“If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented,” says health promotion consultant Dr Nick Cavill. That’s true, because the benefits of exercise go way beyond what many people think of as simple fitness.
Physical Health Benefits
Exercise can actively help you to prevent disease and debility. Research has proved that regular exercise:
• Lowers your blood pressure (and in turn lowers your risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease).
• Increases the mass and strength of muscle (including that most important of muscles, the heart) and cardiovascular endurance.
• Increases flexibility and helps to prevent strains and injuries.
• Helps regulate hormones that control your appetite, body clock, sleep and blood sugar.
• Helps control our weight.
• Helps prevent some cancers (reducing colon cancer risk by up to 30% and breast cancer risk by up to 20%).
• Helps prevent some diseases, including Type II diabetes and Alzheimer’s (reducing dementia risk by up to 30% and delaying decline in sufferers, and
reducing Type II diabetes risk by up to 50%).
• Helps strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
• Helps you handle the physical exertion of daily activities and improves your balance, helping to prevent falls.
• Helps ease pain through the release of endorphins.
• Improves bowel function and helps prevent constipation.
By reducing your risk of early death from preventable conditions and falls, exercise can increase your longevity too. However, it can do a lot more than just improve your physical health.
Mental Health and Wellbeing Benefits
Regular exercise can do wonders for your mental health and wellbeing. It can:
Improve your mood, self-esteem and sleep patterns
Exercise can improve sleep patterns and release endorphins that can lift your mood and increase your energy levels. By improving your fitness and appearance, and giving you goals, routine and a sense of achievement, it can also increase your self-esteem.
Improve your mental health
Poor sleep can contribute to physical health issues and depression, anxiety, poor memory and concentration. Exercise can improve your sleep and is proven to help alleviate anxiety, stress and mild to moderate depression. Just 10 minutes of brisk walking can increase mental alertness, energy and positivity, while increasing your activity from zero to exercising three times a week can reduce your depression risk by almost 20%.
Improve your sex life
Regular exercise may increase your desire for, and enjoyment of, sex by improving your self-esteem, fitness and flexibility. Research shows that more active men and women have more sex, and that regular exercise may enhance arousal for women and make erectile dysfunction less likely for men.
Give you ‘time off’
Some of your exercise should make you out of breath, but you can also do more relaxing forms of exercise like tai chi, Pilates and yoga. Any exercise can give you time to focus on you, rather than your everyday concerns.
Get you outdoors
Research has proved the benefits of ecotherapy and being active outdoors. Getting outside to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine is great for your mental and physical health, helping you produce the Vitamin D essential for absorption of calcium and good bone health.
Improve your social life and family life – and have some fun!
Exercise can be fun, and by joining exercise classes or activity groups, you will also benefit from the positive effects that socialising and friendship can have on your health and wellbeing. Team sports can bring a sense of belonging and motivation, while becoming fitter may help you to take part in more family activities.
Zumba, tennis, rowing, boxing, karate, netball, Pilates, dancing… there are so many types of sport and exercise. Get out there and try out a few to find something you really enjoy.