Exercise: we know it’s good for us..but sometimes it feels like more effort than it’s worth. Yet research shows it’s not just ‘good’ to stay active- it’s dangerous not to. According to a report published in The Lancet, a lack of exercise causes us as much damage as smoking a packet of cigarettes a day.
Exercise benefits every aspect of our health, from life expectancy, to happiness and even sexual performance! With gyms still shut, and the exercise bike out of reach, it may feel harder to get up and get moving. Read on to find the motivation to start…
Exercise helps fight disease
We’ve all heard exercise reduces our risk of getting cancer or type 2 diabetes, but the impact feels too distant to act on. A quick look at the science and statistics should fix that! Regular exercise reduces your risk of developing colon cancer and breast cancer by up to 50% and 20% respectively. You are also 50% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes because exercise reduces the body’s resistance to insulin. Resistance to insulin promotes inflammation which is linked to heart disease-a disorder you are 35% less likely of developing by exercising.1 It also helps lower your heart rate and blood pressure, protecting you from other cardiovascular disorders.
In the words of the NHS “Exercise is the miracle cure we’ve always had” 2 and ignored for too long.
How exercise benefits ageing
As we get older, we can’t bounce back so easily from the odd fall or tumble, but exercise can certainly help reduce the chance of injury by maintaining muscle strength and balance. Resistance training not only helps combat age-related decline in muscles; it also strengthens your bones and reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis. 3
And it can improve sexual desire
Studies suggest that the negative side effects on sexual function arising from certain conditions such as chronic heart issues4 or medication can be countered with exercise. For example, a study on women taking antidepressants showed that exercise just before sexual activity, improved sexual desire and improved the sexual function of women with an existing sexual dysfunction.5
Get a good night’s sleep by exercising more
It’s common sense that you should enjoy a deeper sleep after a physically active day. For those who suffer from sleeping disorders like insomnia, exercise is therefore an essential way of alleviating symptoms.
Although exercise is a physical activity, it has hugely positive impacts for mental health and cognitive ability too. The founder of Reset Your Health, Catherine Rogers is a mental health therapist with over 20 years of experience who has witnessed first-hand the transformative impact of physical health interventions on mental health.
Lift weights AND your mood!
Exercise is increasingly recommended by health professionals to help combat depression and anxiety. Why? Because physical activity releases the hormones responsible for naturally lifting our mood called serotonin and dopamine.6 Exercise can also have positive indirect effects on our well-being as it can make us feel more positive about our bodies and increase overall confidence. Physical activity doesn’t have to be a chore, exercising with friends not only makes it more fun but keeps you socially connected which is a key way of maintaining good mental health. It may be more difficult with lockdown measures, but why not link up with friends for a zoom workout class?
Keeping active can also keep your level of stress hormones down and provide a necessary break from other worries and distractions.
‘Jog’ your memory!
Memory loss and the onset of dementia are a worrying prospect but luckily, the future is not entirely out of your hands. Yes, you guessed it, exercising makes a difference! In late adulthood, the area of the brain involved with memory and learning (the hippocampus) shrinks, increasing the risk for dementia. Studies have shown that physical exercise increases the size of the Hippocampus7, One study in particular, showed that exercise increased hippocampal volume in older adults by 2% . Those in the control group saw their hippocampal volume decline BUT those with higher fitness levels saw a slower rate of decline, suggesting regular exercise protects against age-induced volume loss, reducing the risk of dementia.8
But exercise doesn’t just prevent cognitive decline in old age, it’s also been shown to boost academic performance in young people. A maths teacher who ran the school rowing team wanted to counter objections from parents to the number of training hours by comparing the academic performance of the rowers with the rest of the school. Over the four years of his investigation, he found that the rowers consistently got better exam results than their non-rowing peers!
So there you have it! Exercise is a crucial way of preventing, as well as curing physical and mental health conditions. Being active has both immediate and long-term benefits, from lifting your mood to extending your life-expectancy in the long-’run’ (no pun intended!)
The good news is that you don’t have to be a die-hard gym-goer to reap the benefits of exercise. You just need to make sure you do at least 150 minutes of exercise at moderate intensity. This means activity that makes you sweat and gets your heart rate up such as running cycling or swimming. But don’t forget to stay active when you can, even if you’re not doing an activity classed as “exercise”. Dancing, taking the stairs, walking whilst you’re on the phone- all this adds up!
1. NHS. Benefits of Exercise [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2020Jun25]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/
3. Goulding P. What is resistance training? [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2020Jun25]. Available from: https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/article/what-is-resistance-training
4. Belardinelli, R., Lacalaprice, F., Faccenda, E., Purcaro, A. and Perna, G., 2005. Effects of short-term moderate exercise training on sexual function in male patients with chronic stable heart failure. International Journal of Cardiology, 101(1), pp.83-90.
5. Lorenz, T. and Meston, C., 2013. EXERCISE IMPROVES SEXUAL FUNCTION IN WOMEN TAKING ANTIDEPRESSANTS: RESULTS FROM A RANDOMIZED CROSSOVER TRIAL. Depression and Anxiety, 31(3), pp.188-195.
6. Folkins, C., 1976. Effects of physical training on mood. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 32(2), pp.385-388.
7. Thomas, A., Dennis, A., Rawlings, N., Stagg, C., Matthews, L., Morris, M., Kolind, S., Foxley, S., Jenkinson, M., Nichols, T., Dawes, H., Bandettini, P. and Johansen-Berg, H., 2016. Multi-modal characterization of rapid anterior hippocampal volume increase associated with aerobic exercise. NeuroImage, 131, pp.162-170.
8. Erickson, K., Voss, M., Prakash, R., Basak, C., Szabo, A., Chaddock, L., Kim, J., Heo, S., Alves, H., White, S., Wojcicki, T., Mailey, E., Vieira, V., Martin, S., Pence, B., Woods, J., McAuley, E. and Kramer, A., 2011. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, [online] 108(7), pp.3017-3022. Available at: <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21282661/> [Accessed 25 June 2020].