We all know that working out can make you stronger, but there are many, lesser-known but equally-important benefits of working out from which we can all gain. Read on to learn more about the many benefits of working out and keeping moving!
Bone and Joint Health
As we get older, the bones become more brittle due to losses in essential minerals. The joints become worn down and more vulnerable, with the muscles that support them becoming weak. Between the degradation of bones and joints, the risk of falls and fractures increases significantly – falls that would not cause us any serious damage in youth can be devastating as we age.
Working out – and particularly strength training – can improve both joint and bone health, reducing the risks of falls in advanced age. Strength training increases the mineral density of bones, making them tougher and more resilient to damage. Additionally, strength training will increase the size and strength of our muscles, providing an important protection against debilitating joint injuries by increasing the support around the joint.
While many people seem to think that exercise is only for the young, training into advanced age has been shown to reduce the chances of falls and fractures. Training properly should promote balance and coordination, skills that are essential to life.
Improved Metabolism and Health Markers
Improvements in muscle mass improves overall metabolic health, and exercise – both resistance and aerobic – improves a number of health markers from metabolic stability to blood sugar and blood lipid profiles. It also improves immune function, nutrient uptake/absorption and metabolic efficiency.
There is a false belief that cardiovascular health is just for the heart and resistance training is just for the muscles. While these are both half-true, both styles of exercise will develop different, positive characteristics for both the heart and the muscles. Endurance exercise (like running) will develop muscular endurance, while intense resistance exercise (like heavy squats and deadlifts) will improve the health of the heart and arteries. We lose a considerable amount of our cardio-respiratory capacity as we age and exercise can ensure that this is reduced, improving heart health and lowering the chance of heart problems.
Exercise is one of the most important preventive medicines against coronary heart disease. As the number one killer in the English-speaking world, heart disease accounts for around 40% of deaths every year. Unfortunately, many cases of CHD are the result of lifestyle choices – obesity and poor diet play a large part in causing this, but exercise can help. Exercise – either aerobic or resistance training – reduces the markers associated with serious heart conditions by lowering blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar, improving the concentration of fats in the blood stream and promoting ‘good’ cholesterol over ‘bad’. The difference between exercising and sedentary people is huge in this area and a few hours of intense exercise every week is really a small price to pay to fight heart disease.
Psychological Benefits of Exercise
Exercise also accounts for the development and maintenance of psychological health. While the physical benefits of exercise are many and more widely-known, the psychological benefits of exercise are equally significant. It would not be an exaggeration to say that increased exercise would improve most of the major health problems in the English-speaking world. Not only does it combat obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease, but also depression, the risk of Alzheimer’s and other mental illness.
The brain’s response to intense exercise is to release a host of neuro-chemicals that improve mood. These are associated with reductions in the symptoms of depression and similar psychological maladies. This is even more pronounced when we achieve self-defined goals. The dopaminergic system of the brain sounds very complicated but it could not be simpler: when we do something good, our brain is flooded with chemicals that make us feel good. The more good things we do – particularly things that would have improved our ability to survive – the better we feel. While depression is a complicated problem affected by life situations and brain chemistry, exercise has a huge positive effect on both.
Cognitive Performance and Aging
Cognitive performance is linked closely to exercise and activity levels. The functions of the brain are associated with being active and exercising regularly. Many seem to think that the brain is the “thinking” part of the body and the rest of the body itself is the “doing” part – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The human brain adapted in order to keep us safe at a time when survival was a real concern. It evolved, and exists, to be used during activity and intense exercise. Those who do regular exercise are more likely to demonstrate markers of improved cognitive ability and maintain it as they age. This is particularly important as it combats the risks and onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative conditions.
The human body evolved to be effective when it was used and active – being sedentary has no benefit, but being active can improve your life in a variety of ways. Whether the benefits of working out are joint/bone health, improved health markers or improving mood and confidence, there is a strong case that everyone should be performing regular exercise throughout the week. You’ll feel stronger and better all around!