Everyone knows that exercise is “good for you,” but many don’t realize the significant ways it benefits our body and mind!
Scientific research continues to provide us with more reasons to move our body every day. There is a new health benefit added to the list, plus ten more reasons why exercise should be included in our daily schedule if we want to feel our best…
Exercise…What’s In It For Me?
1. Improves gut health.
Recent research has shown that exercise can improve the gut microbiome by increasing the diversity and number of healthy microbes in the GI tract that support normal digestion. Gut health problems typically involve microbial imbalance in the GI tract, where the unhealthy microbes outnumber the healthy ones. Exercise can be added to dietary strategies to optimize the gut microbiome. This may benefit a wide range of digestive disorders, including chronic bloating, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and other digestive problems.
2. Increases energy.
Both low and moderate intensity exercise have been shown to increase energy and reduce fatigue. One study showed a 20 percent increase in energy and 65 percent decrease in fatigue score by sedentary subjects performing low intensity exercise over a 6-week period. Think about skipping that afternoon cup of coffee and going for a walk instead.
3. Promotes better mental focus.
Many studies support an improvement in cognitive function with regular aerobic exercise. Research indicates that the part of the brain that is responsible for memory and learning, the hippocampus, is larger in people who engage in regular aerobic exercise. One study showed an increase in this area of the brain after only 6 weeks of regular aerobic activity. Furthermore, this area of the brain was shown to decrease after 6 weeks of being sedentary.
4. Improves weight management results.
The majority of people who lose weight and are able to keep it off long term incorporate both dietary and exercise strategies. The key here is keeping the weight off. Dietary change alone can promote short-term weight loss, but without regular exercise, weight regain is likely to happen. Regular exercise can also prevent age-related weight gain as metabolism begins to slow down.
5. Promotes muscle mass development or maintenance.
Muscles do not increase in size unless they are challenged. A combination of aerobic and strength training exercise can help build or maintain muscle mass. After the age of 30, you can lose as much as 3-8 percent of your muscle mass per decade. While this is a natural process of aging, exercise can help prevent age-related muscle loss while allowing for muscle maintenance or building strength.
6. Keeps the heart and cardiovascular system strong.
We have known for a long time that aerobic exercise benefits heart and overall cardiovascular function. However, newer research has shown that strength training also provides cardiovascular benefits, including improved blood pressure and blood lipid profiles.
7. Improves immune system function.
Studies show that regular moderate intensity exercise can support healthy immune system function. Keeping the intensity at a moderate level appears to be important for optimal immune support as studies show that prolonged high intensity training can suppress immune system function. Elite athletes report greater illness, such as upper respiratory infections during intense training periods. Therefore, moderate intensity should be the target for the average active person.
8. Improves and helps maintain bone density.
Weight-bearing and resistance exercise can help build stronger bones. Bone density naturally declines as we age, but we can prevent excessive bone loss and the development of osteoporosis with proper nutrition and any type of exercise that has some impact on our bones. This includes, but is not limited to activities such as walking, jogging, hiking, tennis, basketball, and weight training.
9. Reduces risk of cancer.
Exercise has been shown in studies to reduce the risk of cancer and inhibit tumor growth. Cancer prevention is the primary goal; however, research shows improved cancer survival in those who exercise even after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Exercise has been shown to improve tolerance of cancer treatment and improve quality of life in cancer survivors. It is never too late to start an exercise program.
10. Reduces stress and anxiety.
Regular exercisers report feeling more relaxed after they exercise, which is why many continue to do it on a regular basis. Stress hormones in the body, including cortisol, are lower at rest in those who exercise at a low to moderate intensity. This may be one mechanism of promoting a sense of calm. Both aerobic exercise and resistance training have been shown to reduce psychological stress and anxiety in a clinical trial.
11. Reduces risk of depression.
Research shows that regular exercise reduces risk of developing depression and it can be an effective treatment in reducing symptoms of existing depression. Several mechanisms in which exercise may provide benefit, but are still being studied, include the release of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzymes post exercise as well as the release of “feel good” chemicals called endorphins.
There is no question that we all want the above health benefits. If you already have a regular exercise routine, congratulations on taking advantage of what exercise can do for your health! If you struggle with finding the time to exercise, or you’re having a hard time finding an activity you enjoy, then start by figuring out what are your roadblocks? That is your first step towards success!
If you need assistance in creating a healthy lifestyle program that will work for you, consult a holistic-oriented Registered Dietitian Nutritionist experienced in personalized nutrition and lifestyle planning.
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