Some Lesser Known But Majorly Motivating Benefits of Exercise
Even knowing exercise lowers blood sugar levels, burns calories, and boosts heart health, we may still resist hopping on the exercise bike, or doing our pool laps.
Most of us prefer activities that are pleasurable, or provide immediate tangible results. Unfortunately, thirty minutes on an elliptical does not always feel pleasing, and the heart health gains of brisk walking are not readily apparent.
So, how do we inspire ourselves to maintain an active lifestyle?
Maybe we can ratchet-up our motivation by acknowledging some amazing, but less frequently discussed advantages of exercise. Adding these benefits - such as looking and feeling younger - to the list of payoffs may galvanize our workout resolve.
Feel Younger, Look Younger
Not only does exercise keep us feeling young by promoting better sleep, flexibility, and reducing risk of chronic illness, it generates positive changes in mitochondria activity. Mitochondria are cell organelles involved in energy production, and signs of aging have been associated with their decline.
Exercise also benefits our appearance by increasing the blood flow that supplies skin cells with oxygen and nutrients (an exception to this are excessive cardio workouts that release inflammation causing cortisol). Resistance training is especially good for making skin look firmer since it expands the lean muscle lying just beneath our skin.
Calmer Mind, Better Mood
As exercise nourishes the skin it oxygenates our gray matter, as well. This helps the different brain regions communicate, improving overall mental function. Physical activity also stimulates our brain’s production of the substance BDNF, a cell preservative that influences brain stem cells to become new neurons.
The brain changes instigated by exercise are just as good for our mood as our neural network. Vigorous activity promotes a release of the calming neurotransmitter GABA, and elevates levels of the stress fighting, mood enhancing chemicals dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Another substance that increases during and after exercise, anandamide, blocks sensations of depression and pain.
Speedy Results, Fast Recovery
Fortunately, research on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) reveals we don’t have to spend hours working out to enjoy calm minds, or lower blood pressure. HIIT involves short bursts of intense activity, followed by short recovery periods of milder activity. A complete HIIT workout session might take no more than 15 to 30 minutes. Benefits include significant aerobic and anaerobic fitness gains, decreased fasting insulin, better insulin sensitivity, and reduced belly fat.
Observation also confirms that regular exercise of any kind speeds the recovery, or aids the management, of many chronic health conditions such as neuropathy, cancer, osteoarthritis, stroke, and depression.
It [exercise] worked amazingly, particularly in my very sickest patients. If I could get them to do it on a regular basis - even just walking, anything that got their heart rate up a bit - I would see dramatic improvements in the chronic disease, not to mention all of these other things like depression, anxiety, mood and energy levels. ~ Dr. Robert Sallis, Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center
To reap all these rewards of exercise, we just need to make sure our choice of activity matches our fitness level, and has our physician’s blessing. The benefits of exercise are many, and let’s hope there are enough of them to get, and keep us moving.