One of the key health benefits of exercise is that it helps normalize your glucose, insulin, and leptin levels by optimizing insulin/leptin receptor sensitivity. This is perhaps the most important factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing chronic disease.
But exercise affects your body in countless other ways as well—both directly and indirectly. Here, however, even the most unexpected side effects are almost universally beneficial. For example, as illustrated in the featured article,1 side effects of exercise include but are not limited to:
- Improved sexual function
- Changes in gene expression
- Clearer skin
- Improved mood
- Improved sleep
What Happens in Your Body When You Exercise?
The featured article in Huffington Post2 highlights a number of biological effects that occur, from head to toe, when you exercise. This includes changes in your:
• Muscles, which use glucose and ATP for contraction and movement. To create more ATP, your body needs extra oxygen, so breathing increases and your heart starts pumping more blood to your muscles.
Without sufficient oxygen, lactic acid will form instead. Tiny tears in your muscles make them grow bigger and stronger as they heal.
• Lungs. As your muscles call for more oxygen (as much as 15 times more oxygen than when you’re at rest), your breathing rate increases. Once the muscles surrounding your lungs cannot move any faster, you’ve reached what’s called your VO2 max—your maximum capacity of oxygen use. The higher your VO2 max, the fitter you are.
• Heart. As mentioned, your heart rate increases with physical activity to supply more oxygenated blood to your muscles. The fitter you are, the more efficiently your heart can do this, allowing you to work out longer and harder. As a side effect, this increased efficiency will also reduce your resting heart rate. Your blood pressure will also decrease as a result of new blood vessels forming.
• Brain. The increased blood flow also benefits your brain, allowing it to almost immediately function better. As a result, you tend to feel more focused after a workout. Furthermore, exercising regularly will promote the growth of new brain cells. In your hippocampus, these new brain cells help boost memory and learning. As stated in the featured article:
“When you work out regularly, your brain gets used to this frequent surge of blood and adapts by turning certain genes on or off. Many of these changes boost brain cell function and protect from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or even stroke, and ward off age-related decline.”
A number of neurotransmitters are also triggered, such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA. Some of these are well-known for their role in mood control. Exercise, in fact, is one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression.
• Joints and bones, as exercise can place as much as five or six times more than your body weight on them. Peak bone mass is achieved in adulthood and then begins a slow decline, but exercise can help you to maintain healthy bone mass as you get older.
Weight-bearing exercise is actually one of the most effective remedies against osteoporosis, as your bones are very porous and soft, and as you get older your bones can easily become less dense and hence, more brittle — especially if you are inactive.
You Don’t Need to Train Like an Athlete to Reap the Benefits of Exercise
Working out on a daily basis can be beneficial to your health. Mayoclinic.com states that regular exercise can boost your energy level, improve your mood, control your weight, make you sleep better at night and lower your risk for such medical conditions as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Performing the wrong type of exercise and exercising for hours a day can result in burnout. To prevent this, learn how you can enjoy health benefits associated with regular exercise by performing the right type and the right amount of exercise every day.
Many people think that the more they exercise, the quicker they’ll reach their fitness goals. This can backfire. If you exercise every day for hours at a time and combine both cardiovascular and strength training, you might be over-training yourself. Aside from having no time for anything else, Shape.com states that exercising too much can result in problems sleeping, moodiness, a bigger appetite, weight gain and exhaustion. Additionally, women may experience menstrual problems and premature bone loss. Even when you perform the right amount and the right type of exercise every day, it never hurts to take a day off.
To enjoy health benefits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week. If you want to exercise every day, schedule 30 minutes of cardio on five of the days. Exercise at an intensity that allows you to talk, but not sing. Perform a variety of cardiovascular exercises, such as riding a bike, speed-walking, swimming or exercising on the elliptical machine or stair climber. To experience greater health benefits and to promote weight loss, increase your cardio exercise to one hour.
Strength training strengthens your muscle, tones your body and speeds up your resting metabolic rate so you burn calories even after completing your workout. The CDC recommends incorporating strength training at least two days a week. If you want to exercise every day, try strength training on the two days that you don’t perform cardio. Use enough weight so that the last repetition of each set is difficult to complete. Avoid performing strength training on consecutive days; give your muscles at least 24 hours between sessions to recover. If you do strength train on consecutive days, train different muscle groups on each day to avoid overexertion: Train your upper body on one day and your lower body the next, for example.
If you have a medical condition, get a doctor’s approval before starting your workout regimen. If you’re new to exercise, consider hiring a personal trainer. He can assess your fitness level and create a customized workout routine for you. Additionally, he can teach you the proper form so you get the maximum results from your workouts. Always start exercising slowly. You might start with just 10 minutes of cardio per day and gradually increase the duration as you build endurance. Remember that taking the stairs, mowing the lawn, washing the car and walking around the mall are also part of leading an active lifestyle.