Maybe you have a super stressful job that is wearing you down. Maybe your heart just got broken by the man you were so absolutely sure you would be spending the rest of your days with. Or maybe, like me, you recently suffered the loss of a loved one. Whatever you may be going through, exercise just may be the answer – or at the very least a great addition to whatever approach you are already utilizing to overcome life’s difficulties. Bonus: with a regular exercise regimen you could prevent age-related dementia, improve your sex life, get more and better quality sleep and teach younger ones good habits at the same time. Sounds like a great thing to me. Don’t you agree?
There is no surprise in the fact that adding exercise to your regular routine will help you lose weight since increased activity equals increased energy output – read “burned calories.” Of course you have to be eating right as well since nutrition is the MAJOR key to weight loss success, especially over the long term. Exercising will definitely help you get there faster though – not to mention the other added health benefits listed below.
2. Dementia prevention
It has been public knowledge for some time now that keeping your mind active with things like crossword puzzles and memory games will help prolong cognitive function, but did you know that physical exercise can be just as, if not MORE beneficial in delaying mental decline? Researchers of one study used MRI brain scans and medical records to compare the effects of mental and physical exercise on the brain and found that physical exercise worked better to protect the brain from age-related dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association presented similar results at their Internation Conference. Scientists speculate this may be due to the fact that physical exercise helps to keep the brain nourished by providing it with a good amount of nutrient-rich blood.
3. To be positive role models to younger generations
With childhood obesity on the rise it is important that we provide our younger generations with the necessary tools to protect them from weight related psychological and physiological disorders. If we can guide our youth by providing them with healthy habits early in life they might not have to face many unfortunate health problems that plague so many today. Additionally, research shows that children who are more physically active not only have better self-esteem, but they have larger hippocampus’ – think “control center” of the brain, thus they perform better cognitively. Yet another reason to get out and play a game of kickball with the kids or go for a bike ride, or even just a walk!
4. To help combat addictions
Did you know that exercise can help individuals stay on track with sobriety? Exercise can help regulate circadian timing in individuals undergoing treatment for addictions, something that has been associated with negative effects on emotional health in those with dependence issues. Exercise helps to alter the chemical environment of the brain much like alcohol or drugs would by releasing dopamine. This could play a major role in the recovery process for many!
5. Enhanced sleep
Yepper! Exercising regularly can help you sleep better without all of those pills with the nutzo side effects. Why take more pills if you don’t have to!?!? Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise can help enhance both sleep quality and duration in older adults.
6. Better sex life
Umm…exercise enhances blood flow by dialating your blood vessels and well, there’s one major vein that needs blood flow in order to, a-hem, DO I REALLY NEED TO SAY IT PEOPLE? Please don’t make me say it. I’ll just say this. Exercise helps to reduce the risk of impotence. Okay? Also, enhanced endurance (we discuss that below) helps too. 😉
7. Fight type 2 diabetes & other chronic diseases
In as little as 24 hours without activity, muscle cells sort of, well, fall asleep if you will. And when that happens the insulin-mediated transport system necessary for glucose (a.k.a. energy) to enter into cells stops working the way it’s supposed to. SO EXERCISE! The more you exercise the insulin sensitive your cells become and the less likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Or if you already have T2DM getting more active can help “wake up” those cells and make them more sensitive to insulin. That’s a good thing! In fact, it is very possible to reduce or even get rid of your T2DM all together simply through a healthy diet and exercise regimen. But NEVER stop taking prescribed medications without first talking to your doctor! Your plan should ALWAYS be monitored by medical professionals.
8. Increased energy and mental alertness
Although it sounds counterintuitive, if you suffer from reduced energy levels you might need to just exercise more. There are often times I feel so tired that I just want to plop down on the sofa and eat some raw oatmeal and chocolate (my comfort foods of choice), but I force myself to put on my tennis and hit the road. It never fails – just five minutes of jogging and there is a huge smile on my face and I feel like I could run forever. Now, this might not be the case 45 minutes later, but after I’m all showered and rehydrate/refueled I have LOADS more energy for the entire rest of the day. So if you suffer from brain fog or lethargy (mid-afternoon slump anyone?) get up and go for a walk or a run. Even if it’s just a stroll around the office, getting the body moving can help wake it up and increase your mental alertness too!
9. Increased endurance
It’s no surprise that exercise can help to increase endurance. So if your goal is to finally conquer that 5K you’ve been talking about for your New Year’s Resolution every year for the last 5 years now, GET OUT AND START JOGGING! It doesn’t take long for your body to gain endurance. And if you were an athlete when you were younger and haven’t exercised in years, don’t worry – your muscles remember and soon you will be on the path to healthy. Starting is key. So just do it! Just make sure to get your doc’s okay if you have any previous injuries or haven’t exercised in years. Always better to be safe than sorry!
10. Combat depression, stress, anxiety, improve self-esteem and overall mood
This is by far my favorite reason to exercise. Even more so than for weight loss!!!
Much like how exercise can help those with dependence problems, the endorphins released during exercise help to enhance your mood. Yay! There have been a lot of studies that have tried to figure out exactly what mechanism is responsible for the positive effects exercise has on mental status, but scientists are pretty sure that chemicals in the brain are responsible, including increased serotonin production. Enhanced sleep is another thing researchers speculate to help with mood disorders, but no matter what the mechanism is the important thing is that IMPROVEMENTS HAVE BEEN OBSERVED IN DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, SELF-ESTEEM, PANIC DISORDERS, AND OVERALL MOOD! Awesome!
My go-to therapy when I’m feeling down or stressed or simply energy depleated is always good ole exercise. Even though I might feel like curling up on the sofa with a box of tissues, a good movie and some comfort food, I force myself to either go for a run or hit the cardio equipment at the gym. And you know what? I always feel better afterward. I’m always glad I went. And it doesn’t have to be strenuous – a simple walk or even just some hatha yoga or sun salutations could help get you back on track to the positive path you want to be on.
This post is dedicated to my beloved Bella, my angel. I am so lucky that she chose me. I was able to spend six wonderful years with her. She was the sweetest, most playful, loving kitty I could have ever asked for.
Exercise has been VERY helpful in getting through the loss of my baby girl.
As always, thanks for reading.
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- Nauert R. Exercise improves self-esteem in overweight kids. Psych Central. http://psychcentral.com/news/2009/03/19/exercise-improves-self-esteem-in-overweight-kids/4839.html. Reviewed on March 19, 2009. Page last updated on September 21, 2014. Accessed on September 21, 2014.
- [no author listed] Children’s brain development is linked to physical fitness, research finds. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100915171536.htm. Published on September 16, 2010. Accessed on September 21, 2014.
- Kangasniemi A, Lappalainen R, Kankaanpaa A, Tammelin T. Mindfulness skills, psychological symptoms among physically less active and active adults. Ment Health Phys Act. 2014;7(3):121-7. doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2014.06.005.
- Cotman CW. Diet and exercise in Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s Association Research Center. http://www.alz.org/research/video/alzheimers_videos_and_media_diet.asp. Accessed on September 25, 2014.
- Booth JN, Tomporowski PD, Boyle JM, et al. Associations between executive attention and objectively measured physical activity in adolescence: findings from ALSPAC, a UK cohort. Ment Health Phys Act. 2013;6(3):212-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mhpa.2013.09.002
- [no author listed] Exercise may be an effective and nonpharmacologic treatment option for alcohol dependence. Science Daily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100621173723.htm. Published on June 23, 2010. Accessed on September 21, 2014.
- [no author listed] Exercise for stress and anxiety. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety. Accessed on September 21, 2014.
Akbari Kamrani AA, Shams A, Shamsipour Dehkordi P, Mohajeri R. The effect of low and moderate intensity aerobic exercises on sleep quality in men older adults. Pak J Med Sci. 2014;20(2):417-21. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.12669/pjms.302.4386.
- Reid KJ, Baron KG, Lu B, et al. Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Med. 2010;11(9):934-40. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2010.04.014.
- Hatha yoga: what is hatha yoga? Yoga Yoga. http://www.yogayoga.com/classes/hatha-flow. Accessed on September 25, 2014.