I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Exercise is the most underrated medicine out there.” But unlike many sensational claims, this one holds a lot of truth.
In today’s world, many people choose to reach for different drugs where instead leading an active lifestyle could be a superior choice.
While exercise isn’t the solution to every health problem out there, it certainly helps in many situations and offers some incredible benefits for the body and mind.
Today, we’ll go over five science-backed physical and physiological benefits of regular exercise.
1. It Leads to Fat Loss and Prevention of Fat Regain
The most obvious benefit of exercise is fat loss. After all, a large percentage of people get into a training program with that very goal in mind. And, the fact is, physical activity is an excellent way of losing fat and keeping it off in the long run. It achieves that on a few fronts.
First, physical activity, particularly the type which involves weight training, helps us build muscle mass and maintain it during periods of dieting. This allows the body to burn primarily fat and leave our muscle tissue alone, which ultimately allows us to get lean, and not just lose weight for the sake of seeing smaller digits on the scale.
Second, thanks to the increase in muscle mass – a metabolically-costly tissue – you also experience a small boost in your metabolic rate. Meaning, you get to eat more food and still lose fat. More muscle also allows for better, more demanding workouts, which burn extra calories and, over the weeks and months, lead to extra fat loss.
Third, regular physical activity has been shown to help improve hunger signals in overweight people and help them lose fat much more naturally. There are probably multiple mechanisms at work here, but this certainly is a great benefit.
2. It Helps Build Stronger Muscles and Bones
One significant benefit of exercise is that it helps us become stronger and more athletic. You see, physical activity, particularly when done in a progressive manner (improving your performance over time) sends a strong stimulus to your body, which forces it to develop and strengthen the muscle and connective tissues.
This newfound physical strength not only makes you more athletic, but it also makes your day-to-day life much simpler to handle, particularly with regards to physically-demanding tasks.
Similarly, exercise also strengthens your bones, reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis as you get older, and makes you more resistant to fractures.
3. It Improves Cardiovascular Health and Lowers Blood Pressure
The scientific literature is largely in agreement:
Leading a sedentary lifestyle is the single biggest contributor to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. This statement is backed by plenty of research, which suggests that exercising regularly improves heart health and attributes to normalizing of blood pressure. There are a couple of mechanisms at work here:
First, physical activity has been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and lead to fat loss. These two factors play an important role in cardiovascular health.
Second, exercise has been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity – a measure of how sensitive your body’s cells are to the hormone. Better insulin sensitivity means more efficient glucose uptake, less stress on the pancreas, and the prevention of type 2 diabetes – a disease which is also heavily linked with cardiovascular issues.
Finally, regular exercise has been shown to help normalize our blood pressure. As you may know, high blood pressure is often referred to as the silent killer because it can lead to heart failure and strokes.
4. It Boosts Your Energy Levels
One of the most significant (and obvious) benefits of regular exercise is the increase in energy levels. Plenty of human trials have shown that as little as a couple of weeks of regular exercise reliably increases self-reported rates of alertness and energy levels in previously sedentary folks.
Furthermore, regular exercise has been shown to increase energy levels in some individuals who have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
There could be a few explanations as to why that is. For one, it’s been well-established that exercise leads to weight loss. Having less weight to carry around would automatically make one’s day easier, and thus allow them to be more active and more resistant to fatigue and stress.
Some researchers speculate that this could partially be thanks to improvements in the hormonal milieu. We could also speculate that it’s the improvement in work capacity that increases our energy levels. More muscle mass, more physical strength, and improved endurance could all play a role.
5. It Improves Digestion and May Lead to Better Gut Health
Even though gut health doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as it should, it’s critical for proper digestion and overall health. Gut health impacts our brain, cognition, energy levels, hormones, metabolic rate, and even our cardiovascular system.
How gut health impacts each of these systems is largely determined by the composition of the billions of microorganisms, collectively referred to as the gut microbiota.
The interesting bit is that, aside from proper nutrition, regular exercise appears to be the second-largest contributor to favorable gut microbiota. Research has shown that physically active individuals tend to have an incredibly diverse microbiota composition, particularly when compared to sedentary people.
In one study from the University of Illinois, researchers found that as little as six weeks of regular exercise was enough to improve the gut microbiota in subjects, and those changes tended to drop off once the participants stopped exercising.
This diversity is said to play an important role in food digestion, metabolic health, the prevention of gut problems down the line, and an improvement in several inflammatory markers.
Interestingly enough, this could also be a huge reason as to why exercise has been shown to improve hunger signals in previously sedentary folks. But, this is largely speculative – we need more research before we can conclude that.
An article by Philip Stefanov
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