People are often told that exercise should be part of everyday life and that it has various benefits. But what exactly are the key benefits of exercise regarding health, wellbeing and physiology?
For starters, the NHS states that people who do regular physical activity have:
- Up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
- Up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- Up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
- Up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
- A 30% lower risk of early death
- Up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
- Up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
- A 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
- Up to a 30% lower risk of depression
- Up to a 30% lower risk of dementia
Some other benefits of exercise for physical health may include:
- Strengthening of the cardiac muscle
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved triglyceride levels
- Improved HDL or ‘good cholesterol’ levels
- Improved CRP levels (high CRP might suggest a higher risk for coronary heart disease (CHD))
- Prevention of diabetes
- Weight loss for people that are obese or overweight, when combined with a reduced-calorie diet
- Prevention of weight regain after losing weight
- And, it has even been suggested to help people to quit smoking!
Exercise stimulates neurochemicals that elevate your mood, memory and learning (Mindhealthconnect 2016). Some of these mood-improving chemicals are serotonin and endorphins; but mood may also improve due to the environmental and social experience of physical activity that could prevent negative feelings such as loneliness (Mindhealthconnect, 2016).
An extra benefit for mental health may include a boost in self-esteem from appropriate weight loss or healthy weight maintenance resulting from exercise (Mindhealthconnect, 2016). More bonuses of regular exercise can include: better sleep; stress-reduction; and even prevention of damage to the brain, via exercise increasing the connections between nerve cells of the brain (Mindhealthconnect, 2016).
Exercise has short- and long-term benefits that can evidently contribute to wellbeing or quality of life, when implemented regularly and at least 30min daily (Better Health Channel, 2012). Better Health Channel further recommends:
‘Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 to 2 hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week. Do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week.’
The World Health Organisation recommends the following:
‘Children and adolescents aged 5-17years
- Should do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.
- Physical activity of amounts greater than 60 minutes daily will provide additional health benefits.
- Should include activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 times per week.
Adults aged 18-64 years
- Should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent.
- Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
Adults aged 65 years and above
- Should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- For additional health benefits, they should increase moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent.
- Those with poor mobility should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls, 3 or more days per week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups, 2 or more days a week.’
The World Health Organisation (WHO) (2017a) states that ‘physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.’
Thus, the WHO highlight the serious need for people worldwide to adopt healthy physical activity in their lifestyles. They claim that a quarter of adults throughout the world are not getting enough physical activity! Moreover, 80% of adolescents at a global scale are not physically active enough (WHO, 2017b)!
You may also be wondering how exercise can raise your metabolic rate, to assist with weight management?
Firstly, what is metabolism? Basically it refers to the chemical processes that keep your body functioning (NHS, 2015b). These processes utilise energy, and the basic energy requirement to maintain proper function is termed the ‘basal metabolic rate’ (BMR); which, can be anywhere between 40-70% of your daily energy needs (NHS, 2015b).
Each person’s needs vary, and age, gender, genetics and lifestyle are influencing factors (NHS, 2015b). Males often have more muscle mass, heavier bones and less fat than females, and hence often have a higher BMR than women (NHS, 2015b). Similarly, older adults often have more fat and decreased muscle and thereby BMR can decline with age (NHS, 2015b).
Below are some key points about how exercise can increase your BMR to promote weight loss, from Webmd (2015) and NHS (2015b):
- Build up muscle (muscles use more energy than fat!) through strength training 2 days per week
- 150min per week of aerobic activity (equivalent to 5 x days 30min per day) – e.g. walking, cycling, or swimming
- In the couple of hours after aerobic exercise, your metabolism can remain elevated and help burn extra calories to assist with weight loss
- HYDRATE! The body needs hydration to function. Hydrated people burn more calories than dehydrated ones
- Several small meals over the day instead of just three big meals helps to burn more calories
- Some spicy foods, like red or green chili, can boost your metabolism short-term
- Eat adequate amounts of protein – digesting protein burns more calories than digesting carbohydrates or fat
- Webmd claims that “Research suggests that drinking 2 to 4 cups of tea may push the body to burn 17% more calories during moderately intense exercise for a short time.”
- Do not crash diet (this is when women eat less than 1200 calories or men eat less than 1800 calories in a day) – this can result in loss of muscle instead of fat; which, can reduce your metabolism rate.
Important notes: Better Health Channel (2012) conveys that:
‘It is a good idea to see your doctor before starting your physical activity program if:
- You are aged over 45 years
- Physical activity causes pain in your chest
- You often faint or have spells of severe dizziness
- Moderate physical activity makes you very breathless
- You are at a higher risk of heart disease
- You think you might have heart disease or you have heart problems
- You are pregnant’
Furthermore, a pre-exercise screening tool (for example, those found at: https://www.essa.org.au/for-gps/adult-pre-exercise-screening-system/) can be utilised to check your risks for exercise. Good people to seek help from regarding exercise, can include: General Practitioners (GPs); registered exercise professionals (e.g. personal trainers, fitness instructors); exercise physiologists; physiotherapists (Better Health Channel, 2012); or qualified weight management practitioners.
- Better Health Channel 2012, Physical activity – it’s important, Better Health Channel, viewed 13 March 2017, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/physical-activity-its-important
- Mindhealthconnect 2016, Exercise and mental health, viewed 13 March 2017, http://www.mindhealthconnect.org.au/exercise-and-mental-health
- NHLBI n.d., Benefits of physical activity, viewed 13 March 2017, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/phys/benefits
- NHS 2015, Benefits of exercise,viewed 13 March 2017, http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/whybeactive.aspx
- NHS 2015b, How can I speed up my metabolism?, viewed 13 March 2017, http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/how-can-I-speed-up-my-metabolism.aspx
- Webmd 2015, Can you make your metabolism better?, Webmd, viewed 13 March 2017, http://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-boost-your-metabolism
- World Health Organisation 2017a, Health Topics: Physical Activity, WHO, viewed 13 March 2017, http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/
- World Health Organisation 2017b, Media centre: Physical activity, WHO, viewed 13 March 2017, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs385/en/