Written by Dorothea Csutkai

We have all heard over and over again that we should exercise because it’s good for us mainly in terms of weight control, weight loss or muscle mass gain. There are many really beneficial reasons to exercise that go beyond the visual aesthetics such as maintaining strong muscles and bones as we age to prevent poor posture and decreasing bone density. To get you motivated here are just six of a long list of health benefits that are as important which you may not know about.

1. Good for your heart

Your heart is a strong, thick-walled muscle that works constantly pumping blood around the body sending oxygen and nutrients into cells and removing waste from the body.

When we exercise our heart beats faster and more forcefully to get more blood, nutrients and oxygen to our muscles where it’s needed. When we partake in moderate to high-intensity exercise over an extended period the heart muscles grow and get stronger just like other other muscles in the body. When the heart is stronger it is able to pump larger volumes of blood around the body in fewer beats meaning it doesn’t need to work too hard and therefore resting blood pressure is lowered. The many benefits of lower blood pressure mean reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. 

2. Good for your guts

Basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy used by the body per minute while at rest which accounts for about 60% of the energy used. Around 30% of energy is used by muscles when activated and more for our cardiovascular and respiratory systems (1). During exercise our metabolic rate increases as the muscles, including the heart, require more energy and some studies (2) have shown that this increased metabolic rate can last for a few hours afterwards. 

Burning more calories during exercise, be it aerobic or resistance training also reduces our risk of Type II diabetes and may aid weight loss or maintenance of weight (3).

3. Good for your brain

Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki says in her 2017 Ted Talk that regular exercise changes the brains anatomy, physiology and function. The hippocampus which is found between the left and right sides of the brain and is responsible for long-term memory will grow new cells increasing in size and improving long-term memory. The pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for focus and attention is also affected. As we exercise over the long term the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus grow and this is incredibly important in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers and dementia. A 2015 study by the University Of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise was much more beneficial in growing the hippocampus than balance and strength training (4).

4. Good for your skin

Apart from sweating which acts as a natural moisturiser and toned muscles which help to plump out the skin, a recent study (5) found that exercise releases chemicals that have an anti-ageing effect on the skin. 

5. Good for your mood

I go for a run when I get stressed or anxious because I find that I can release that built up energy. The fresh air and sunshine can boost your mood significantly and get you closer to nature at the same time. The body releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenalin reducing anxiety and stress while increasing focus and enhancing mood. New studies have also shown that exercise can help in the treatment of depression (6). Exercising with friends or in a group can also prop you up as well as keeping you motivated.

6. Good for your sleep

Through exercise we improve our mood, oxygen uptake, increase energy consumption and decrease our stress levels which all aid in a good night’s sleep. Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital says in an article on hopkinsmedical.org that it’s not entirely known how exercise is directly related to better sleep, however there is evidence that those who are regularly active tend to have better deep wave sleeps which is when the body and brain rejuvenate.

Sources:

(1) Seeley’s Anatomy And Physiology, Eleventh Edition, VanPutte, Regan, Russon (pg. 949)

(2) A 45-minute vigorous exercise bout increases metabolic rate for 14 hours – Knab AM1, Shanely RA, Corbin KD, Jin F, Sha W, Nieman DC.

(3) Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence; Darren E.R. Warburton, Crystal Whitney Nicol, and Shannon S.D. Bredin

(4) Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in older women with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomised controlled trial; Lisanne F ten Brinke, Niousha Bolandzadeh, Lindsay S Nagamatsu, Chun Liang Hsu, Jennifer C Davis, Karim Miran-Khan, Teresa Liu-Ambrose

(5) Exercise-stimulated interleukin-15 is controlled by AMPK and regulates skin metabolism and aging; Justin D Crane, Lauren G MacNeil, James S Lally, Rebecca J Ford, Adam L Bujak, Ikdip K Brar Bruce E Kemp,4 Sandeep Raha, Gregory R Steinberg, and Mark A Tarnopolsky

(6) R. J. Maddock, G. A. Casazza, D. H. Fernandez, M. I. Maddock. Acute Modulation of Cortical Glutamate and GABA Content by Physical Activity. Journal of Neuroscience, 2016; 36 (8): 2449 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3455-15.2016