?Dear Dr. Katie,
I always hear the phrase ?Exercise is good for you.? However, I’m having trouble keeping to my gym schedule because I don’t have a concrete idea of exactly why this is the case! Can you please elaborate??
Great question! Sometimes knowing what happens in our body when we perform an action can significantly change our mental approach. Let’s first examine what exercise does to the body physiologically.
Here’s a brief snapshot of what happens when you exercise. Initially, your muscles use up their store of ATP (think of it as a cellular energy reserve), then begin to seek other fuel. Your heart rate increases in response. This means increased blood flow to muscle areas, and, of course, increased lung capacity as you draw greater breaths of air. Muscles give off heat as they contract, and body temperature rises as a result. Your brain also receives increased blood and oxygen supply, which in turn stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine, glutamate, and serotonin, as well as specific growth hormones.
But although this sounds good, what does it all mean from a health perspective?
Heart: Increased heart rate from exercise translates into a lowered risk for both cardiovascular mortality and coronary artery disease. In other words, there’s less risk of a heart attack, high blood pressure, or stroke.
Muscles: The more you use them, the better they get! Exercise helps promote reduced muscle stiffness, and also maintains the muscle mass you have. In fact, you may even grow additional muscle, depending on the type of exercise you do. Anaerobic strength training offers the potential for greater muscle mass increase than does aerobic exercise, although it brings fewer cardiovascular benefits.
Brain: Increased influx of nutrients to the brain stimulates production of beneficial chemical compounds. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin help moderate depression and make us feel good (hence the post-workout ?buzz?). Other substances, like specific growth hormones, help stimulate neural growth, which means better brain function and possibly an increased speed in spatial learning.
Weight: Probably the most commonly known side effect of exercise is weight loss. Of course, it depends on the type of exercise (aerobic is a great way to burn fat) and the duration (a minimum of 15 minutes of sustained aerobic exercise is recommended). Of course, diet is an additional factor in weight loss.
Immunity: Moderate exercise can boost immunity. Research has shown, for example, that regular, moderate exercise can mean fewer incidences of upper respiratory tract infections. Note, however, that excessive exercise can dampen immunity?particularly when You’re trying to fight off an illness already.
Tummy Control: Who isn’t interested in a flat tummy? Regular exercise can help reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is associated with deposits of hard-to-burn abdominal fat.
Sleep: Physical exercise during the day contributes to better sleep at night. This could be due to lowered cortisol levels (high cortisol usually creates disturbed or unrefreshed sleep patterns) or the positive effects on brain serotonin levels (serotonin is converted to melatonin at night, promoting no-wake sleep). But don’t exercise right before bed, since it may actually keep you awake! ) If you have insomnia, the best time to exercise is four to six hours prior to your intended bedtime.
Feeling Young: It’s not a myth?research does show that exercise can make you feel younger. Plus, regular physical exercise translates into more agility and less stiffness as you grow older.
But a caution . . .
As with everything, moderation is key. Excessive exercise is rarely beneficial from a health perspective, and is often catabolic (destructive to the body). Additionally, those with angina or other serious heart conditions or breathing conditions such as asthma, should use caution regarding exercise. Always speak with your health care provider prior to beginning an exercise regimen.
Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently lives in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.