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What are the benefits of exercise? A complete guide

If the last two years have taught us all anything it's just how important your well-being and overall physical & mental health is. As a society we have all fallen ill to the idea that exercise and making your health a priority is a tedious task at best and one you really don't have to spend that much time or money investing in. 

Movement of any kind is hugely important for your current state of health but also your longevity in later life. I am a huge advocate of the idea that if you don't use it you lose it and that is never more true than the extreme benefits of a good consistent exercise regime no matter what that may be. Exercise spans more than just the physical aspects, but here are a few key benefits that will improve your quality of life…

Physical benefits of exercise

  • Reduces the risk of significant life limiting disease & illnesses
  • Improves muscular tone and reduces body fat
  • Gives you more energy
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Makes for better social & work relationships
  • Increases levels of self esteem & happiness

Now we all know the physical benefits of using your body as it is designed to be used. Your entire physiology is geared towards providing adequate stress (the good kind) to your muscles, joints and genetic make up to encourage growth, flexibility and cellular improvements. Your body is designed to be able to manage not only incredible physical feats but also keep your body alive and regenerated at a cellular level day to day (5). Exercise also promotes a natural and healthy anti-inflammatory response. The positive effects on your immune system from physical activity counteract systemic inflammation in your body. If your body is strong and durable, the benefits of a well-balanced exercise regime can offset significant illness and life-limiting diseases, including osteoporosis, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. 

To put it very simply physiologically, the benefits of even small amounts of moderate-vigorous activity for 50-60 minutes each day can reduce the risk of mortality and help maintain and improve these vital functions (4). In other words, let's all exercise and live longer, happier and healthier lives. 

Exercise and mental health 

I guarantee you will have lost count of the amount of times you didn't want to exercise but did it anyway and it completely changed your entire psychological state. Exercise and mental health has been heavily researched over the last decade with the most prolific research showing physical exercise can reduce over forty chronic conditions and diseases including significantly reducing anxiety and improving overall mood. 

When you look at today's working landscape, anxiety and stress play a big part of your day. Research has shown that physical exercise of any kind can be incredibly effective in relieving levels of stress (1). Employed adults were found to have lower levels of stress compared to those less active, showing that you don't have to move mountains or complete a marathon to feel the mental benefits of exercise. Self esteem is also a critical part of your mental wellbeing and regular exercise can help to improve how you also naturally feel about yourself. Exercise is a big confidence booster and encourages you to feel like you've achieved something. When we move and exercise, our bodies release chemicals called endorphins. These can reduce pain and also trigger that positive feel-good feeling similar to the runner's high and both contribute to better overall mental health.

Benefits of strength training and cardio

When it comes to exercise, you really want to get as much bang for your buck as possible. The most benefits come from a well rounded routine of strength training and aerobic cardiovascular training (2). A study found that whole body progressive strength training mixed with cardiovascular training reduced the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. This covered low degrees of daily walking, 60-70% maximal runs and higher intense exercise. So what does this mean to you sitting reading this? Well, if you're looking for longevity, to maintain or increase muscle mass and boost overall fitness levels, even daily walks and moderate resistance training in your local gym will massively benefit your overall quality of life…I am not sure about you but I think I'm in!

Benefits of stretching 

Over time and through natural wear and tear due to injuries and ageing, our mobility will decrease if we don't actively work on it. Stretching allows you to have an increased range of motion and elasticity in your muscles and joints, which is vital not only in your daily life but also as you all grow older. When you look at day to day things like poor posture, aches and pains, these can all be attributed to poor mobility and a lack of active stretching (3). Whether you're stretching at home before work or actively loving your local yoga classes, stretching can also affect your stress levels and overall circulation for the better, leading to improved cognitive functions i.e. better decision making, improved mood and less snapping at that email you're about to hit send on!

How to find the right workout for you?

The question now is, where do you start? You will be bombarded by every workout known to man on social media, but the key for you is to move! Any form of exercise is progress in the right direction and the aim is to find one that is sustainable, enjoyable and challenging for you. From walking to extreme endurance events, set yourself goals small or big and enjoy the process of regular exercise, witnessing your body and mind thrive.

Summary

If this will leave you with one thing, I hope that you know you can start from anywhere. New to exercise or a regular down at your local gym, those daily walks or even maybe the odd run each week will have incredible benefits physically and mentally. Give yourself the best chance to feel the benefits of exercise and investing in the biggest asset you have…you! You won't only benefit physically but also mentally and socially from having an enjoyable, easy to follow and progressive regime of moving your body the way it's designed. 

References

  1. Job strain and leisure time physical activity in female and male public sector employees

  2. Aerobic versus strength training for risk factor intervention in middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease

  3. Stretching at work for injury prevention: Issues, evidence and recommendations. Applied Occupational and Applied Hygiene

  4. Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy

  5. Physical activity, immune system, and the microbiome in cardiovascular disease

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