Regular physical exercise benefits are not only preventive but also therapeutic – meaning that regular exercise not only helps prevent disease and health conditions but also helps to cure them. Everyone benefits irrespective of age, sex, physical condition, and ethnicity.
And these benefits of physical activity not only help your physical wellbeing but also your mental and psychological setup. You can even throw in cosmetic benefits as exercise also improves your skin appearance.
No wonder then, that many medical experts label “exercise” as a miracle or a wonder drug. Just 20 minutes of physical activity daily can add 20 more years to your life.
As Cher, the American pop/rock singer, songwriter, actor, director, author, and all-around entertainer says:
“Nothing lifts me out of a bad mood better than a hard workout on my treadmill. It never fails. To us, exercise is nothing short of a miracle.”.
Exercising, therefore, must form a daily part of your life no matter what your age and shape. You could exercise in the morning or in the evening but stick to a fixed routine every day. These daily workouts will do wonders for your health, your lifestyle, and your mental setup.
The Journal of the American Medical Association, University of Pittsburgh conducted a study and found that women 65 years and older who started walking a mile every day reduced their risk of dying from all causes by as much as 50%. Except that, people with advanced age should take medical advice before starting an exercise program.
In spite of all this, about 64% of American men and 72% of women do not spare time for physical activity in their daily lives.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends that man or woman should fit in one hour of physical activity every day. You could divide this into three or four 15 to 20 minutes sessions.
If you feel too lazy to run or swim or do weights, you can continue this activity in the form of walking of mild-to-moderate intensity or active house cleaning or gardening, etc.
Importance of physical fitness
The fundamental principle is plain and simple: the more you exercise the more your health benefits. The aim is you become physically fit. Physical fitness is an important factor from a health perspective and is closely related to physical exercise. .
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, physical fitness has been defined as
“the ability to carry out daily tasks with vigor and alertness, without undue fatigue, and with ample energy to enjoy leisure-time pursuits and respond to emergencies.”
Physical fitness means improved
- cardiac and respiratory fitness
- muscle and bone strength
- flexibility and balance
- speed of movement
Findings of studies show that a high level of physical fitness is associated with reduced mortality from all causes, reduced mortality from heart disease and stroke, and reduced risk of developing chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
However, it is important to remember to never overexert yourself while exercising – you should be able to talk comfortably after your exercise – a sign that you have not over-exercised.
Immediate short-term health benefits
Some health benefits, especially on the brain begin to accrue soon after a bout of moderate to vigorous physical exercise. Adults experience a reduced level of anxiety and in children, there is improved cognition – meaning there is improved perception, recognition, conceiving, and reasoning.
Reduced anxiety in adults means reduced risk of depression and anxiety, which help you sleep better. A regular good night’s sleep again does wonders to your health.
Besides these health gains, there is an immediate decrease in blood pressure, improved cognitive function, and increased insulin sensitivity, which helps reduce blood sugar in diabetics.
All these health gains start accruing from the day you start performing this level of physical activity.
Then there are other benefits, such as the reduced risk of developing chronic diseases improved physical function, which start to accumulate within days to weeks after being consistently physically active.
Over time, it has been proven that regular physical activity helps prevent and manage chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers. It also helps prevent hypertension, maintains healthy body weight, and can improve mental health, quality of life, and well-being.
Benefits on heart
Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercises benefit your heart in the following way:
- Your heart muscle strengthens leading to better functioning of the heart.
- Helps to lower blood pressure. Studies show that regular exercise reduces systolic blood pressure by about 4 mm of mercury and diastolic by 2.5 mm of Hg.
- Increases HDL (the good cholesterol) levels and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
- Due to a stronger heart blood flow is enhanced throughout the body due to increased elasticity of the blood vessels. This greatly reduces the risk of clot formation.
- Reduces the risk of heart attack by 45%.
Benefits on the brain: Exercise prevents stroke
Stroke is a condition wherein a blood vessel in the brain bursts due to increased blood pressure or gets blocked due to a clot, rendering that part of the brain permanently damaged. Aerobic exercise is the best type of exercise that helps to prevent stroke.
If you are highly active in your exercise program, you run a 27% lesser risk of getting a stroke than sedentary folks. If you are moderately active, the risk is lowered by 20%. These are the findings of 23 international studies that appeared in an issue of the Stroke journal.
A highly active person would be one who would be jogging about 20 minutes a day. Moderately active would be one who takes brisk walks every day for 30 minutes.
Benefits of weight control
When you exercise, you need extra energy for physical activity. This is obtained by the body, by burning the calories from fat stores. More calories are burnt as the physical activity becomes more intense. While fat stores get burnt, muscle mass is increased. Exercise increases your metabolic rate, which again helps to burn more calories.
This is how exercise is a great asset for a weight loss program if you are obese or overweight, or to maintain your current ideal weight. Obesity has many dangerous effects and lowering your BMI is important in such cases. Exercise and the right diet will help you do just that. To lose weight, burn more calories than you consume.
Exercise prevents and controls diabetes
Exercise not only acts as a therapeutic agent in a diabetic but also prevents diabetes in a high-risk individual. Annals of Internal Medicine published a study which concluded that a brisk walk daily of one hour reduced the risk of diabetes type II by 34%. This is very significant and highlights the benefits of exercise on diabetes.
During exercise, the oxygen requirement of the whole body and the muscles increases 20 fold. The skeletal muscles derive this increased requirement of energy during exercise by using their own stores of glycogen and fats, in addition to the fats released from the fat stored in adipose tissue and the glucose from the liver. Adipose tissue is the specialized connective tissue that functions as the major storage site for fat in the form of triglycerides.
This increased burning of fat and glucose during daily exercise results in weight loss which can increase insulin sensitivity, resulting in lowering of your insulin requirement and consequently your blood sugar.
Benefits on back pain
In the United States, back pain rates second next only to headache as the cause of absentees from work. And this can be quite a disabling ailment when ignored.
Exercises, especially the strengthening exercises, build up the strength of the back muscles, and this can cure an existing backache or prevent one. The main cause of backache is the loss of tone of the back muscles, which results in slipping of the vertebra of the spinal column and protrusion of the intervertebral disc. Strong back muscles hold up the vertebra in position and give you a good posture.
Benefits on Osteoporosis
Regular weight-bearing exercises combined with adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D will increase the strength of your bones and joints.
Exercises such as jogging, walking, climbing, weight lifting, and even dancing, strengthen bone formation and prevent loss of bone density or osteoporosis, which is associated with aging.
This will greatly benefit women especially after menopause who are at great risk of developing osteoporosis. Even the risk of hip fractures seen in the elderly is significantly reduced by 41% on walking 30 minutes daily.
Exercise improves immunity and fights and prevents infections
Regular exercise strengthens your immune system, which helps to prevent you from catching bacterial and viral infective diseases like cold, influenza, and even heart diseases and cancer. Many studies have concluded this.
Exercise increases antibody production by 300 %, which increases your immunity much fold. Antibodies are T-cells circulating in the blood, which are germ-killing cells and help to fight any infection that invades the body. This increased immune status lasts for a few hours after the bout of exercise and then returns to normal. Regular and consistent low to moderate exercise makes the increased immunity lasts longer.
However, there is evidence to suggest that too much intense exercise decreases your immunity. More than 90 minutes of highly intensive endurance exercise decreases your immunity and can make you susceptible to infection. Why this happens is still to be figured out.
When you exercise, certain chemicals called endorphins are released, which improve your mood and make you feel almost euphoric. Self-esteem increases due to improved appearance and you feel physically and mentally energetic and more confident. Your ability to cope with stress improves and this helps you to handle stress and anxiety more efficiently. In cases of depression, exercise can be curative.
Exercise helps you sleep better
Exercise is necessary but not at night before sleep. Regular exercise of moderate intensity will help you get your deep sleep but exercise only in the morning or afternoon. Strenuous physical activity before bedtime will cause problems falling asleep. Refrain from doing exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime. One study concluded that exercise is as effective as benzodiazepines (sleeping pills) in inducing sleep.
A Better Sex Life
Exercises, especially aerobic exercises like walking, running, or swimming increase blood flow to all parts of the body including your sexual organs. This leads to increased sexual arousal in both men and women. In men, increased blood flow to the penis also brings about a better erection.
A word of caution.
If you have a chronic health condition like diabetes or heart disease or arthritis, you should talk to your doctor who will help you plan an exercise program to suit your condition.
Any which way you choose, when not contraindicated, the benefits of exercise are almost magical to your health.