Exercise: Benefits

We’ve all heard that exercise is good for us and that it will help us live longer, healthier lives; but what does that mean? What happens if we don’t exercise and how does our body change when we do?

First, science

The most obvious effect of not exercising is our bodies burn fewer calories causing us to gain weight. Gaining and losing some weight throughout the year isn’t a big deal, but according to the National Institutes of Health, being overweight can lead to an array of problems from type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease (CVD), sleep apnea, cancer, as well as a host of other diseases.

Not exercising means our muscles will atrophy and our bones will get weaker. Smaller and weaker muscles aren’t as efficient at processing fats and sugars which will exacerbate our risk of weight gain and diabetes. Forcing our muscles to work harder to do the same task will increase our risk of high blood pressure and CVD. Weaker bones coupled with excess weight and weaker muscles means our risk of bone fractures increases.

In other words, not exercising has a spectrum of risks associated with it. Further, each consequence of not exercising exacerbates the risk factors of other consequences. Thankfully, exercise works the same way to reduce those risks, every benefit reinforcing and complementing another benefit.

Fat loss

Exercise helps our body use the excess body fat we’re carrying around. When we exercise, our body releases hormones that trigger fat stores to be released into the blood. From the blood, it is taken up by the muscles where a small amount is stored and the rest is used in aerobic energy production.

Being overweight is linked to a wide range of health issues. Having more body mass means our hearts have to work harder to move our blood around our body, raising our blood pressure. Being overweight is linked to higher levels of cholesterol and blood sugar which can lead to diabetes and heart disease. Combine these risks and we’ve upped our chances of having a stroke or heart attack significantly. Carrying too much weight around puts extra stress on our bodies leading to osteoarthritis and joint injury.

Coupled with a balanced diet, exercise can reduce the amount of fat in our body and ameliorate the risks of being overweight.

Cardiovascular and respiratory health

Aerobic exercise is often called cardio because of how beneficial it is for our cardiovascular system. Our body’s immediate response to exercise and exertion is to increase breathing and blood flow to supply our muscles with the oxygen needed for energy production. An array of hormones are also released into the body regulating a host of body functions such as blood-sugar levels and water retention.

If we make aerobic exercise a regular part of our life, our bodies will begin to adapt in other ways. We’ll produce new capillaries to supply our muscles with more oxygen. Our muscle cells will begin to change, producing more mitochondria to allow greater efficiency in processing those new sources of oxygen. And as our hearts increase in strength, our resting blood pressure will drop, even though the volume of our blood has increased.

Mental health

It’s long been known that any type of exercise is good for our mental health. Some psychiatrists even prescribe exercise for their patients with depression. Researchers have also found that exercise can be used to treat and prevent anxiety. No one is really sure how exercise does this but some theories suggest it could be increased serotonin levels or improved sleep. The best part is, the positive effects on mental health are both acute and chronic, that is, there is an immediate effect and a long-term one.

So now we know that exercise is good for us, next time we’re going to look at what we need to be doing to get those benefits.