Exercise has long been regarded as being good for our health. Research continues to stack up more and more evidence that being physically active – whether that’s through exercise or just moving around more – can benefit both our body and our mind, as well as reduce the risk of health complications.
Here are ten reasons why exercise is good for your health, and how you don’t need to be a slave to the gym in order to reap the benefits of an active lifestyle.
1. It helps you maintain a healthy body weight
If you tend to have a sedentary lifestyle, i.e. you don’t move around much during the day, you can increase your risk of becoming overweight or obese. Although doing exercise does not necessarily mean you will lose weight, if you combine it with a healthy, calorie-controlled diet, it can do wonders to help you burn excess calories you consume through eating and support weight reduction. Evidence suggests that regular exercise in conjunction with a balanced diet can help you to maintain a healthy weight.
2. It increases strength and muscular function
Our muscles serve multiple functions including controlling movement, maintaining posture and generating body heat. As we get older our muscle mass can decrease – typically as a result of a more sedentary lifestyle – which can increase our risk of falls and muscular disease and reduce our general mobility overall. Undertaking regular exercise, in particular strength training (including lifting weights or doing body weight exercises) can increase your muscular strength and resilience and reduce disorders such as sarcopenia – a syndrome associated with the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength.
3. It strengthens your bones
Any exercise that demands you to weight-bear, such as running, jumping, dancing, weight training, etc, has been shown to improve your bone density in adolescence and help maintain good bone health in adulthood. Having good bone density reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis – a bone disease which occurs when the body loses too much bone or doesn’t make enough causing it to weaken and break more easily. This becomes even more important in older adults, as well as women going through the menopause, to help slow natural age-related loss of bone density.
4. It’s good for your joints
Despite a general assumption that exercise, especially running, weight training and other high impact sports, is bad for your joints, studies have actually found this to be untrue. Exercise can actually help to build healthy cartilage and strengthen support around the joints, keeping them stronger in the long-term. This reduces the risk of developing arthritis in the joints due to a healthier cartilage tissue which benefits from physical activity as a result of increased blood flow to your joints.
5. It lowers your blood pressure
Exercising regularly, or being physically active throughout the day, helps to increase heart strength. The stronger your heart is the less effort it takes for it to pump blood around your body and in turn the less force is placed on your arteries – reducing your blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
6. It decreases your risk of heart disease
As we’ve just discovered, regular exercise helps to lower your blood pressure and therefore decreases your risk of heart disease. Exercise benefits people of any body size and weight. If you’re overweight or obese then it’s likely you’re less physically active than those who aren’t and therefore at increased risk of heart complications.
7. It reduces the risk of some cancers
Cancer can be influenced by a number of controllable factors including an unhealthy diet, too much alcohol, and smoking, as well as things we can’t control such as environmental pollution, radiation and genetics. Research continues to suggest that moderate to intense exercise can help reduce our risk of developing some cancers including colon, breast and lung cancers.
8. It promotes good mental health
Exercising regularly has been shown to have a positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing. It’s not necessarily the type of exercise you do – although enjoying the type of activity helps – but rather how it promotes the release of endorphins which is your body’s ‘feel-good’ hormone, and helps to relieve stress and promote sleep – which when all combined can really help our mood. There is also some evidence to say that exercise may help to treat depression and low mood, as well as other mental disorders.
9. It reduces your risk of dementia
There is consistent evidence that shows regular exercise protects against different forms of dementia. Although not completely understood how this happens, more recent data suggests that the proteins released whilst undertaking exercise called ‘neurotrophic factors’ could play a key part. The factors help to promote the growth and repair of neurons which support healthy cognitive function. Studies have also shown older adults who remain active throughout their lives have a much reduced risk of developing dementia.
10. It reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes
Exercise can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Conversely, being physically inactive has been shown to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Regular physical activity is usually recommended by health professionals to help patients with diabetes control their blood sugar levels.
So what can you do to increase your physical activity?
It can be difficult to fit in the time and effort to exercise during the day. Here are some tips to help increase your physical activity:
Try to walk for part of your commute: If you take public transport, get off a stop or two early and walk the rest, or if you take the car to work, try parking further away if you can and walk the rest of the distance.
Get up more often: If you find yourself sitting down for the majority of the day due to work or study, then try to take regular breaks from sitting. Get up and walk around every 20-30 minutes if possible to stretch your legs.
Take the stairs not the lift: Probably the easiest way to increase your physical activity is to climb the stairs instead of using a lift or elevator where you can.
Make exercise fun: If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing then you’re likely going to lose motivation and give up. Find a sport or do some exercise that you enjoy and you will stick to in the long term.
Set some goals: Try and set a goal to increase your physical activity such as walking a certain number of steps a day (7000 – 10000 steps is a realistic target). Then plan what you will need to do in order to achieve this which could include a number of the things suggested above.
As you can see, exercise can play an integral role in our health and wellbeing but it is only one part of the equation. A healthy, balanced diet, adequate rest and a regular good night’s sleep are all important to help maintain a healthy mind and body.
How much exercise do you do? Has exercise made a positive impact on your health and wellbeing and, if so, what has it been? Comment underneath and let’s start a conversation.