Exercise…it’s not just for your waist-line
Growing up, I was quite possibly the most sedentary kid ever. I hated gym class, morning recess, playing outside…and it wasn’t out of laziness, really, as I was a hard worker in many other ways. I was simply extremely uncoordinated, unskilled, and self-conscious of my lack of coordination and skills. As a result, I generally steered clear of any activity that would require those things.
The turning point in my life was probably in 2013, when I signed up for a Tough Mudder. Yes, really. Truth be told, it was mostly a consequence of peer pressure, but let’s pretend I was super gung-ho about it. My sheer determination to not die in this 10-mile obstacle course prompted me to start training. My friend recommended a 60-day, high-intensity, endurance training program and what do you know! I was HOOKED. Each and every gruelling workout was brutal, painful, a mental struggle as much as a physical one, and I absolutely loved it. To this day, exercising remains my number one hobby.
I find that exercise is often only talked about as a tool to lose weight, build muscle, or deal with some chronic illnesses, but physical activity actually has a wide range of really important benefits beyond body composition. So let’s chat about it!
For me, I move my body on a daily basis mostly for my mental health; any physique changes are an unintended by-product. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise can improve mental health indicators like mood, self-esteem, stress levels, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. How does exercise do all that? Well, there are several possible explanations. For instance, the thermogenic hypothesis suggests that the increase in temperature of the body and the brain promotes relaxation, thus relieving anxiety. The endorphin hypothesis suggests that the release of endorphins promotes positive feelings that alleviate symptoms of depression. Exercise also increases production of certain neurotransmitters that work in the same way as anti-depressants.
If that’s not impressive in and of itself, exercise can also provide profound benefits to your cognition. It can improve attention, memory, reaction time, and has seen to be protective against developing Alzheimer’s disease. These effects are thought to occur because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, stimulates the generation of new cells in the part of brain responsible for learning and memory, and also reduces age-related deterioration of the brain.
Ageing is also associated with progressive bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis. To optimize bone health, both good nutrition and movement need to work together. High impact weight-bearing exercises are great for minimizing your risk for osteoporosis because they create mechanical strain, which stimulates an adaptation response that strengthens bones.
You don’t need fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership to see these benefits. All you need is your body – try things like squats, push-ups, lunges, dips, and planks. YouTube and Instagram are overflowing with home workout ideas that are free to all and makes effective workouts super accessible! The main message here is just to move your body every day. Our bodies were designed to be active. If you are new to exercising, start slow and listen to your body.
Let me know in the comments below how you moved your body today!