Exercise: The Amazing Health Benefits

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. Combine all the topics discussed at Back to Basics, and you can create a holistic approach to your health. If you eat, sleep, and drink well, your exercising will be far more enjoyable. 7+ Hours of sleep, drinking half your bodyweight in (oz) of water, a well balanced whole food based diet, are a few health habits I am consistently teaching. With these intact, your workouts will become dynamic.

According to the CDC, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate- intense aerobic physical activity each week. The CDC also recommends children to get an hour a day. Aerobic exercises include walking, running, swimming, skating, biking, etc. Moderate exercise can be simplified to an activity where you can still hold a conversation. With that said, the best way to reach these minimums is to start somewhere. These guidelines are a good beginning point to help protect yourself against chronic diseases. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t achieving these guidelines- everyone is different. The perfect place to start is exactly where you are. I am a large advocate of combining lifting and cardio, I think both are necessary to gain the largest health benefits. 

Walking everyday is an amazing health habit to create. Even if you can run a couple of miles, building walking into your day will have long lasting benefits in your life. “Walking is a great way to get the physical activity needed to obtain health benefits. Walking does not require any special skills. It also does not require a gym membership or expensive equipment. A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve sleep, memory, and the ability to think and learn. It also reduces anxiety symptoms.” (CDC). I use the CDC as a guideline to give a basic measurement. I personally believe people should be active an hour everyday whatever it may be. People stress over vigorous exercising when in reality health and wellness can be achieved through consistent enjoyable movement. 

I recently finished a book called Spark by John J. Ratey, MD. The following benefits draw heavily from his book, and I recommend reading it to better understand the benefits of exercise. There are serious advantages to truly believing in something the mind is a powerful tool for healing and improving health.

Here are five benefits of exercise:

  1. Brain function

 Exercise can help our brains function optimally. Our brains are able to change over time; better known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity can be simplified as the brain’s ability to change and create new connections. This means throughout our life we possess the ability to make new memories and learn new skills. Exercising can create new conditions for our brain to learn from and put ourselves in challenging situations. One way to utilize this science is to learn new movements and challenge yourself on a daily basis. 

In the book Spark, Ratey explains that “In addition to priming our state of mind, exercise influences learning directly, at the cellular level, improving the brain’s potential to log in and process new information”. The Back to Basics explanation of how exercising is great for your brain is that exercise stimulates natural chemicals in your brain that trigger positive emotions, and creates potential for synapses. Working out in the morning is a great idea because it helps our brain receive the stimulation needed to function at a high level throughout the day. 

  1. Reduces Stress/ Anxiety 

Stress can be a factor in chronic diseases and can drain people’s energy. While exercise is technically a stressor, it builds our resilience to stress. In the book Spark,Ratey emphasizes the ability of exercise to overcome future stressful situations. “Exercise controls the emotional and physical feelings of stress, and it also works at the cellular level”  (Ratey & Hagerman, 2013).  In a more scientific sense, “Neurons get broken down and built up just like muscles- stressing them makes them more resilient.” Think of exercise as training for stress. When exercise is done properly, our heart rate will increase, body temperature will rise, and our breathing will be compromised. These are the many side effects of stress. Through exercise we will condition our body to properly react to stressful encounters. Exercise is also important for learning proper ways to breath. Nasal breathing should be the default method, and mouth breathing can be strategically used to create tension. Nasal breathing calms down the body and this type of controlled breathing signals to the brain that we have everything under control, even if we don’t. 

 In regards to anxiety, exercise creates similar benefits to the previously mentioned stress reducing abilities. “The majority of studies show that aerobic exercise significantly alleviates symptoms of any anxiety disorder. But exercise also helps the average person reduce normal feelings of anxiousness” (Ratey & Hagerman, 2013). On top of the neurochemical benefits exercise creates, exercise is a healthy distraction to things that may be going on in your life. People find escapes from “reality” in various physical activities and sports. To highlight some of the processes exercise stimulates in the brain, Ratey describes the function of the brain. “Exercise increases serotonin and norepinephrine both in the moment and over the long term” (Ratey & Hagerman, 2013). Once again, exercise teaches your brain and body how to react to stress induced situations as well as creating a balanced level of neuro chemicals in your brain.

  1. Improves aging 

Improving aging refers to delaying the aging process. As humans age we lose muscle mass, bone density, and cognitive ability. Weight lifting and aerobic exercise can strengthen your muscles, increase your bone density, and optimize your brain function. In regards to bone density, women who are more susceptible to osteoporosis, should prioritize strength training in addition to cardio. (Ratey & Hagerman, 2013). Exercising also decreases the likelihood of obesity, which perpetuates many chronic diseases like hypertension, and heart disease. We now know that exercising has major benefits for our brain, and this extends to improving aging. There is a growing body of literature pointing towards exercise and its ability to help delay cognitive decline, and potentially dementia. (Lautenschlager et al., 2011)

  1. Improves heart health 

Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer for men and women in the United States. “Inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased cardiovascular events and premature death” (Agarwal S. K. et al., 2012). They said it, not me. If it is an unarguable fact that exercise can help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, then we as a population should be promoting physical activity regularly. We all have our connection and inner circle, it is up to all of us to spread positive information. By encouraging our loved ones to exercise, we can have an immediate impact on our nation’s health crisis.  

  1. Improves quality of life 

There are thousands of reasons why physical activity improves quality of life. From experience, it creates a sense of accomplishment and a rush of energy. The blood gets pumping and our brain is flooded with amazing neurochemicals that have lasting benefits. In addition to the feeling, it can help with your weight. 

Exercising can help you maintain a healthy body weight. It can also stimulate fat loss. When cardio and strength training are combined, we can gain the largest weight management benefits. This happens through building more muscle and losing fat, a winning recipe for long term weight management.

In 2018, the Department of Health & Human Services sent out a scientific report to the public stating  “A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve that night’s sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms, improve cognition, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin sensitivity on the day that it is performed. Most of these improvements become even larger with the regular performance of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.” I’ll take one bout of exercise please and thank you. It is free and consistent compared to band aid fix like drugs. 

Solutions, Ideas

  • Recess for highschoolers. There should be an hour of the day dedicated to exercising however people want to. The school’s job should be to educate and provide opportunities
  • Give greater benefits to workers who utilize a gym membership. Health insurance can incentivize people to go to the gym by providing more discounts to gyms, clubs, etc.
  • 30 minutes a day keeps the doctor away. Find something you enjoy and do it often. End the stigma of exercise being stressful, start somewhere and build on it. 

Citations

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/.

Lautenschlager, N. T., Cox, K., & Cyarto, E. V. (2011, July 24). The influence of exercise on brain aging and dementia. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Molecular Basis of Disease. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925443911001633.

Ratey, J. J., & Hagerman, E. (2013). Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Little, Brown.Agarwal S. K. (2012). Cardiovascular benefits of exercise. International journal of general medicine, 5, 541–545. https://doi.org/10.2147/IJGM.S30113

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