You’ve heard it before, “exercise is good for you.” It probably started with your PE teacher in grade school and now it’s your doctor reminding you at your annual physical exam. It seems that a new study touting the benefits of exercise is reported on the nightly news almost every week. We all know that exercise is good for losing weight and getting stronger, but what you might not realize is that beyond the physical changes you see, by committing to a regular exercise routine, you’ll have a positive impact on your mind, body and soul. So why is it that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t participate in any physical activity?
When faced with a busy schedule and too many meetings on your calendar, exercise often takes a backseat. If you’re not sleeping well and wake up exhausted, the last thing you want to do is lace up your running shoes and head out for a sweat session. However, the next time you’re fading midday, consider skipping your visit to the local coffee truck and hit the gym instead.
According to a 2011 study of more that 3000 people, those who get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day than those who do not.1
In that same year, a study of older adults revealed that regular aerobic exercise increases the volume of the hippocampus, the area of the brain related to memory, and can help improve memory function. While its effect on the mind is continually being studied, findings strongly suggest that exercise promotes improved brain function.2
You’ve probably known that aerobic exercise is essential for heart health as long as you can remember. Starting an exercise program is often the first piece of advice given to individuals at risk of developing cardiac disease. People who exercise regularly tend to develop less heart disease their sedentary colleagues. If they do develop a form of heart disease, it happens later in life and is generally not as severe.3
Exercise also promotes bone health, an important consideration as we age. While studies are ongoing, one released earlier this year showed moderate intensity aerobic exercise may have a protective effect on bone and cartilage by regulating elements in the body involved in increasing our bone mass density.4
A strong heart and strong bones are important, but exercise can help the body in other ways. Emerging research suggests that moderate amounts of exercise may have a positive effect on chronic pain by changing an individual’s perception of and response to their pain.5 Movement continues to be the most conservative, most inexpensive, and likely the most effective treatment for lower back pain, a condition that affects 80% of us during our lives.
Have you ever started a workout in a bad mood and ended it feeling even worse? Not likely. Do you alleviate stress with a tough session? You might be on to something. There is a strong link between between exercise and mood. In general, active people are less depressed than sedentary people. A 2007 study concluded that exercise was generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder.6 A hot topic of research in the mental health field, scientists are extremely interested in learning how to prescribe exercise as treatment for a variety of conditions including stress, anxiety, and depression.
The more digitally connected we are, the less real contact we tend to have with friends and family. There’s an app for everything, but not one that promotes in-person interaction with our true social circles. Exercise has a positive effect on our relationships and can even lead to developing new friendships. Finding a common exercise interest increases motivation, fosters healthy competition and can create strong social bonds with friends and family.
The benefits of exercise are vast and the scientific support of movement continues to grow. Who wouldn’t want to look better, feel better and be better? If you’re a regular exerciser, keep it up! The changes you’re making are huge. If exercise hasn’t been your thing, find something you enjoy, commit to your health and get moving. Your mind, body and soul will thank you.
- Loprinzi, Paul and Bradley Cardinal. “Association between objectively-measured physical activity and sleep, NHANES 2005–2006.” Mental Health and Physical Activity2, (2011) 65–69.
- Ericksona, KI, et al. “Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.” PNAS 108.7, (2011) 3017-3022.
- Myers, J. “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” Circulation.107(2003) e2-e5
- Alghadir, JH, et al. “Correlation between bone mineral density and serum trace elements in response to supervised aerobic training in older adults.” Clin Interv Aging.11 (2016) 265-73.
- Jones, MD, et al. “Aerobic training increases pain tolerance in healthy individuals.” Med Sci Sports Exerc8(2014) 1640-7.
- Blumenthal, JA, et al. “Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder.” Psychosom Med. 7 (2007) 587-96.