You know that exercise is key to helping you build a strong, flexible and mobile body. Along with eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and avoiding smoking – a daily exercise habit is one of the best things you can do for your health. However, many of us simply associate exercise and its benefits with our physical bodies. We read articles about how lifting weights can make us stronger, how yoga keeps us flexible, and how running or cycling will help support our heart health. Often overlooked in these articles is how exercise benefits your whole-body health. Not only does exercise build your physical muscles, it also has tremendous benefits for your whole body health. From your brain health, digestive health, mental health, immune system health, and overall ability to withstand health hazards such as illness, chronic stress, or physical stressors such as falls, accidents, and day-to-day living – exercise is your go-to support system. The thing about exercise is that it has a negative reputation. Too many of us associate exercise with grueling high school gym classes or as something we have to do rather than something we want to do. As part of the SierraSil vision to see one million or more people live healthier and more active lives, we want to help you understand how exercise benefits you – inside and out.
How Exercise Benefits Your Entire BodyBeyond supporting your joints and giving you the muscular support to easily bend your knees, carry groceries, and play a game of tennis, exercise has so many trickle-down impacts that once you realize how great exercise is for your entire body, you’ll be hooked on making it a daily practice.
- Brain boosting chemicals: your brain on exercise is pretty incredible. From releasing feel-good endorphins to boost your mood to helping alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression, exercise also helps stimulate the production of brain-deprived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a powerful brain chemical that stimulates the growth of brain cells. Exercise is primarily effective in supporting and encouraging the growth of brain cells in your hippocampus – the part of your brain responsible for memory.
- Stress reduction: getting out for a brisk walk, run, weight-lifting session, or game of basketball is a great way to manage your stress levels. Exercise gives you a much-needed break from the stressors of work and home life. Just knowing that at the end of a busy work day, you have a yoga class or hockey game to look forward to, can make it easier to get through your day. Scientifically speaking, exercise increases the level of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps moderate your brain response to stress, helping you better deal with mental stressors.
- Memory support: it’s a proven fact, as you age, your memory does decline. That feeling of walking into a room and forgetting why you’re in the room or forgetting long-remembered phone numbers or the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The aging process and diseases like Alzheimer’s actually kill of brain cells, causing your brain to shrink and lose important brain functions. Exercise cannot cure dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but it can help slow the brain degeneration that happens after the age of 45.
- Sleep and relaxation support: sleep is so critical to your ability to recharge, recover and be ready for the next day. Serving triple duty, exercise helps you relieve stress, helps you fight depression and anxiety and in turn makes it easier for you to let go and relax. At its most basic, exercise helps you tire out your body, making it easier for you to sleep and even take afternoon naps.
- Self-confidence booster: think of how great you feel after you’ve gone for a run or met up with friends for hike in the woods. There is a feeling of accomplishment for setting a goal and achieving it and this activity gives you confidence in your body. You know that your body can support you in your activity and exercise goals and routines. There are of course the feelings that come when you like what you see in the mirror – let’s not forget that exercise does help you build muscles and maintain a healthy body weight.
- Inspiration for others: have you ever watched the end of an Ironman triathlon or your local marathon? You see regular people, just like you, achieving overwhelming athletic and mental success. There is something special that happens when you see or read about a person who has overcome challenges and stayed focus on their exercise or sport-related goal. Now think of how you can do this for others – it might not seem like a big deal, but your daily walk can inspire your friends and family to be more active and healthy.
- Problem solving and deep thinking: a walk, run, swim, cycle or weight work-out can do wonders for clearing your mind and help you get into a deep thinking and problem-solving mode. Many people use their daily exercise routine to help them work through challenges and even to tap into their creativity.
- Immune system health: your immune system is key to protecting you from toxins, viruses, bacteria and illness. When you exercise you strengthen your heart, help flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways, change the antibodies and white blood cells to help your immune system better detect disease, and slow the release of stress hormones.
- Joint health support: your joints are supported by muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other fibers. The stronger these supporting fibers, the more support you’re able to give to your knees, elbows, wrists, hips, ankles, back, and other joints. This makes it easier for you to move your body, develop joint health, and manage the impacts of conditions such as arthritis.
- Social community: it’s very easy to become disconnected from friends and your social community. You go to work, come home, watch some television and repeat this daily. By joining a sports team or participating in a regular exercise group, you’re extending and broadening your social community, making it easier to make friends and feel connected to your community. This social community is super important to you overall mental and emotional health – we all need friends to talk to, hang out with, walk with, and rely on when we’re struggling.