Many of us think of exercise as a weight loss tool. And that’s partially true. However, exercise has so many benefits beyond simply losing weight. Some of the benefits include increasing circulation, improving blood pressure, improving or reversing type 2 diabetes, improving blood markers which can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, improving our mood and our sleep, balancing our hormones, improving our relationship with food, preventing osteoporosis, preventing Alzheimer, improving our learning ability and even preventing many types of cancer. Being active and doing regular exercise can help us age gracefully and also improves our cognitive function — even with just a single dose of exercise.
Most of us probably know many of these positive benefits that we can get with regular exercise, however we wait to start exercising until we really need it, either for losing weight or because the doctor suggested that we should.
Exercise itself is a stress, and our body’s organs adapt to the stressor by improving their capacity. For example, muscles demand oxygen and our cardiovascular systems adapt and improve to be able to supply more oxygen to the muscles that we are working. Similarly when our bones experience forces the skeletal muscles adapt. During exercise the body releases chemicals called endorphins which will reduce our perception of pain. It’s these endorphins that make you us rewarded and relaxed after exercise, so even if we’re suffering from pain it may feel much less after some activity. That’s why exercise is also so beneficial for depression and anxiety too.
In the US the average number of steps that adults take each day is around 4500, which is considered to be a sedentary lifestyle. Why is this important? I mentioned many of the benefits above, and I probably still missed many other benefits too. But without any form of regular exercise you are missing out on all of these.
Studies show that physical activity, especially in the years leading up to our midlife, is associated with a lower risk of dementia. However, even if you start to exercise later in your life you can greatly reduce symptoms and still can improve dementia and cognitive function.
Did you know that exercise also affects productivity? For example, if you go out for half an hour walk or do some other activity before you start work in the morning then you will find that you will probably be much more positive during the day and work much more efficiently. Although, if you perform high intensity exercises such as heavy weightlifting or you push your limits and increase your heart rate then probably you will not be so productive after the exercise. So understanding timing, intensity and duration is important and you can use this as if you were biohacking the brain. For example, if you have an important meeting that you need to be sharp and focused for then you could do a high intensity training session 24 hours before, and you’ll be seeing the benefits of that the next day. And yes, even just one single session of exercise can have benefits.
So we shouldn’t just focus on weight loss, instead we should be thinking of which physiological benefits we can get. Up to now not one single study has shown that being physically active and doing regular moderate exercise is not beneficial for humans.
And some good news to finish — whatever your physical level, and no matter how old you are, you can still improve and do something to bring positive change. Think day by day and do something each day, even just ten minutes a day, and you will definitely feel better.
Ayda Ersoy is a nutritionist (Dip.C.N., Dip.S.N.); master trainer (CPT ACE, NCSF, CanfitPro); registered yoga teacher; founder, Health Angel Nutrition, Fitness and Wellness; and founder, SMS (Stability, Mobility Strength) Intuitive Training System.