Health Benefits of Exercise

July 21, 2017 (Updated: January 9, 2019)
Lily Moran

We all have something very powerful at our immediate access—the ability to do something that can sculpt your body, fine tune your brain, boost your confidence, and much more. The ability has been known to humankind for nearly as long as we walked the earth.

This superpower is simple, regular exercise. I know, I know. Not the answer you might have been hoping to hear. But hear me out. Maybe you’ve been led to believe that exercise must be loathsome and painful. Or perhaps you think that exercising will wipe you out or cause an injury.

Neither has to be true for you. Please read on to learn simple ways to introduce the right exercises into your lifestyle and start benefitting immediately.

The Health Benefits of Exercise

Exercise halts every negative aspect of a sedentary lifestyle. Next, it reverses it.

To many, this is common sense. But because it’s common sense I think people lose sight of exercise’s simplicity and power. Exercise helps you:

  • Lose weight
  • Keep lost weight off
  • Prevent and reverse heart disease
  • Prevent and manage breast cancer
  • Prevent and manage osteoporosis
  • Prevent and reverse Type-2 diabetes
  • Prevent and manage mental illness
  • Improve your self-esteem and confidence
  • Shave years off your brain’s functional age
  • Lower stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve overall heart health
  • Prevent and manage arthritic pain
  • Improve the quality of your sleep
  • Detoxify your body

Believe it or not, this is actually a short list but I think you get the point: Exercise helps all systems of your body.

And exercise does these things better than nearly every prescription pill out there. But unlike a lot of prescription medications, exercise is 100% natural and inexpensive. Often, it’s totally free. And exercise comes in a wide variety of forms that can fit into nearly all lifestyles.

You are probably waiting for “the catch” here. Sorry to disappoint you but there isn’t one. Exercise can be easy and fun and it doesn’t have to consume your entire day.

Here’s how you can begin exercising today regardless of your currently level of activity.

How to Exercise More… For All Fitness Levels

Exercise doesn’t have to mean pain. It doesn’t have to mean hours in the gym. It doesn’t even have to be every day (at least at first). Even just a little bit of exercise is better for your body than you may realize.

The very idea of exercise can be a turnoff. Especially if you’re recovering from an injury, illness, or if you’ve just never been much of an athlete. Other people want to exercise more but they’re intimidated by the simple questions of: “Which exercises are best for me?” and “How do I start?”

These questions can be overwhelming because there are lots of ways to answer them. For example, there are differences between walking, walking fast, jogging fast, and running. Differences between using a gym-style machine or just your feet, your shoes, and the road.

The most important first step is to check in with your doctor. Tell him or her that you want to exercise more and ask for suggestions based on your health situation. Have your blood pressure checked, too. If it’s high, you’ll need to be careful you don’t overdo it.

The next step is to set an objective. Different exercise regimens give you different results. What’s your goal? Stronger muscles? Shed some pounds? Running a marathon? More flexible joints?

Next, just as important: how much time are you willing to commit? Twenty minutes or an hour every day? Two hours a week? Here’s the thing—you don’t have to set your bar too high to get benefits. Even getting off the couch or desk chair and taking a short walk around for a few minutes, once an hour, can work wonders. Anything that stops lengthy doses of doing nothing. Because, when it comes to exercise, something is always better than nothing.

When you decide your level of commitment, pick a time when you’ll do your exercise—and commit. Make it a calendar item: “Every (day/week) at (1/2/3 o’clock), (walk/dance/do some jumping jacks) for (1/2/3 minutes/hours).”

Important: Let people know about your new commitment – it can be helpful to have a friend or loved one keep you accountable. And make sure they know you’re not available at that time…and do errands and chores before or after.

I want you to try exercising three to five times a week. It doesn’t take a lot to get started either. Begin by walking 5 minutes a day. Then 10 minutes a day. If you walk your dog, walk it more often and for a few more blocks than usual.

Gardening, dancing, riding your bike. Taking the stairs a floor or two instead of the elevator. None of these activities take a lot of resources – you can start doing them today.

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When you are at a point where you are no longer challenged by the five-times-a-week plan, you can add more time to each routine, add more intense exercises to the routine (i.e. aerobics), or make your existing exercises more rigorous (i.e. walking faster and further).

The five-times-a-week plan is effective because it makes exercise a part of your daily routine. It becomes a habit instead of something that you do if time permits. This helps prevent the “I’ll do it tomorrow” mentality.

What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Exercise?

The hot catchphrase in the medical community is, “Sitting is the new smoking.” By that, we mean that a sedentary lifestyle is so profoundly unhealthy for you, it’s actually worse than smoking cigarettes.

So what does sedentary mean? Having a sedentary lifestyle means little to no physical activity on a daily basis. Lots of sitting and lying down throughout the day while engaged in activities such as reading, watching TV, using your computer or mobile phone, working at your desk, etc.

Common effects of a sedentary lifestyle include: heart disease, muscle atrophy, diabetes and obesity. Yes, obesity is also closely related to your diet, but if you don’t burn calories, they will pile on top of one another in your body.

That’s just the beginning. There’s a second tier of damage brought on by being sedentary. Your mental health, memory, immune system, and nervous system are also likely to suffer if you don’t exercise. You’re also more prone to cancer and osteoporosis.

In short, sitting is quite literally killing you. But all of these horrible side effects are very preventable. And it’s not too hard to figure out how. Simply ask yourself, “What’s the opposite of being sedentary?” Movement! Lots of movement.

But your body doesn’t move on its own. Sometimes it’s hard to muster motivation for something that hasn’t been a part of your daily routine for a long time. I’ve come ready to help you with that too…

Tips to Motivate and Reward Yourself

Having a plan is important. But sticking to it is more important.

Technology can keep you locked in the habit of exercising. Fit trackers and exercise apps can make exercise fun and competitive, even if you are just competing with yourself. Just as effective is getting a close friend or family member in on the exercise. You’ll keep each other motivated to exercise and you’ll enjoy the exercise more.

Also, now that television itself has become an on-demand service, you don’t have to watch your favorite shows when they air. For example, you can record afternoon shows to watch later that day or night – after you exercise of course.

A rewards system is also a great motivating agent. For example, if you meet or exceed your weekly or monthly exercise goals, reward yourself with a massage, weekend getaway, date night, a bouquet of flowers, new clothes, a day off work, and more. A simple Google search of exercise rewards yields many creative ideas.

However, I do advise against rewarding yourself with indulgent food. A treat now and then is OK—everyone needs an occasional “cheat day” as long as you don’t go overboard—but unhealthy rewards for healthy habits is counterproductive and sends the wrong signal.

A Prescription of Life-Long Health

I normally don’t do this, but I’m writing a prescription right now to you and anyone else who might read this: Exercise! If you don’t exercise now, it does not take much to get started. If you already exercise, add a little more to your routine.

Exercise is a 100% natural way to keep weight off and lower the chances that you’ll develop heart disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer, dementia, diabetes, and more. Further, this natural remedy does not involve a pill, fad, or spending a lot of money. Nor does it have a side effect. Again, zero-downside.

But like many prescriptions, the intended effects may take a week or two to kick in. So, it’s important to stick with it because when they do kick in, the effects on your body will be powerful and positive.

The key is to avoid being sedentary for long periods of time. If you find yourself sitting for a while get up and move. Aim to do this once an hour. Even better, walk outside and get some natural vitamin D from the sun!

Now go out and fill that prescription!

References

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