Most people have at least a vague understanding of why exercise is good for them. Keeping fit, losing body fat and improving cardiovascular function are the benefits many are familiar with. However, these have not successfully provided sufficient impetus for many people to get off the couch and start breaking a sweat with regularity.
Only 1 in 5 Americans achieve the recommended two and a half hours of rigorous exercise each week. An emerging body of evidence demonstrating the less well known but compelling reasons exercise is vital could help change this. Here are some of the lesser known benefits of keeping fit.
1. Exercise Improves Brain Health
Exercise has been linked to faster learning, better memory and lower depression. Studies have also demonstrated that exercise is the most effective way to delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. Scientists have not yet conclusively zeroed in on how exercise changes the function and structure of the brain but it remains a vibrant area of research.
What they have established so far is that exercise betters the flow of blood to the brain as well as nurtures growth of new brain cells and blood vessels. Much of this is as a result of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates neuron growth and repair of brain cells. It also helps you concentrate more.
2. Increased Happiness
Numerous studies over the years have shown that various forms of exercise, ranging from walking to cycling, can relieve depression and make one feel better about themselves. Exercise releases dopamine, endorphins, norepinephrine and serotonin in the brain, all of which are chemicals that relieve stress, lighten mood and dull pain.
For years, scientists and healthcare professionals focused almost entirely on the physical benefits of regular exercise while ignoring the emotional and psychological advantages of staying active. Yet, the psychological benefits are just as if not more important to living a well-rounded life.
3. Exercise Slows Aging
Exercise can lengthen your life by as much as 5 years. Even moderate intensity routines can significantly slow down cell aging. As humans grow older and as their cells continue to divide repeatedly, the telomeres (a protective shell at each end of a chromosome) becomes shorter.
To determine how exercise might affect the telomeres and therefore aging, researchers studied blood samples and muscle biopsy from 10 people before and after an intense 45-minute bicycle ride. They found that the exercise increased the production of an element that protects the telomeres and thus slowed aging.
4. Exercise Improves Your Skin
Aerobic activities improves blood circulation to the skin thus delivering more nutrients and oxygen. This in turn improves skin health and heals wounds faster. It’s for this reason that people who experience a muscle or skin injury should get physically active as soon as possible. The enhanced blood circulation prevents muscle atrophy and speeds up skin regeneration.
If you regularly train long and hard enough, you can add more blood capillaries to your skin. The healthier skin is also a better conduit for excretion and heat release during exercise. Not only is the heat loss due to sweat itself but also as a result of the blood circulation close to the skin surface. Heat deep inside the muscles is rapidly transported to the skin surface.
5. Just a Few Minutes is Good Enough
There was a time when clocking a certain minimum number of exercise minutes each week was the dogma nearly every fitness coach and healthcare professional propagated. Emerging research however appears to suggest it doesn’t take hours of workouts to realize the benefits.
One particular study sought to compare the impact of an intense 10-minute bout against the typical 50-minute workout. After a three-month observation, the surprising result was that both workouts resulted in near identical improvements in blood-sugar control and heart function.
As long as you are ready to push yourself hard, you can stay healthy with fairly short periods of physical activity.
6. Exercise Can Manage Chronic Illnesses
Persons with certain chronic health conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to type 2 diabetes are often cautioned against exercise. New thinking however has sought to debunk this long held belief.
This new direction has been further reinforced by recent research including one that examined 300 clinical trials and found that exercise was effective in helping persons recovering from stroke be rehabilitated faster. It doesn’t have to be rigorous. Something as simple as walking could have a substantial impact as long as it is regular.
These are just a few examples. Exercise’s health benefits are vast. There’s therefore no reason to wait any longer. Start working out today.