Health benefits of exercise – An article to boost your motivation

Everyone knows that exercise is good for us for many reasons. But even though we all know, every now and again we need a little motivational boost to help us get up and go to the gym or keep up the good work while waiting for the results to kick in. Takes a while doesn’t it? But it is worth it! Here’s a list of some of the benefits that exercise has to offer.

(a) Reduced obesity risk. Exercise obviously helps in maintaining weight and fitness levels unless you eat more than you burn! But even if you don’t have any extra weight and you think you are too far from such situation think again. As we age (30s onwards!) our metabolism slows down and eating the exact same things as before can result in weight gain!

Similarly, as we age we also tend to “slow down” physically and burn less kcals. Those 2am dance offs are a rare occasion and walking to places or playing sports becomes even more rare. As our body mass increases our blood pressure, sugar levels, lipids and other biologically important molecules increase leading to higher chances of inflammation. Lower defence capabilities and compromised health can further translate to much more serious diseases such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes and even cancer [2] and more.

 

(b) Improved brain function and cognition, including memory. There are many studies supporting this and over several reasons. Some studies such as the one published by Moon et al. show evidence on the biochemistry of exercise related molecules affecting brain activity [3] while others add further support by proving the psychological and “mood effects” of exercise which rise of course, from correct brain function. Such studies reinforce the idea that exercise is beneficial in delaying and perhaps reducing the occurrence of disorders such as dementia.

 

(c) Reduced occurrences of some chronic diseases such as cancers of the colon, breast and possibly endometrium. [4] In an article published in Comprehensive Physiology, Booth et al. even went as far as stating that “physical inactivity is the primary cause of most chronic diseases”. [4] After consideration and analysis of many factors and historical evidence they concluded that chronic disease does not need to be an inevitable outcome during life. The authors did consider gene-environment interactions and looked into 35 chronic conditions such as premature ageing and death, low cardiorespiratory fitness, sarcopenia (=muscle loss), obesity, insulin resistance and prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, coronary heart disease cognitive dysfunction, depression and anxiety, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, balance problems, bone fractures, rheumatoid arthritis, colon, breast and endometrial cancer, pre-eclampsia, polycystic ovary syndrome, erectile dysfunction, pain (that’s an interesting one as many studies show that your pain threshold increases with fitness), constipation, gallbladder diseases and more. [4]

If unfortunately, you already have any of the above it is not too late as studies have shown that some diseases can be controlled by exercise and your chances for recovery or survival will be increased.[5] If you are concerned about exercising while being unwell seek advice from your medical doctor. There will definitely be some type of exercise that will be safe for you to do.

If exercising reduces your chances or even prevents the above list (and more, this is a partial list to keep this article short) surely this is enough reason to exercise. Warburton et al. in their article titled “Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence” stated “There appears to be a linear relation between physical activity and health status, such that a further increase in physical activity and fitness will lead to additional improvements in health status.”[5]

Not convinced? Let’s put some numbers on the table. Both men and women with increased levels of activity and fitness were found to have a reduced death risk by 20-35%.[6] More recent studies have shown that the number might be even more significant suggesting that being fit or active can reduce your risk of death from any cause including cancer and cardiovascular disease by 50%.[5] An expenditure of 1000 kcal a week by physical activity (this does not mean weight loss) can decrease mortality by 20%.[5] Even exercise of as little as walking for an hour a week showed small protective effects.[5]

 

(d) Prevention or reduction of depression and anxiety.[7] While exercising is probably the most outlandish thing in our minds when we are depressed or experience anxiety it can actually help. There are several studies from different disciplines that show the positive effects of exercise on depression and anxiety. And the effects appear to be bigger than other active interventions such as meditation.[8] Some tackle the subject biologically proving that during exercise we release the so called “feel good” hormones while others tackle the matter psychologically proving that if you feel good about yourself you will obviously be happier and calmer and if you are physically strong you will feel mentally strong too. Either way it is undeniable that exercise will make you feel better, both physically and mentally.

Coincidentally, to go a step further, many of us experience depression and anxiety because of our looks…catch 21 huh? Remember “Your brain will be healthy if your body is healthy”. If you find that certain exercising behaviours make you feel worse, such as feeling depressed when going to the gym and seeing all the fit bodies, try something else like exercising at home which can also be cheaper. See my post on “One simple secret and 9 ways to stick with an exercising or diet routine”.

 

(e) Maintenance of muscle and bone mass.[9] You don’t have to be a body builder to be interested in this. As we age we naturally loose muscle and bone mass from as early as our 30s (have you noticed older people having a lot of incidents of bone fractures and taking ages to recover?). Exercising and therefore, stimulation of the muscle and bone structure helps the body build and keep muscle and bone mass for two main reasons. Firstly, as you exercise and strain your muscles, your body realises that it has to do something to keep up and so it “destroys” (to an extent) the weak muscle and builds stronger muscles in order to cope. Ladies, note that stronger muscle does not mean bigger muscle so don’t worry about exercising and weight lifting, size depends on protein and carbohydrate intake.

Secondly, it is also possible that as our body ages it assumes that it doesn’t need to have the same amount of muscle and bone structure as we do not use it as much. As you exercise you stimulate your body’s need to keep the muscle and bone structure intact, a bit like saying “hey I still need this”. And remember that muscles are not for weight lifting only. Every movement we make, including smiling, is due to muscle activity. Having healthy and fit muscles should not be just for those aspiring to be physically strong.

(f) Improved physical appearance. Well let’s face it as shallow as it might be, we all want a nice and fit body. And why shouldn’t we? We should always strive to be the best we can be. Exercising can give you the extra boost of feeling good about yourself because you look good. Clothes will fit nicer, people will compliment and possibly be jealous and summer holidays will be looked forward to as happy events not dreaded moments. Beyond all the physical and mental health benefits there are some serious “happiness benefits” from being physically fit. Just think of that freedom of being able to rock anything you wear…

 

However, while we are aware of the benefits of exercise, the molecular mechanisms of how exactly exercise, or different types of exercise, help are still mostly unknown.  Recent studies have shown that there is cross-talk between organs during exercise, where proteins, enzymes, peptides and other important molecules, that affect our metabolism, are released from one organ to affect the activity of another.[1] Interestingly, such studies support the concept of “exercise as medicine”.[1] An example of such cross-talk was observed during muscle contractions between the bone-muscle-liver axis regulating the nutrient supply and demand.[3]

The benefits of exercise are almost countless. This is just a short list to get you going. There are peer-reviewed research papers published on the matter constantly, from scientists across many disciplines (physicians, endocrinologists, chemists, biologists, sport scientists, psychologists etc) and all researchers agree that in one way or another that exercise is positive. This is one of those rare subjects where debate is not an option. From a scientific point of view, it is so beautiful to see so many disciplines agree and offer evidence to each other. There are no opposing researchers on the matter. No professional will debate that sitting on the sofa all day and eating takeaways will keep you happy and healthy.

The evidence that exercise and health go hand on hand is undeniable. Whether you are interested or concerned about your physical or mental health or both, exercise can be your preventative medicine. You control this treatment, so what are you waiting for?

If you need a quick plan to start and some tips on how to keep going check out my post on “One simple secret and 9 steps to sticking with a fitness or diet regime“.

 

References:

  1. http://doi.org/10.1038/nrendo.2016.218
  2. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(02)00849-5
  3. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2016.05.025
  4. http://doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c110025
  5. http://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.051351
  6. http://doi.org/10.1002/art.10907
  7. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-essr/Citation/1990/01000/Effect_of_Exercise_on_Depression.16.aspx
  8. http://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2014.4930
  9. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/2672435