Most of us know that we should take regular exercise to maintain and even improve our health. After all, the world we live in is full of gyms, gadgets and online platforms designed to help get us active. These are all great, but what are the real benefits of exercise?
1. It can make you feel happy
Exercise has been shown to improve mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. It can even alter the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression.
Additionally, exercise can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain.
As an individual who suffers from depression, I know this for a fact. When I am struggling and all my internal organs feel like they are shaking, there is nothing like taking my bike to the biggest hill and cycling up it as fast as I possibly can. This may only take 10 minutes but it’s an instant cure.
2. It can help with weight loss
To understand the effect of exercise on weight reduction, it is important to understand the relationship between exercise and energy expenditure. Your body spends energy in three ways: digesting food, exercising and maintaining body functions like your heartbeat and breathing.
While dieting, a reduced calorie intake will lower your metabolic rate, which will delay weight loss. On the contrary, regular exercise has been shown to increase your metabolic rate, which will burn more calories and help you lose weight.
Additionally, studies have shown that combining aerobic exercise with resistance training can maximize fat loss and muscle mass maintenance, which is essential for keeping the weight off.
As a personal trainer I insist that people do resistance (weights) work if they are looking to lose weight. It burns more calories, can increase your metabolism for a much longer period and can also be a lot less boring than pounding on a treadmill for hours and hours.
3. It is good for your muscles and bones
Physical activity like weight lifting can stimulate muscle building when paired with adequate protein intake. This is because exercise helps release hormones that promote your muscle’s ability to absorb amino acids, which helps them grow and reduces their breakdown.
As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to injuries and disabilities. Practicing regular physical activity is essential to reduce muscle loss and maintain strength as you age. Also, exercise helps build bone density when you're younger, in addition to helping prevent osteoporosis later in life.
It can be beneficial to increase impact into a workout. This has not only been proved to speed up weight loss but to increase bone density. I always include boxing pad work with clients to increase bone density in wrists, elbows, neck and shoulders, vital areas that are often forgotten.
4. It can increase your energy levels
Exercise can be a real energy booster for healthy people, as well as those suffering from various medical conditions. One study found that six weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 healthy people who had reported persistent fatigue (TW Puetz 2008). Furthermore, structured exercise programmes such as graded exercise therapy (GET) can increase energy levels for people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (NHS 2017).
5. It can reduce your risk of chronic disease
Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity cardiovascular fitness and body composition and decrease blood pressure and blood fat levels.
In contrast, a lack of regular exercise - even in the short term - can lead to significant increases in belly fat, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and early death.
This to me is the one main point that I have to ask people, why wouldn’t you exercise?
6. It can help skin health
Your skin can be affected by the amount of oxidative stress in your body.
Oxidative stress occurs when the body's antioxidant defences cannot completely repair the damage that free radicals cause to cells. This can damage their internal structures and deteriorate your skin. The good news is that exercise reduces the amount of free radicals in the skin through providing more oxygen to cells.
7. It can help your brain health and memory
Exercise can improve brain function and protect memory and thinking skills. To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. It can also stimulate the production of hormones that can enhance the growth of brain cells.
Moreover, the ability of exercise to prevent chronic disease can translate into benefits for your brain, since its function can be affected by these diseases. Exercise has been shown to cause the hippocampus, a part of the brain that's vital for memory and learning, to grow in size. This serves to increase mental function in older adults.
One of my personal training clients is a stunt double in the film industry. She has long fight scenes to remember so we work a lot on long sequences of exercises to improve her cognitive function as well as her tone and strength, vital aspects of her fitness.
8. It can help with relaxation and sleep quality
In regards to sleep quality, the energy depletion that occurs during exercise stimulates recuperative processes during sleep. One study found that 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week can provide up to a 65% improvement in sleep quality.
The bottom line
Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health and wellbeing from the inside out. Regular physical activity can increase the production of hormones that make you feel happier and help you sleep better. It can also improve your skin's appearance, help you lose weight (and keep it off), and lessen the risk of chronic disease.
Whether you practice a specific sport or follow the guideline of 150 minutes of activity per week, you will inevitably improve your health in many ways.
Written by: Neil Hussey
Neil Hussey has been a personal trainer and gym consultant since 2003 following a degree in Sport Science and Corporate Finance. Helping people understand their body, as well as all the confusing messages about health and fitness, is a real passion for Neil. Having worked within the corporate sector Neil also understands how hard it can be to find time to exercise and the affects our day-to-day life has on our body.