We all know we should exercise, and we all know why (we think). Exercise helps with weight loss (i.e., fat loss), promotes greater muscle mass, boosts metabolism, and makes you feel better. There are, however, myriad benefits of exercise that go far beyond what first comes to mind — and some that may surprise you.
According to the CDC, the “evidence is clear,” that regular physical activity “fosters normal growth and development, can reduce the risk of various chronic diseases, and can make people feel better, function better, and sleep better. Some health benefits start immediately after the activity, and even short bouts of physical activity are beneficial.” Let’s take a look, then, at some of the important but less-well-known and highly life-impacting benefits of exercise.
1. Enhances muscle and bone health
You probably know that exercise is good for your muscles, but do you really know why increasing muscle mass is good for your health? Increased muscle mass means a faster metabolism, which in turn means easier weight management. With improved metabolic function, it becomes much easier to lose weight and to keep it off.
Progressive weight training is your best bet here. Strength training is the best form of exercise to help produce the hormones that allow muscles to absorb the amino acids that promote muscle repair and growth after exercise. This is one of the key benefits of strength training for the aging and elderly, because as we age we tend to lose muscle mass, which means loss of strength and a slower metabolism.
And exercise is also good for your bones — an important consideration for all of us as we age, but especially for women. Exercise can improve bone density and slow down the progression of osteoporosis, to which post-menopausal women are particularly susceptible. With respect to exercise and bone health, research has shown that activities like gymnastics, running, soccer, and basketball are more effective than very low-impact activities like cycling and swimming.
2. Increased energy
It may seem counterintuitive, but expending energy in exercise will give you more energy. Even when you are suffering from certain medical conditions, exercise can significantly elevate your energy levels.
One study tracked 36 otherwise healthy people who reported persistent feelings of fatigue. After just six weeks of regular exercise, these people reported decreased fatigue and increased energy. The study concluded that “low and moderate exercise” resulted in “beneficial effects on feelings of energy.”
In addition, exercise has energy-level benefits for people suffering from some chronic medical conditions. These include chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and progressive conditions such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, and cancer. Research has shown that exercise is more effective at counteracting CFS than many other therapies and treatments. And a review of studies/research found that exercise can be of some benefit in managing fatigue among people with health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, dementia, and AIDS.
3. Increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing
Not only can exercise make you physically healthier, but it can also increase feelings of happiness and a sense of well being by improving mood and lessening anxiety, depression, and stress. The primary mechanisms here are changes in areas of the brain where stress and anxiety are regulated and an increase in your brain’s sensitivity to serotonin and norepinephrine. But most important, exercise increases the production of endorphins, those feel-good substances in your brain that reduce the perception of pain and promote positive feelings. And the intensity of your workout or exercise session doesn’t seem to matter — the mood-elevating benefits of exercise are available regardless of the intensity or activity level.
Exercise can also help reduce the symptoms of people afflicted with anxiety, chiefly by helping them become more aware of their mental state so that they can better deal with the accompanying fears. Similarly, a study involving 24 women diagnosed with depression found that exercise markedly decreased their feelings of depression.
4. Reduced risk of chronic disease
It’s no secret that a sedentary lifestyle is a leading factor in our epidemic of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. In fact, sitting too much (which is unavoidable in some occupations) has been called “the new smoking.” It’s just that most of us aren’t aware of how much exercise can do to reduce the risk of these chronic diseases that can significantly alter our lifestyles.
Regular exercise, for example, can improve insulin sensitivity and slow development of belly fat, which are major factors in warding off type 2 diabetes. Exercise also helps reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering both blood pressure and blood fat levels.
5. Improved brain function and memory
Exercise not only improves emotional and bodily health, but it can also improve mental health by enhancing brain function and memory. This is a significant benefit for our aging population.
First, exercise elevates your heart rate, which increases blood flow and oxygen to your brain, and often stimulates production of certain hormones that can promote the growth of brain cells. Also, because exercise decreases the risk of chronic diseases, it indirectly improves brain function and memory because these diseases, especially cardiovascular disease and diabetes, adversely affect brain function.
Again, this is especially important for older adults because the cumulative effect of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress can cause changes in both brain structure and function. But the good news is that studies have shown that exercise can promote growth in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain essential for learning and memory.
6. Improved skin health
The oxidative stress mentioned above can severely damage your skin as well. When the antioxidant defenses in your body can’t counteract and repair cell damage caused by free radicals, the result is oxidative stress. When damage to your skin’s underlying structure becomes advanced enough, you can see it as damaged, loose, or crinkly skin.
Exercise, however, can increase the production of your body’s natural antioxidants, which helps combat the effects of oxidative stress and reduce the resulting damage. The increased blood flow, especially capillary flow, that exercise promotes also helps delay the onset of the appearance of aged skin.
But the trick is to exercise correctly, only moderately. Intense exercise and exhaustive physical activity can actually contribute to the skin-damaging oxidative stress.
7. Better sex life
One of the benefits of exercise likely to interest quite a few people is that it can boost your sex drive and improve your sex life. Exercise increases blood flow, strengthens the cardiovascular system, improves flexibility, and strengthens muscles — all of which mean improved performance and enhanced pleasure, as well as the ability to engage in sexual activity more frequently.
For example, researchers found that out of a group of 178 healthy men, those who exercised more hours per week had “higher sexual function scores.” Another study involving 78 sedentary but healthy men found “significantly greater sexuality enhancements” after a nine-month period in which the men exercised for 60 minutes a day, at least three days a week.
Another study revealed that women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome were able to increase their desire for and excitement during sex by engaging in 16 weeks of resistance training.
Reap the full benefits of exercise
It’s clear to see that the benefits of exercise are many and varied. But if you’re used to being more sedentary, how exactly do you get started, and what kind of exercise regimen is the safest and most beneficial for your unique situation?
For exercise design, better health, and weight-loss progress you can measure, we’ve got you covered at Quest Weight Loss. We’ll help you develop a plan that focuses first on safety, efficacy, and health benefits, with the four pillars of nutrition, hydration, exercise, and supplementation supporting your personalized program. It’s a custom-tailored program that gives you exactly what you need to succeed.
Are you ready to meet your weight-loss goals and start looking and feeling your best? Contact us today for your free consultation!