A characteristic life among animals is movement and like any other animal, the human body is designed for movement. However, the modern world emphasizes environments that keep most of us sedentary for a major part of the day. Regular physical exercise presents an opportunity to counter the ill-effects of modern sedentary lifestyles. The benefits of regular exercise have been studied and well documented for a while now. The findings suggest that regular exercise can bring a variety of physical and mental health benefits and even contributes to longevity.
Types of Exercises
The best exercise is regular moderate physical activity throughout the day. Simple activities like walking, squatting, climbing stairs, lifting and moving objects can have a significant health impact if done throughout the day on a daily basis. However, this is not always possible or practical in modern work environments and dedicated exercise periods are also beneficial.
Sports can provide all the health benefits of regular exercise in the form of an enjoyable social activity. Ideally any exercise program should combine more than one type of exercise. The majority of contrived forms of exercises can be divided into two major categories – aerobic and anaerobic exercises.
Aerobic exercises like jogging, running, dancing and stepping exercises are designed to strengthen the cardiovascular and respiratory functions of the body. It also stimulates metabolic activity that can help in regulating body weight. Aero- refers to air and during these activities the body has to rapidly circulate oxygen.
Resistance exercises like weight lifting and bodyweight exercises are designed to strengthen the musculoskeletal system of the body. These exercises are also sometimes referred to as anaerobic exercises because it induces the muscles to preferentially utilize non-aerobic metabolic processes for energy production during the exercise.
Which type of exercise is better?
Despite the neat categorization of exercises into aerobic (cardiovascular) and anaerobic (resistance) exercises, it is important to understand that all types of exercise utilize both aerobic and anaerobic metabolic processes. The difference lies in the extent to which certain metabolic pathways are utilized.
Nevertheless, a concerted effort should be maintain to undertake both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. All exercises can provide significant health benefits if performed on a regular basis. While a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise is preferable, any regular exercise is better than no exercise at all.
Benefits of Exercise
The benefits of exercise are well known, both by the medical fraternity an public. Studies are constantly revealing the benefits of exercise. While some exercises can be an extreme strain on the body and even dangerous for some people, the overall consenses is that exercise is beneficial for a host of reasons.
However, it is important to understand that despite exercise being beneficial an exercise program should only be started after medical approval. People who are not physically conditioned can cause more harm than good by starting an exercise program, especially if they are older adults with pre-existing diseases.
Control of body weight
There is a global obesity epidemic with developed countries being the most affected. Apart from high calorie foods, a sedentary lifestyle is another major contributing factor in being overweight or obese. The reason for this is simple – the amount of calories consumed every day is greater than the amount of calories burnt by the body through physical activity. Being overweight or obese is the consequence.
In order to remove excess body weight, the daily calorie consumption must be reduced but increasing calorie utilization through physical activity is equally important. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises can help in burning calories if performed at a high intensity on a regular basis. The key to reaping the rewards of any exercise is consistency. Daily sesssions of 30 minutes of constant exercise at least 5 days a week is advisable.
Read more on obesity.
Cardiovascular and respiratory health
Heart diseases and high blood pressure are global public health problems and strongly associated with increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. While this may be largely due to dietary habits, regular exercise can help in decreasing the levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. Regular exercise also increases the ratio of “good” cholesterol (also known as high density lipoproteins or HDL) in the blood.
In addition, regular intense exercise also strengths the general functioning of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. A variety of other health problems such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke and depression may also be prevented or managed through regular exercise apart from improving diet and reducing body weight.
Improved mental health
Intense physical exercise (such as lifting weights, brisk walking or running for at least 30 minutes) releases mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain which are known as endorphins. This is the reason why most people feel calm and happy after working out. Indulging in such exercise sessions regularly over a period of time can help to improve the treatment and management of mental health conditions like depression.
Fatigue occurs for several reasons. While it is not unusual to experience tiredness after activity, fatigue that persist throughout the day for no apparent reason is a common complaint. Regular physical exercise improves the general functioning of the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This results in increased energy levels and stamina which can help with daily functioning in all spheres of life.
Regular physical activity also promotes better sleep. It is not simply a matter of falling asleep easier due to being tired after exercise. Several studies have shown that physical activity, even if it is not strenuous exercise, helps to improve the quality and duration of sleep. As a result, sleeping is refreshing and invigorating which further helps a person’s energy levels throughout waking hours.
An often overlooked benefit of exercise is the social aspect. In the modern world where social isolation is sometimes common, sports and regular exercising at a certain area can help to inculcate social interactions. Sports often involves more than one participant and as a result social connections arise. It is well understod that social bonding is also an important factor in overcoming certain mental health conditions like depression.