8 Reasons To Exercise That Have Nothing To Do With Your Looks

Like most people, you have probably heard that any physical activity is good for you and lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases.

In a world-first study recently published in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet researchers have found that lack of physical activity cost the United States $27.8 billion and globally a whopping $67.5 billion in 2013. “These are just conservative estimates but hopefully the study highlights the economic burden of an increasingly sedentary world” said lead scientist, Dr Melody Ding from the University of Sydney.

If you are already exercising - congratulations, keep it up! In fact, it may be time to push yourself harder. You can try a new activity or find out ways to add even more exercise to your life.

Whatever you do, it is important to do it consistently.

Many people look at different exercises as a means of losing weight, looking good and developing a great physique. But exercise goes beyond that. There is a reason why doctors ask bed ridden patients - even those who cannot sit up or stand on their own - to exercise daily. So what exactly happens inside your body when you exercise?

  • Your heart rate doubles.

  • Millions of capillaries open up to feed muscles.

  • Your bones acquire the calcium they need from the blood.

  • Your lungs pass almost 100 liters of air in and out a minute.

  • Each and every cell in your body gets oxygen and nutrients to produce ATP - the energy used by the cell mitochondria to function well.

  • Food is broken down in the stomach.

  • Stress is reduced.

These are just a few reasons why you should exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. If these reasons do not convince you, try the following 8 science backed reasons why everyone should take up some form of regular exercise.

1. Keep your heart healthy with exercise

With regular exercise, your circulatory system adapts by boosting your cardiovascular endurance. It creates more plasma and since plasma is a constituent of blood, your blood volume increases. This gives the heart more blood to pump so its ventricles have to increase in size to hold this increased blood volume. Over time, it strengthens the heart muscle and prevents heart attacks.

2. Exercise reduces cancer risk

Obesity is a proven cancer risk. Through regular exercise, you can lower this risk greatly. In women, exercise impacts the levels of estrogen in the body. Regular exercise helps circulate and balance the estrogen in the body. This reduces risk of breast and colon cancers and even cancer of the endometrium or uterine lining.

A recent study published in JAMA further confirmed the cancer-protective benefits of exercise. The researchers pooled data from 12 prospective studies involving 1.44 million participants to assess associations between leisure-time physical activity and cancers and concluded that exercise was associated with significantly reduced risk of 13 types of cancer including 42% lower risk for esophageal adenocarcinoma, 23% lower for renal carcinoma and 20% lower for myeloid leukemia.

3. It keeps the brain healthy

When you choose to move a muscle, your brain has to transmit the message to the muscle fibres via nerves. The fibres respond by contracting the muscles. To reverse the motion, your brain has to again send a signal to the opposing group of muscles. Therefore, exercises which involve continuous motion like rowing, cycling, jogging, swimming or walking help keep the that brain healthy.

Scientists have even been able to identify the protein produced during muscle exertion. This protein, when fed to non-exercising rats has actually been able to turn on genes which promote brain health and encourage growth of nerves involved in learning and memory.

These findings published in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2013, help explain the well-known fact that exercise boosts cognitive function particularly in elderly. Did you know that exercise may slow brain aging by 10 years for older people?

4. Exercise lowers the risk of developing metabolic syndrome

Even women who are moderate exercisers increase their risk of gaining weight and diabetes the more TV they watch, regardless of how much physical activity they indulge in on a daily basis. For every 2 hours spent watching TV, the risk of becoming obese increases by 23% and developing diabetes goes up by 14%.

Decades of research has shown that by simply adding moderately intense exercise to your daily routine for as little as 30 minutes can help decrease risk of metabolic syndrome (a combination of high cholesterol, blood pressure, abdominal obesity and diabetes - all prelude to heart attack) and improve overall health and extend life.

5. It also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia

A Florida study has demonstrated that exercise at mid-life can reduce the odds of Alzheimer’s and dementia by up to 60%. These extraordinary findings have been corroborated by several other studies including one at the University of Lisbon. As Dr. Lawrence Whalley, a researcher at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen says: “Whatever is good for your heart is also good for your brain.”

PET scans showing the differences between a normal older adult's brain and the brain of an older adult afflicted with Alzheim
PET scans showing the differences between a normal older adult's brain and the brain of an older adult afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

6. Exercise maintains eye health

Our eyes are held in their socket by a set of 6 muscles. Aerobic exercises increase the oxygen consumption of the body, improve blood circulation and maintain weight in normal range. This reduces risk of diabetes and can prevent diabetic retinopathy. Therefore, exercises like swimming, skating, hockey, basketball and biking are all good for the eyes.

7. It keeps bones strong

Our body is constantly building and dismantling bone tissue, replacing old bones with new ones while freeing up calcium. As we get older, bone is lost more rapidly than it is formed. Exercise can help prevent this loss by strengthening tendons that attach bones and putting calcium back into the bones.

This increases bone strength and density. Exercises beneficial for bone health include ones that work against gravity - basketball, jogging, tennis and strength training work best.

8. Live longer and happier

Research data strongly support the claim that exercise is an evidence-based treatment for depression. Exercise keeps the mind active and boosts cognitive function. Elderly who exercise at community centers get to meet people and are less likely to suffer from loneliness and isolation.

Walking or jogging outdoors is a great way to get vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin that boosts and uplifts mood. You can improve the outlook on life through regular exercise and keeping engaged with your community.

So make sure you make time for wellness. You might hate working out at first but you will love the results. As they say: the only bad workout is the one that did not happen!

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