Ever since I could remember I have always heard that exercise is “good for you”. But when you ask people what that means they find it hard to define. Some will say that it “makes you stronger”, or that it is “good for your heart”. Others get the mind body connection and will say that “it just makes me feel good” or “I do it for stress”. There is a whole field now built on the science of exercise- and there is a lot of science behind it! This article will shed a little light on some of that science in the hopes that some will participate in activity knowing a bit more detail. From my perspective, the “good for you” is not working with a large part of the population. Education is always important and may turn on the proverbial switch in the brain. People are motivated by different things and if something resonates in this article as to why you should start exercising then it is worth it.
For starters, many avoid exercise because they think it has to be painful to get something out of it. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, most of the evidence supports consistent moderate physical activity is beneficial to not only obtaining better health but preventing disease. It is not necessary to exercise with high intensity unless you are an athlete competing at a high level.
There are different types of exercise, and like nutrition, the term “exercise” can be confusing to the casual observer. For instance, nutrition is simple but it has been made complex with the myriad of diets that are out there. Likewise, exercise is simple but there are so many programs available that people get confused and are not sure what is best for them. The objective is to move and move often. This should vary from day to day and it should be a combination of physical activity and structured exercise.
Physical activity can be as simple as walking, hiking, playing tennis, golf, skiing, dancing,volleyball, gardening, mowing the lawn, badminton- you name it- as long as the body is moving. Do what you enjoy doing and there will be some positive outcomes with physical activity only. However, to enjoy greater benefits of exercise it is important to have structured exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes. This could include resistance training (anaerobic) with bodyweight exercises, exercise bands, machines, free weights or medicine balls. It could also include cardiovascular or aerobic type exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or elliptical training. You could also set up a circuit of light weights and mover from station to station getting your heart rate up.
There should probably be some form of flexibility for injury prevention as well. Athletes will also incorporate power, speed, agility, and balance to help with performance. These other forms of fitness are not just for athletes as anyone can incorporate them into their exercise routines. Mix it up, have fun with it and enjoy the benefits.
Cardiovascular exercise is probably the most important of all the exercises because of its direct influence on the heart and cardiovascular system. 20-30 minutes of sustained aerobic exercise where the heart rate is elevated at 60-80% of your maximum heart rate will have profound effects on your overall health. (An estimated maximum heart rate is 220- age = maximum heart rate. A more accurate estimate of maximum heart rate is 206.9- (0.67 X age). The latter formula is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine but is a little more complicated than the older formula. The differences are not that significant and either can be used to determine maximum heart rate. Then it’s a matter of multiplying by percentage to get a working heart rate. Plug in 60-80% and that will be your working heart rate. There are formula’s online to help you find your working heart rate.
Cardiovascular exercise has so many benefits and the most important one is its impact on heart disease. Heart disease is our number one killer in society and aerobic exercise goes a long way in not only helping to prevent this disease, but is also useful in the management of the disease. How does aerobic exercise impact the cardiovascular system? For starters, it improves blood flow to the heart itself thereby feeding it. In fact, cardiovascular training may increase collateralization to the heart muscle. The coronary arteries of the heart may develop sideroads to feed the myocardial heart tissue. If there is a clog in one of the main arteries side streets can be used to go around the blockage. This is an amazing adaptation of the human body! The ability to lay down more vessels in order to feed the heart muscle.
Consistent aerobic training can also strengthen the left ventricle thereby increasing the efficiency of how blood is pumped from the heart to the rest of the body. This in turn will lower one’s resting heart rate. Think about having a resting heart rate of 65 beats per minute versus 75 bpm. That’s 10 beats a minute, 600 beats an hour, 14,400 beats a day, 432,000 beats a month, and 5,184,000 beats a year! By training and growing your heart muscle (cardiac hypertrophy), your heart can save over 5 million beats throughout the year! Think how that can save your heart muscle over a lifetime.
Resistive exercises have been shown to be beneficial to increasing muscle strength, endurance, and overall lean mass. There are thousands of studies showing that progressive resistive exercise such as weight training will increase muscle density and growth. Muscle density can also be beneficial as one ages in the prevention of sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is a gradual loss of muscle over time. This can contribute to weakness, loss of balance, frailty, and a decrease in quality of life.
Resistive training can also help to increase bone density throughout your life. Progressive resistive weight training in your early years will help you in your later years. Loss of bone in early life will lead to osteopenia and eventually osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a bone thinning disease. It has multiple causes but we do know that a lifestyle that includes resistive training can have a positive influence on bone density and prevent osteoporosis.
While cardiovascular, muscle, and bone changes are most significant in the body with consistent exercise, there are many other benefits one can achieve with physical activity. These changes are more powerful than any medicine out there. In fact, if someone said that there is a pill that will help you with your heart, lungs, brain, nervous system, bones, muscles, and immune system would you take it? The answer is yes and it is right under your nose in the form of consistent exercise along with physical activity.
Here are some other benefits with physical activity and structured exercise that you can expect with consistent training.
- Lowers blood pressure/ dilates arteries
- Improves brain activity which improves mood and sleep
- Reduces insulin resistance-- this is a precursor to diabetes: helps to manage diabetes as well.
- Increases insulin sensitivity→ this means that the body can pick up the extra sugar in the blood and spare insulin.
- Reduces inflammation in the body
- Stimulates growth factors in the brain responsible for survival and abundance of new blood cells.
- Aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus in the brain. This structure is responsible for memory.
- Strengthens connective tissue thereby preventing injuries.
- Aerobic exercise improved retention among children, adults and the elderly.
- Aerobic exercise slows cognitive decline
- Resistance and functional training improves proprioception → knowing where you are in space/ balance
- Aerobic and anaerobic training helps with weight loss- expecially with overweight or obese children and adults.
- Helps to inhibit the amygdala in the brain. The amygdala is responsible for anxiety and fear.
- Helps to slow the aging process.
- Helps to decrease risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis.
- Decreases overall blood cholesterol: decreases LDL’s (bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL’s (good cholesterol).
- ** Produces an enzyme known as Extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD) that helps protect against ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) and other heart and lung diseases. (may have positive implications on COVID-19
- Boosts immunity in the short term by increasing production of macrophages that help to attack bacteria. In long term moderate exercise has a profound impact on the immune system.
As you can see there are many benefits of physical activity along with structured exercise. I emphasize both throughout the article because there is a synergistic response when both are combined. You should not be a slave to exercise, but rather, enjoy getting out and moving most days of the week. If you accumulate 150 minutes a week of both then you are well on your way to the benefits of a lifetime! So yes, exercise is definately “good for you”!
William Brightman DC, MS, MEd
Private practice Mahopac, NY