couch… Need I go on?
Perhaps because they are so obvious explains why there is such resistance among so many people to taking healthy levels of exercise no matter how many times they are told it’s good to exercise.
So let’s list off some of the benefits.
It’s Good for Your Body
Start with the most obvious one: exercise provides a major boost to cardiovascular health. One result is that as you do more exercise you find you are able to do even more. You get fitter.
It also has an important role in maintaining a healthy weight and aiding weight loss. Even small increases in the amount of exercise can have noticeable effects.
For example, a study by the University of Missouri-Columbia found that people who began to walk their dog regularly for 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week, lost 14 pounds over the course of a year without making any other changes to their routine.
That’s the sort of outcome that widely followed weight-loss diet plans would target.
Exercise like running, cycling, or walking also increases oxygen flow to all your body organs.
These benefits appear at all stages of life. It’s common and natural for people to gain fat as they get older. It’s almost inevitable for many. But exercising and following a good diet have the opposite effect. They help you put on muscle and lose fat, even among older adults.
Exercise may actually lengthen your expected lifespan. Many studies have shown links between exercise and reductions in mortality from all causes. Other studies have found that as little as five minutes of daily running is associated with longer life spans.
It has been estimated that every hour of running you do adds an estimated seven hours to your life expectancy. Overall, runners tend to live about three years longer than non-runners.
Exercise also improves the internal composition of your body in terms of the millions of microbes that live there. By doing so it strengthens the immune system, fights inflammation and helps with weight control.
Exercise is Good for Your Brain
Regular aerobic exercise can improve your memory. It is important that your brain receives enough oxygen and other nutrients. If your oxygen is low, your ability to concentrate, learn and recall information are all affected.
Daily exercise increases blood flow to your brain thereby increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients that are delivered. Even walking 15 minutes a day will help you focus better.
Exercise also leads to growth of new neurons in the brain. A study by the National Academy of Sciences showed that a three-month program of exercise produced new neurons in the brain resulting in improvements on memory tests.
This can be particularly important among older age groups. The size of your brain decreases by around 5 percent every 10 years after age 40 according to latest research. This often results in cognitive decline as people age.
However, when we exercise, our brains produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor that research indicates may help to prevent this decline.
The study reviewed 14 different clinical trials with a pooled data source of 737 brain scan of participants aged between 24 and 76 years old. They included healthy adults and people with mild cognitive impairment, as well as depression, and schizophrenia with readings taken over periods lasting up to 2 years.
The research found that exercise did not impact the overall volume of the hippocampus, but it did increase the size of the left part of this brain region. The hippocampus is used in the formation and consolidation of memory the left side is involved in memory function and verbal learning.
It’s Good for Your Moods
People who exercise are happier. Exercise can also alleviate symptoms of depression and help you cope better with stress and anxiety. By doing so you gain more control in terms of regulating moods.
These effects can be quite dramatic. Best of all, they mood benefits start fairly quickly after taking up exercise. Many people experience an endorphin rush – a feeling of well-being – immediately after or even during exercise.
This usually passes soon after. However, more permanent improvements can appear after as little as six weeks of regular exercise.
You don’t need to undertake strenuous activity to get this benefit. Even just getting up and moving around may make you feel happier and published research has shown that even low-intensity exercise can prevent depression. In contrast, being sedentary can lead to withdrawal.
Exercise Slows the Aging Process
Exercise slows and actually reverses aging at the cellular level. Aging muscles have trouble regenerating and have fewer and less efficient mitochondria, the parts of cells that provide us with energy. However, research shows that exercise, especially high intensity exercise, increases the number and health of mitochondria
This has important long term benefits. A major study examined the impact of exercise on people who had been participating in running over a number of decades. The conclusions were dramatic.
The study found that the muscles of older men and women who have exercised for decades were indistinguishable in many ways from those of healthy 25-year-olds. These people also had much higher aerobic capacities than most people their age with greater capacity of around 40% than non-runners in their age group.
The study concluded that as a result of taking regular exercise over a long period these people were biologically about 30 years younger than their chronological ages.
The conclusion is pretty straightforward. The benefits of exercise go well beyond looking better. These benefits can appear quite quickly and have positive long term effects.
Try to get some form of aerobic activity as many days as possible. You should exercise at least three days a week and six days a week is even better.
Resist the short term urge to sit there. Get up and get moving.