Reasons to exercise
It’s really no secret that exercise is good for you, but the benefits of staying active extend much further than just being good for your heart, lungs, and muscles. If you’re looking for a bit more motivation to break a sweat on a regular basis, here are some powerful and unexpected reasons to start getting active at any age.
Exercise is great for your brain
As you exercise, particularly during cardiovascular training, your breathing and heart rate begin to speed up, allowing for more highly-oxygenated blood to be pumped to your cells at a quicker pace. While your muscles definitely get a big boost from these increased oxygen levels, your brain also sees a major benefit through a process called “neurogenesis”.
Neurogenesis is the production of new neurons and, during physical activity, takes place largely in the parts of the brain that are centered around memory and thinking. If you’ve ever felt that you’ve been getting more forgetful over time, this should come as really great news! With new neurons being formed in these specific brain centres, age-related memory loss and “brain fog” can be seen to slow down dramatically.
More radically, this process has also been shown to act as a buffer against the effects of dementia and reduce changes in the brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
It could make you age slower
Regular exercise doesn’t only help you feel more youthful, there’s actually evidence to suggest that it could slow down the process of aging within your cells. This is all linked to the structures that are found at the ends of your chromosomes called “telomeres”.
Much like the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces, telomeres protect the ends of your chromosomes from breaking down or “fraying”. It’s natural for telomeres to shorten as you age, but this process can be accelerated by stress, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and a poor diet.
Changing your lifestyle habits to include physical activity and healthy eating can reduce the rate of telomere breakdown and, in turn, slow the process of cellular aging. While this may not specifically promote longevity, it can lead you to live longer at a younger biological age.
It’ll make you feel happier
Numerous studies have shown that engagement in almost any type of physical activity can help you feel better and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
When you’re physically active, there is a shift toward an increased release of or sensitivity toward certain chemicals in the brain – mainly: serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins and dopamine. In each their own way, these compounds contribute toward dulling the sensation of pain, lightening mood and relieving feelings of depression.
Fun fact: the term “runners high” – the experience of positive and pleasurable feelings during and following activity – comes from the production of endorphins during aerobic exercise.
In addition to these positive chemical boosts, exercise can also have a negating effect on the levels of stress-hormones known as cortisol and adrenaline. When these substances are decreased in the body, people experience lower levels of stress and feel a decreased sensation of anxiety.
What’s extra great about this happiness-boost is that it doesn’t appear to be related to the intensity of the exercise. It seems as though this benefit is experienced regardless of how hard you’re working, meaning that something as small as a 30-minute walk around the block or a moderate-intensity bout of strength training can be just as effective in producing these feel-good brain chemicals as a high-intensity training session.
Your skin might look more vibrant
Our skin is affected by oxidative stress, which is a process that occurs when your cells can’t defend themselves against structures called “free radicals”. While free radicals are naturally occurring within your body, triggers such as pollution, smoking, medications, stress and sunlight can cause your skin cells to deteriorate at an accelerated pace. Just as an iron pipe will rust after years of exposure to the elements, your skin can undergoes the same “rusting” experience through exposure to these triggers.
Luckily, the levels of free radicals in your skin can be reduced by the introduction of substances called antioxidants. A healthy diet will boost the amount of antioxidants in your body and regular exercise stimulates blood flow to help transport these nutrients to your skin cells at a greater rate.
Once antioxidants reach your cells, they inhibit the oxidation process and remove the free radicals as cellular debris. The activity-induced circulation improvement is then used to flush out these waste products and keep your skin looking healthy and vibrant.
It could reduce your experience of pain
For years, rest and inactivity were the treatment of choice for doctors dealing with chronic pain patients; however, studies are now finding that exercise may play a role in reducing the severity of the pain experience.
In a 2014 study out of Australia, two groups of participants were tested for their pain response in two ways: 1 – by pain threshold, or the point at which you feel pain from steadily-increasing pressure, and 2 – by pain tolerance, or the amount of time you can withstand the painful stimulus. Throughout the 6 weeks following the initial testing, one of the groups adopted a regular, moderate-intensity exercise regimen while the other group (the control group) did not. Upon retesting, the pain threshold for both groups remained the same but the pain tolerance point for those in the exercise group increased significantly.
For people dealing with chronic pain, this suggests that sticking to a workout program could be a good option to help better manage the experience of pain and improve your quality of life. If you’re in this situation, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a program to see if this is a good option for you.
The bottom line
Exercise produces so many positive, whole-body benefits, but you’ll typically only see these emerge when you create some form of consistency with it. Determine the best way for you to get started with exercise then do your best to stick with it.
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