Anyone who exercises regularly will joyfully tell you all about the benefits of exercise whether you want to hear it or not. As someone who falls into the active category, when someone asks me about exercise I will waste no time in telling them how much I love it, how great it feels, and why everyone needs to MOVE! It’s not because I think everyone should look a certain way, its not because I think everyone should act a certain way and I certainly don’t believe in a 1 size fits all, everyone should run, or lift, or bike, etc. It’s because I want everyone to feel as great as I do; as strong, happy, confident, and positive. I want the people I care about to have a chance at a high quality of life and one of the best ways to do that is to move your body, to sweat, to raise your heart rate, and to engage in things that help you achieve both tangible and intangible goals. Do I think exercise is a cure all for what ails you? Definitely not, but it will help.
When you think about the benefits of exercise, most people think about the big external changes like weight loss or muscle definition and we forget to think about how exercise can change us in the small, incremental ways that add up to big gains. When we only consider external benefits, we can easily get discouraged by the lack of fast results and we fail to realize that on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis, we are benefiting from consistent physical activity.
What kind of changes can you look forward to when you start a new exercise program? What are some things you need to take into account to truly appreciate your fitness journey? We all know that the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is usually inevitable after an extended period of inactivity, or after we ramp up the intensity of our workouts but how can exercise change us physiologically, psychologically, and how can exercise improve our quality of life? How can exercise affect us internally and externally? What are the short term and long term benefits of exercise?
This handy and informative timeline of your body responding to exercise will give you a more detailed look into the how but generally when you exercise you can:
- Lower your Blood Pressure
- Lower your Blood Sugar
- Improve Bone Density
- Increase your Metabolism
- Improve your Sleep
- Elevate your Mood and Regulate Emotions
- Increase your Self-Confidence
- Boost your Brain Power
- Increase your Energy
During exercise, your systolic blood pressure increases to keep up with the activity that is taking place, where your heart is now pumping out more blood to keep up with your oxygen usage. This rise in blood pressure is totally normal and once you go back to a resting state, your blood pressure will decrease; the faster your blood pressure decreases the healthier you are. If you’ve been in a workout class, you’ll notice some people bounce right back after a set and some people spend their rest period trying to get themselves off the ground. This process of increasing and decreasing your blood pressure leads to short term benefits like increased alertness. In the long term, it can help regulate your blood pressure so you decrease your risk of heart disease.
*if you have or are at risk of heart disease (high/low blood pressure, etc…talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program)
Exercise is an important factor in the prevention of and treatment of diabetes. Consistent exercise lowers your body’s sensitivity to insulin and lowers your blood sugar level. When you exercise, your body burns your reserves of sugar stored in your muscles and liver and once they use that up, your body will replenish your stores with sugar from your blood. The more intense your workout, the lower your blood sugar will go. In my experience, after a rigorous hot yoga session, I often need to get to the nearest source of sugar in order to replenish what I’ve lost. You can easily go to far so if you are someone who falls into either end of the blood sugar spectrum you should first consult with your doctor, pack a snack in your exercise bag, and monitor your blood sugar before you exercise as well as after.
In addition to lowering your blood sugar, exercise can help reduce your risk of complications from diabetes and if you are someone who is at-risk of type 2 diabetes (for example women with PCOS), exercise can help prevent you from getting it altogether; (combined with a healthy diet of course).
Improves Bone Density
Weight bearing exercises improve bone density by forcing your body to adapt to the increased pressure by building more bone (becoming denser). You need to back up your exercise program with adequate nutrition to support this process so consuming enough calcium and vitamin D also play a key role in optimal bone health.
Increase Your Metabolism
Metabolism is the process of turning your food into fuel and how well your metabolism works will determine how efficiently you process the calories you consume. Most of your energy is burned at rest, every organ in your body uses your metabolism to keep it functioning. Your major organs use about half of your resting energy and your digestive system and your muscles use most of the other half. Your Basal Metabolic Rate (resting rate) accounts for over 60% of your energy burned and exercise or general activity burns between 10-30%. Your Basal Metabolic Rate depends on a variety of factors like age, gender (for women-the luteal phase), genetics, and how much lean muscle you have.
Unfortunately for cardio aficionados, the calorie burn you get from hours on the treadmill is actually a less efficient means of burning calories in the long run than strength training. Building lean muscle can have a direct influence on your basal metabolic rate because your muscles use energy even when you’re sitting on the sofa. Once you step off the treadmill though, your body is pretty well done burning energy. This is because the process of building muscle causes your muscles to tear and repair; after a strength training session, when you go back to your desk, your muscles will be using your energy stores to repair themselves. This is why, when you start lifting weights, you might find your food consumption increases.
If you are trying to lose weight, strength training will give you a major boost but if you over restrict your calorie intake you can actually work against yourself, slowing down your metabolism.
Improve Your Sleep
There are studies that show that regular exercise can improve sleep quality, can decrease insomnia and that a lack of exercise can actually induce insomnia. There are 3 main theories that explain the exercise-sleep relationship; core temperature change, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, can reset your internal clock.
It’s no secret that many people’s mind will flip into hyper-drive when its time to lay down and get some rest, this can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety that can prevent people from falling asleep and staying asleep. Regular exercise can mitigate these symptoms through the release of endorphins which helps us think positive thoughts.
When you exercise, your body heats up, afterwards, at rest, it cools down; this process is similar to what your body does when you go to sleep. Thus your body will be triggered hen its time to wind down, to go to sleep.
Finally, studies suggest that when we are inactive, our circadian rhythm can be off, regular exercise can reset that internal clock, helping us get to sleep faster.
A lack of exercise has been linked to many factors of poor health like insomnia, stress, and the effects of ageing.
Rarely does exercise cause insomnia unless you exercise too close to bedtime since the endorphins you release after exercise pumps you up and it takes some time to settle down afterwards.
Elevates Your Mood and Regulates Emotions
This is an easy one, exercise releases those super charged endorphins which has the power to make us happy, reduce irritability, and think positive thoughts. This is my favourite, most direct and immediate effect of exercise.
For those who may have difficulty regulating their emotions, exercise can be a powerful tool to help you deal with stressful situations in a constructive manner. Stepping away from the biochemical reactions we have to exercise, exercise can help focus your brain and provide a sense of accomplishment. Each time you make it through a workout is an accomplishment, kind of like the good feeling you get when you complete your ‘to do’ list for the day.
Exercise can help you better navigate negative emotions and stressful situations so that you react more constructively to difficult situations.
Increase your Self-Confidence
Yesterday, I added 10 lbs to my back squat; I stared at the bar with determination, but at the same time questioning how this progression was going to feel, how many reps could I do at this weight, could I get to 10 reps, was I going to break form and hurt myself, would I have sore muscles the next day (YUP!)? I gripped the bar, got under it and lifted it off the rack, and got to work. Here is reenactment of what my brain goes through during a progression in weight: “Squat 1..ok this is heavy, Squat 2, my stance feels wrong..slight adjustment, there’s the sweet spot, Squat 3,4,5,6 I got this, Squat 7,8, this is tough, can I get 2 more? Squat 9…grunt…I can do it, Squat 10, mother of mercy…its over, I did it! “
Training people is one of the most rewarding jobs because when you’ve been working with a client and they successfully do something that they weren’t able to do when they started, their joy is contagious and the victory is mutual. “That’s the first time I did 10 plank jacks without stopping” Victory! “I went from a 5lb to a 44lb Goblet squat in a year!” Victory! “I feel so great after working out with you!” VICTORY! These accomplishments help you gain confidence in the gym but that can translate to other parts of your life. When things seem hard you know it’s temporary and you can get through it. When you exercise you build physical and mental strength and determination.
Boosts Your Brain Power
Exercise makes your blood flow stronger sending nutrients to your brain to help it do its job. If you’ve ever had a difficult situation and solved it while in downward dog or pounding the pads, you’re not alone. Exercise increases alertness and improves cognitive function. You can have brains and brawn!
Improves your Quality of Life
If you haven’t figured it out yet, exercise has the power to greatly improve your quality of life. From preventing and treating disease, relieving symptoms of insomnia, anxiety and depression, to boosting you intellect, energy, and self-confidence; exercise is something that all able body humans should engage in. Perhaps it will require some trial and error to find a way you enjoy moving, but you owe it to yourself to get up and move consistently. Being able to exercise is a privilege and one you should not take lightly, it is a celebration of what your body can do and you should be proud of yourself for moving no matter how fast or strong you are today.
Rewiring our brains to include daily movement as a fundamental part of the day is no easy task but prioritizing our health has a tangible, long lasting, and deeply beneficial effect on our quality of life.
*MoFitness does not offer nutrition or medical advice, all information above is from research done for the purpose of this blog post and is in no way meant to replace medical advice from a doctor.