When I ask someone why they exercise, I'm often shown a picture of a celebrity (who has a whole team of people working on his or her body), or a fitness model (whose job is to look that way). That’s all fine and well, but there are just so many health benefits beyond the aesthetic. These benefits won’t just change your looks - they’ll change your life. Here are the top five health reasons why we need to exercise:
1. Prevent disease
Studies show that regular exercise can prevent the onset of a myriad of diseases such as:
- Heart disease: By strengthening your heart muscles, lowering your blood pressure, improving blood flow and increasing your heart’s working capacity.
- Diabetes: By lowering your blood sugar levels to help insulin be more effective.
- Flu: By helping you to recover faster from illnesses such as the common flu.
2. Manage weight
Being overweight invites a whole host of health issues. For starters, the extra weight puts a strain on your heart, bones and joints. Consequently, it is important that we do what we can to lessen the burden on our body and maintain a healthy weight. Paired with proper nutrition, exercising at least three times per week will help us to build or maintain muscle mass and reduce body fat.
For those who have been inactive for a while, it may be necessary to pursue exercises that are less strenuous on the body. These include activities such as walking, cycling and swimming.
3. Make every day easier
A healthy cardiovascular system and well-conditioned muscles make everyday activities such as shopping for groceries, cleaning the house and gardening easier. We shouldn’t be getting puffed out by these routine activities. And as all the mums out there know, kids are bursting with energy so regular exercise will help us to keep up with them and nourish the active lifestyle that they deserve.
In addition, as we get older, the risk of falling and injuries increases. Prevention is always better than having to find a cure, so it is important that we prepare and strengthen our bodies with exercise.
4. Manage stress
Exercise is an effective way to combat stress and affects our body on a chemical level in two ways. (1) it reduces the levels of our body’s stress hormones - adrenaline and cortisol - and (2) it releases endorphins, which act as natural stress fighters. Endorphins are like our body’s natural drug as they elevate our mood and relax us. This is what causes the feeling of a high after a gruelling workout. If you like those positive feelings then the more you exercise, the better your body will make you feel.
Exercise also helps our mind to reduce stress levels. When we exercise, we are forced to focus in the present - whether that is our next push up or our next step in a marathon. This helps us to keep our mind off all the stress and worries that we have, at least for a while, and refocus on what’s important. From a longer term perspective, as our physical and mental successes accumulate, our confidence in our own abilities will build to take on the challenges ahead.
5. Sleep better
Exercise helps us to sleep better - think back to the last time you dropped into bed after a long day of physical activity! On the other hand, sleep helps us get more out of exercise as our bodies release growth hormones to repair our muscles after workouts. As you can see, exercise and sleep are connected; the better quality of one will ensure a better quality of the other. Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain, inactivity and stress, so exercising regularly is a great way to help you to get the seven to nine hours that most adults require.
While the five benefits of exercise above are important, remember that it’s not just you who benefit from becoming healthy - the people around you do too.