Resolution Series: 10 Good Reasons to Exercise

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exerciseWe have reached the final chapter of our resolution series. Exercise should be an important part of everyone’s life, whether it is walking, yoga, swimming, playing sports or some other kind of movement.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is recommended that most adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of both. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t come close to exercising 21 minutes per day.

If you need a few reasons to exercise, here are 10 good ones.

1. More energy and better sleep: A common reason for not exercising is a lack of energy. This can be a tough hurdle to cross but once you get those first few workouts under your belt, it’s much easier to continue. Physical activity builds physical capacity, meaning that the more you exercise, the easier those same activities will be in the future. Adding physical activity into your daily life will also improve your energy levels by supporting healthy sleep. Regular exercise improves sleep quality and has been shown to improve even chronic insomnia. In addition, exercise can help the body adapt to changes in the sleep/wake schedule resulting from travel or shift work. Better sleep will lead to less daytime fatigue and greater energy reserves in your day-to-day life.

2. Pain management: A pre-existing injury or chronic pain can stop people from exercising. However if taking proper care, physical activity can reduce pain and the limitations that it may pose. Research shows that targeted stretching and strengthening exercises may help to prevent the occurrence of specific injuries altogether. (Remember to talk to your doctor before starting any fitness program.)

3. Immune workout: Research shoes that exercising 20 minutes per day has significant impacts on the strength and activity of the immune system. Increased immune surveillance reduces the risk of respiratory infections such as the common cold.

4. Brain building: Regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise over one’s lifespan reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease by as much as 40%. Exercising at least three times per week may cut the risk of dementia by 21%. While the connection between these conditions and exercise habits is not yet fully understood, physical activity is protective. Even without a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia, cognitive function tends to decline over the lifespan. Regular physical activity can preserve the ability to perform mental tasks such as recalling dates and locations over time. If you are noticing deficiencies in your memory, introduce a plan of moderate exercise to increase memory and benefit brain function.

5. Mood lifting: Simple but regular exercise strategies will support other key functions of the brain. Committing to an ongoing routine of physical activity can reduce your risk of developing depression. If depression has already been diagnosed, introducing regular activity may provide support to other care you may be receiving. The mood-balancing effects of exercise are thought to result from endorphins and other brain chemicals that are released during physical activity. If you are not clinically depressed but just feeling bogged down by the pressures of your daily life, you will also benefit from exercise. Physical activity provides many opportunities for the expression of frustrations and stresses as you run, pedal, and crunch your way to fitness. In addition, physical training actually changes the body’s response to psychological strain. Compared to their untrained counterparts, trained athletes have lower heart rates, decreased cortisol levels, and calmer mood states in the face of pressure. Blunting the stress response through activity may shield the body from the effects of chronic stress.

6. Quality (and quantity) of life: Aside from helping with specific issues such as depression and the management of life stressors, exercise has significant and positive effects on the overall health-related quality of our lives. There is research showing that the more time a person spends exercising in leisure time, the more likely they are to have better mental health, less pain, and a higher level of social functioning. Those who don’t exercise show comparable declines in these indicators of life quality. But the benefits don’t stop there: in addition to improving life quality, exercise contributes to longer life. Compared to mildly active adults, those who are highly active cut their risk of death from any cause by 22%. Increasing your moderate-intensity physical activity by just one hour per week will decrease your risk of death from all causes by 4%.

7. Heart health: The benefits of aerobic exercise to cardiovascular health are well documented, and a sedentary lifestyle is a known risk factor for heart attack and stroke. A recent study put this into perspective by demonstrating that owning both a car and a television increases the risk of heart attack by 27%. However, incorporating moderate physical activity into your life will significantly decrease the risk of heart attack or stroke by up to 63%. Many factors contribute to cardiovascular risk, but high blood pressure and elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol are known risk factors. Where pharmaceutical therapies such as beta blockers or statins will address one of these targets at a time, exercise can modify several factors simultaneously (however, don’t stop your medications without consulting your healthcare practitioner).

8. Cancer fighting:  Cancer does not discriminate and affects people of all ages and ethnicities. Nonetheless, some risk factors are within your control and may significantly decrease your risk of getting cancer. Exercise is one of these factors. Studies consistently show that exercise protects against many types of cancer.

9. Type II diabetes fighter: Aside from cardiovascular disease and cancer, regular workouts help to protect against other chronic diseases, such as diabetes. Type 2 or late-onset diabetes occurs when the body becomes insensitive to insulin, preventing glucose from entering the cells. Left untreated, the resulting high levels of sugar in the blood can lead to severe complications such as blindness, limb loss, and kidney failure. The goal of diabetic therapy is a reduction in blood sugar levels. Exercise can significantly reduce hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a standard measure of blood glucose control. This improvement may be caused by a renewed sensitivity of body cells to insulin. Physical activity also markedly decreases the risk of developing diabetes, by as much as 65% in some studies. It is interesting to note that the protective effect of exercise is not reliant upon weight loss: risk reduction is independent of body weight.

10. Weight loss: Although overall  health should be the reason we exercise, weight loss is probably the biggest drive to get ourselves moving. Find something you love to do and start doing it. Combined with a healthy, well-balanced diet, physical activity is an important part of a weight loss or maintenance program.

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023