We all choose to exercise for different reasons. While most of us hit the gym for a better body, others exercise for improved sporting performance.
Then there are those who work up a sweat for the numerous health benefits that physical activity impacts. Whatever your reason for staying active, these are many additional benefits that regular exercise delivers:
While we can argue whether or not exercise can deliver significant weight loss in isolation, there’s no doubt that the correct type of training has the potential to dramatically transform your body composition.
From increasing muscle mass through weight training to helping you metabolise stored fat more efficiently when combined with the correct dietary approach, a combination of resistance training and aerobic exercise are the ideal tools to improve your health, as well as your body.
Prevents or treats lifestyle disease
From a health perspective, reducing body fat levels has also been linked to reduced risk or, in certain instances, the alleviation of numerous lifestyle diseases such as insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels.
More specifically, there is a growing body of research that indicates that by losing just 5-10% of your body weight, blood pressure decreases by 5 mmHg on average.
Furthermore, both fat and weight loss, even in modest amounts, in addition to regular exercise, can all help to improve your insulin response and sensitivity.
Reduces visceral body fat
These seemingly disproportionate benefits from such a small change in body weight have largely been attributed to the effects that reducing visceral body fat has on our health because visceral fat (also known as organ fat or intra-abdominal fat) is closely associated with metabolic dysfunction.
What’s more is that excess visceral body fat also increases our risk of dementia, according to various studies. For instance, a study conducted by healthcare company Kaiser Permanente that compared people with different levels of belly fat found that those who had the most belly fat were 145% more likely to develop dementia compared with those with the least amount.
Another reason why visceral fat is more detrimental to our health is the role it plays in chronic inflammation.
Better body composition leads to greater self-worth and enhanced self-confidence, while improved health and fitness lead to a general feeling of wellbeing and vitality. This all equates to a better quality of life.
Conditions like chronic fatigue, depression and general lethargy can also be addressed through regular exercise because it helps to strengthen and improve your cardiorespiratory and cardiovascular systems, enhances mobility and improves functional strength.
This can help to boost your zest for life and ability to engage in and enjoy a variety of activities, be it a trip to the park with your kids or simply the ability to walk around the mall without feeling like you’ve just run a marathon.
There are also studies that show how exercise can be a great way to combat depression. One such study, conducted at Harvard University, found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than counselling. The main reason why exercise is so successful at fighting depression is that it releases endorphins – those so-called ‘feel-good’ chemicals that help elevate mood.
The right type, volume and intensity of exercise can benefit the digestive system in many ways. Mild to moderate exercise helps to promote peristalsis – the movement of food through the bowel – which can help alleviate common digestive issues.
A 2014 study also found a direct relationship between exercise and the diversity of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which is a key indicator of digestive health and efficiency.
Improves sleep quality
A study conducted by scientists at Northwestern University found that aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality, with researchers finding that two 20-minute sessions or one 30-40 minute workout performed four times a week improved the participants’ ability to fall asleep along with their sleep quality when compared to the non-exercising control group.
In another study, this one published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, which studied more than 3,000 people between the ages of 18 to 85, found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week provided a 65% improvement in sleep quality.
A great deal of available research also shows that losing body fat and, potentially, some weight can increase longevity. Obviously, by reducing your risk of suffering from any of the many conditions already mentioned you stand to live a longer life, but exercise can also help to extend your life in other ways.
For instance, in 2007, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) looked at more than 250,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71, and confirmed that standard exercise recommendations did, in fact, improve longevity.
The study found that people who engaged in an average of just 15 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily, six times per week, for a total of 92 minutes per week, lived an average of three years longer than those who were inactive.
In one study, a team of Australian researchers compared people who practised progressive relaxation techniques with a group who did 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week and found that it was the exercise group had lower blood pressure and responded best to acute stress.