Beyond Weight Loss: The Myriad Benefits of Exercise
For most people an exercise program is started at least partly with the hope of shedding some excess kilos or excess body fat. I'm sure a number of people can attest to the fact that this doesn't always eventuate to the extent we might envisage when the idea to exercise more pops into our head.
This can deal a real blow to your motivation and the thought of giving up and returning to that comfortable spot on the couch becomes all too appealing.
I'm sure we all know that the benefits of exercise do go beyond weight loss, but maybe you don't know just how many health benefits exercise has been shown to have.
To a large extent exercise creates a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle) where one benefit of exercise contributes to another or many other benefits of exercise. These benefits then, in turn, contribute to an enhanced desire and capacity to exercise.
For the sake of ease I've separated the benefits into four categories; cardiovascular benefits, cognitive benefits, ageing-related benefits and other benefits
Granted, it's unusual to start with "other" when making a list like this. The reason I've started with other, is because perhaps the most important benefit of exercise in contributing to many of the other benefits is that regular physical activity seems to reduce chronic, widespread, systemic inflammation. This kind of whole body inflammation may be caused by lifestyle issues such as stress, poor diet, consumption of alcohol, poor sleep etc, and is understood to contribute to a wide range of health issues, particularly to the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Other "other benefits" of exercise which have been shown in clinical studies include reduced risk of many cancers, improved sleep quality, reduced fatigue and reduced symptoms in chronic pain-sufferers.
These are the big one's we probably think about with exercise, other than just straight weight loss. Basically the body responds to regular exercise by making changes to the heart and blood vessels to make them more efficient. Exercise also reduces chronic systemic inflammation. Between these two effects, exerciuse helps to reduce blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and in turn reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke and blood clots.
Exercise has been shown to improve the functioning of brain cells. As a result, exercise has been shown to have a wide range of cognitive benefits, including improved mood, improved memory, reduced risk of depression and other mental illnesses, improved problem-solving capacity, reduced risk of dementia. Regular exercise in children has even been shown to improve their results in school!
Exercise slows the ageing-related changes in your bodies cells. As a result, particularly due to this effect on skeletal muscle cells, regular exercise reduces your risk of suffering from frailty, reduced mobility, balance impairment and falls as you get older. Exercise also stimulates better regeneration of your bone and cartilage cells, leading to reduced risk / effects of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
So don't give up on an exercise regime just because you might not be losing the weight you hoped to. Remember that exercise is good for your health in a host of other ways and stay motivated.
Now just because it's an impressive list, here's a (incomplete) list of the benefits exercise has been shown to have:
Reduced systemic inflammation
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced risk of cancers
Reduced risk of heart attack
Reduced risk of diabetes
Reduced risk of depression and other mental illnesses
Reduced risk of stroke
Reduced risk of deep vein thrombosis
Reduced risk of dementia
Reduced risk of frailty, poor mobility and falls as you increase in age
Improved sleep quality
Slows cellular changes associated with ageing
Improved results in school
Management of the symptoms and slowing of the process of osteoarthritis
Management of symptoms of chronic pain
Reduced risk of osteoporosis and slowing of the process of osteoporosis