When I hear people talking about losing weight, they talk about their diet and the class they take at the gym. Their exercise is a major part of this process, and so it should be. However, the benefits of exercise extend far beyond just weight loss and getting that beach body for the summer. When you look into what are the benefits of physical activity is becomes obvious why exercise is important.
Exercise helps you sleep better, improves your mood and makes you live longer. It improves your skin, boosts your immune system and reduces stress and just generally increases your quality of life. In fact, studies have found that exercise actually matched drugs as a form of treatment for heart disease, stroke and pre-diabetic patients. Everyone benefits from regular exercise, no matter your ability, starting fitness level, age or sex.
If you’ve been telling yourself that you’ll start exercising next week or later or tomorrow, now is the time to stop putting it off. The only better day than today to start exercising is yesterday. This article will tell you why exercise is important and why exercise is good for you. Hopefully, it'll give you that nudge you need to get started now.
Things to Consider Before You Start
When you start an exercise routine, you have consider the three main elements of working out:
- Aerobic capacity
- Strength and resistance training
You should include all of these in your workout programme. They're all important, but you can vary the ratios depending on what you want to achieve. If you want to build muscle and strength, increase the resistance training. If you want to cut fat, increase the aerobic exercises.
Stretching and flexibility are vital to make sure that you get a full range of motion during your exercises and that you don’t get hurt. Believe me, when you pull a muscle because you didn’t stretch and you can’t work out for the next couple of week, you feel pretty annoyed with yourself.
Aerobic exercises improve the health of your heart and lungs. Aerobic exercise is continuous, rhythmic physical activity that you maintain over time. It's also often referred to as cardio. If you’re just starting out with cardio exercise, start with doing something for 5 minutes and work up from there.
Strength and resistance training is anything involving weights. It’s muscle building exercises that are done by using your strength to overcome some resistance, such as lifting a heavy weight or pulling against a weight. It also improves your cardiovascular health and the muscles made help increase your resting metabolic rate.
Exercise for Weight Loss and Weight Control
Ok, let’s get this one out of the way first. Physical exercise is important if you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight. In a very over-simplified way, weight changes by altering the ratio of calories in against calories out. So physical activity that burns calories allows you to either lose weight or eat more without putting weight on. Now, we all know that there is way more too it than that, but this is not the post to dissect that matter.
Exercising to lose weight also does not have to mean that you move in at your local gym and run 9 hours a day on the treadmill. Changing simple things in your every day life will help. Try walking to nearby places instead of driving. Even taking stairs instead of the lift is enough to make a difference. You also don’t have to do it all at once. If you aim to walk an extra 5km a day, you can take a walk in the morning, another on your lunch break and a third in the evening to make up the distance and it still counts.
Cardiovascular Benefits of Exercise
All exercise is going to benefit your heart, but aerobic exercise is especially good for your heart and lung capacity. When you exercise, your body requires more oxygen to be used in order to function at an higher level of performance. This means that you need to breathe in more air and that your heart has to pump more blood around your body.
Your heart is a muscle as well as an organ. By regularly pushing it to work harder, you’re making it stronger. Exercise forces the heart to beat harder, pushing more blood through your body. This causes changes in the way your heart works, even when it's resting, resulting in a stronger heart and reduced risk of disease.
Physical activity benefits your overall heart health by strengthening the heart itself, by lowering the “bad” cholesterol (LDL - Low Density Lipoprotein) and increasing the amount of “good” cholesterol (HDL - High Density Lipoprotein) in your body and by lowering your blood pressure. These things all lead to a happy, healthy heart.
Exercise Effect On Type II Diabetes
Exercise helps with Type II diabetes as it increases insulin sensitivity and increases your body's ability to metabolise glucose. Muscles absorb glucose as an energy source, so having more muscle tissue means you have naturally lower blood sugar.
A build up of fat in the body interferes with its ability to transport glucose between tissues. This also blocks insulin's activity in the body. Exercising reduces overall body fat, therefore allows both glucose transport and insulin activity to happen normally. When you are exercising, your muscles contract much more often and your body produces enzymes that break down the fat blocking glucose transport.
Benefits of Exercise for your Bones
Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease of the bones. It causes small holes in the bone, making them weaken and is usually an illness of old age. It can also be a side effect of long term steroid use. Weight training and weight bearing exercises such as walking and climbing, increase bone density. This protects the bones from weakening and wasting as we age. So never think you’re too old to pick up the weights. It’s actually better for you as you get older.
Improved Flexibility and Strength
Weight training especially is good for strengthening your muscles, tendons and ligaments, as well as your bones. Improving your muscle strength has a whole bunch of side effects too, such as improving your posture, balance and co-ordination and giving you a more toned look.
When you do weight training though, make sure you don't forget to stretch! Building muscles results in your muscles getting bigger and stronger, but also tighter. I've found this to be true in my own training when I let stretching slide a bit. As my strength went up, my flexibility has gone down and I'm now having to work at getting it back to where it was.
Stretching and flexibility training can be a workout in its own right as well as being an important part of every day workouts. It helps avoid injuries, when done correctly, like everything else, and makes sure that your body gets its full range of motions so that you can perform your exercises properly with good form. It also improves how you function with every day movements. For example, stretching out your hip flexers gives you a better kick off for skateboarding as you have a bigger range of motion to push through.
You’ll Sleep Better After Exercise
Our bodies run on an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. This clock is controlled by hormone cycles that tell our bodies when to be active and when to be asleep. Exercising at certain times of the day, usually in the morning, helps to regulate these hormone cycles and make sure you have a good night’s sleep when you go to bed. In fact, exercise plays a huge role in hormone production and you’d be surprised at the ways it affects your sleep.
As well as helping you to fall asleep, exercise helps to improve the quality of your sleep. This is significantly more important that the number of hours you spend in bed or even asleep. If your sleep is interrupted or you spend the whole night in light sleep instead of REM of deep sleep, this is worse for you then getting less hours of high quality sleep. Regulating your hormone cycles with exercise makes sure that your sleep cycles are more regular as well.
However, if you exercise too close to bed time, it can have the opposite effect. Your body releases hormones such as endorphins and adrenaline that give you more energy and will keep you awake for a while longer.
Physical Activity Boosts Your Immune System
Exercising regularly is a natural boost to your immune system. It improves your circulation so the immune cells in your blood are healthier and get around your body more efficiently. This means you get ill less often and you're more able to fight off disease when something does get in. A study in the US showed that those who did regular physical activity were 50% less likely to get colds during the winter months. When they did get sick, the cold was less severe and lasted, on average, just 5 days as opposed to the 9 that those who didn’t exercise endured.
If you’re looking after your body and exercising often, your body will be functioning well. Therefore, it’s not using energy to optimise processes that aren’t working properly. It can spare the extra energy to boost your immune system whenever you do pick up a bug.
The caveat to this, however, is that if you over exercise, you’re then more likely to pick up small infections like colds because your body is using extra energy to recover from workouts that it’s not ready to handle yet. Make sure you take your rest to let your efforts be absorbed by your body. Otherwise, you’re doing all the work and not seeing the benefits.
I’m particularly sensitive to this in that whenever I change my workout or start something new, I get a cold. It happens every time and I end up being out for a week at least. I have to be careful when introducing a new workout to take a week to build up to it. For a little while, I only work out every other day so that my body adjusts to the change in intensity expected from it before I go into the new routine fully.
Energy Levels Increase With Regular Exercise
Although it seems counterintuitive, exercising actually increases your energy levels. Despite the fact that exercising uses energy, it reduces general fatigue over time. A group of people tested for this proved that low intensity exercise is the best thing for when you feel tired. Over a period of 6 weeks, those doing regular low intensity exercise reported a 65% decrease in fatigue.
Taking a break through the day to work out can be a great way to boost your energy for finishing your day well. When you get to the point of the day where you start to lose concentration and you need a distraction, this is usually when people reach for the coffee or snack cupboard. If you take a walk instead or fit in a quick workout, it can give you that bit of a break and enough extra energy to get through the afternoon while avoiding the crash that inevitably comes from running out of caffeine or sugar in your blood. The post-exercise chemicals have a much better affect.
Exercise Improves Your Sex Life
A study published in Journal of the American Medical Association showed that sexual dysfunction is directly linked to both physical and mental health. As we now know, the health benefits of physical activity cover both the body and the mind. So what better way to make sure you’re physically and mentally healthy enough for great sex than to exercise? The reason for the physical benefits on sex are linked to the increased circulation from a more healthy heart. Erectile dysfunction is also correlated to an increase in weight so exercising to keep your weight down will help with this issue.
Further, the study tested the sexual response in women to watching an X-rated movie. It recorded blood flow to the genital tissue (don’t ask me how they did this!) and found that when the women cycled for 20 minutes before watching the video, their vaginas responded 169% more than if they did no exercise and watched the same video.
Exercising together as a couple is even more beneficial. It's something you can do together without other distractions like TV and mobile devices. You also experience the feel good chemicals that happen when you exercise together and your brain will associate them with spending time with your partner. As well as this, some friendly competition in the gym is always fun and you want a partner who's able to keep up with you physically.
It Just Generally Makes Life Better
If you’re physically fit, you'll find things in your everyday life just much easier. You're more able to climb the stairs to your office or apartment. Running around with your kids isn’t so tiring that you can’t play with them. Lifting and carrying things, like if you move house or go on holiday with an over packed case, isn't as difficult for a fit person. Life is easier when your body is fitter and healthier and functioning like it should.
If you think about exercise in this way, it helps make it fun and applicable. Setting exercise goals that relate to real life make them easier to obtain. For example, my fiancé aimed to be able to lift my bodyweight in all things in case we were ever in an emergency. He knew that if a building went on fire, he was capable of rescuing me. This didn't quite work the other way around, but we had some fun with me trying to drag him across the gym by one foot.
Now you know why exercise is important and some of the extensive health benefits of physical activity, it’s time to start exercising. The trick to it is to find something that you enjoy doing and start at your level. Don’t sign up to run a marathon if you’ve never run 5km before. Chances are, you’ll make yourself ill by doing too much and you might find out that you hate running and just spend the next few months being miserable and stressed out.
Find something that you look forward to doing, whether it’s weight lifting, running, yoga, swimming or just walking through the park with friends. You won’t stick to a plan that’s too hard and that you hate doing. Remember, exercise is fun and good for you, it’s not a form of torture designed for making people skinny.
If you need some help finding your perfect workout, hop on over to the Get Your Ultimate Body page and get in touch. I can help you find a fun workout that will give you everything you want from it.