By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Exercising only because you want to lose weight is still a very common perspective, and one I would like to challenge. First of all, if you’re only working out or running to lose weight, you’re likely approaching this from a negative or body punishing view-point. Moving just to burn off extra calories you ate simply leads to more negative self-talk.
People often ask me why I exercise so much, if I’m already healthy. For me, #1, #2, #4 and #7 below are the primary reasons I keep moving, and these have absolutely nothing to do with weight, and everything to do with overall wellness, emotional health and prevention.
What if you switched your perspective to exercising because it feels good, or because you want to live a longer, healthier life? There are many amazing preventative and proactive reasons to exercise regularly. Let’s try to shift your thoughts about movement to one that celebrates the amazing body that you have, makes you feel better, and keeps you healthy for the long-run.
Here is a short list of some of the amazing benefits of regular exercise. Which one inspires you most?
1. Better mood – less anxiety and depression
Most people experience the after-effect of the positive endorphins released during exercise, but exercise also improves your serotonin and dopamine levels which work together for a positive mood and less anxiety.
A very large review study showed that even very moderate levels of physical activity (walking 20-30 minutes per day) boost happiness, and also prevent future depression.
2. Increased productivity
If you’re interested in boosting your productivity in life and at work, the evidence is quite incredible. In a study through Briston University, employees at three organizations evaluated themselves on workout days, and on days without exercise. On workout days, particpant’s rated 41% feeling motivated to work, 22% higher for finishing their work on time and 21% higher for concentration compared to non-workout days.
3. Less PMS and menstrual cramps
Hormone balance is greatly impacted by regular moderate exercise, and two of the most disturbing symptoms, PMS and period cramps both respond positively.
Here’s a couple of studies: In an 8 week trial, women who exercised for 30 minutes three times per week for 8 weeks had a significant reduction in period cramps. In another study with teenage girls, after 8 weeks of exercising three times per week, they reported a marked improvement in PMS symptoms, especially depression and anger.
4. Alzheimer’s prevention
Regular exercise has a profound effect on the brain, improving memory, boosting cognition, and helping you learn faster. Recent studies show that exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain notoriously affected by Alzheimer’s disease, and also increases brain volume, thus preventing cognitive decline.
5. Builds bone density
One of the most effective ways to improve bone density and prevent osteoporosis is a combination of weight-bearing activity like walking, and strength training. In fact, regular weight lifting has an effect similar to estrogen on the maintenance of bone density.
A very large review article showed that aerobics, weight bearing and resistance exercises are all effective in increasing the bone density of the spine in postmenopausal women, and that walking is also effective to improve bone density at the hip.
6. Cancer prevention
There are many mechanisms through which cancer risk is reduced with exercise: lowering hormones (insulin, estrogen); reducing inflammation; improving immune function; and improving gastrointestinal motility to name a few.
Did you know that colon cancer risk was 24% lower in those who were most physically active, compared to most sedentary; breast cancer risk is reduced by 12%; endometrial cancer risk is reduced by 20%; and just simply more physical activity is associated with reduced risks of esophageal, adenocarcinoma, liver cancer, kidney cancer, myeloid leukemia, myeloma and cancers of the head, neck, rectum and bladder. (Many studies referenced here).
7. Longevity – living longer and living better
Your life expectancy raises with regular activity, with studies showing that you can add up to seven years to your life with only 150 minutes of exercise per week. This study showed that regardless of your weight, there was a positive impact on your lifespan with exercise.
In a 20 year study, researchers found that exercise reduces your risk of dying from any cause by 29-36% compared to people who rarely or never exercised. The more people exercised, the greater their risk reductions.
8. Better sleep
One role that exercise has is to strengthen circadian rhythms which makes you feel more alert in the daytime, and more sleepy at night.
In studies, exercise increases total sleep time, reduces the length of time to reach REM sleep, and reduces incidence of insomnia overall.
9. Prevents or reverses diabetes
Preventing diabetes is not just about nutrition (although it is extremely important too!) People who are moderately physically active for just 150 minutes per week have a 26% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who are inactive. Exercising more than this, has an even greater risk reduction.
10. Boosts immune system function
If you want to get sick less frequently, especially from upper respiratory infections, regular moderate exercise appears to be very effective. For immunity, there is a happy medium with working out though – either being too sedentary, or over-training can both increase illness.
In one study with over 1000 adults, those exercised at least 5 days per week (aerobic exercise) had a 43% reduction in catching an upper respiratory tract infection compared to those who were largely sedentary. If the exercisers did get sick, the duration and symptoms were 32-41% less than their more sedentary counterparts.
I hope this short article has motivated you to get started right away on an exercise routine this summer. If you’re starting from inactivity, please remember to start slowly – and remember with so many of the studies, simple activities like 30 minutes of brisk walking five times per week had a profound impact on health.
If you have questions about what type of exercise, how much and how often, please ask at your next appointment. We can match your ideal workouts to your current health, and preventative health plan.
And a quick note about over-exercising. You can have too much of a good thing! If you’re getting injured easily, feel anxious if you miss a workout, or only train hard, please read this article to learn more about signs of overtraining syndrome: https://drshawnadarou.com/2019/02/04/the-impact-of-overtraining-on-your-hormones/
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