What are the benefits of exercise?

There is no denying that exercise is good for you, and whilst there are obvious benefits for your physical wellbeing, exercise also has some really great impacts for your mental health, mindset and more. I often read about the well know benefits of exercising regularly, such as weight loss, building muscle, improving fitness levels and building up stamina. However, all too often people aren’t fully aware of the extent of the long-term health benefits that can be enjoyed through exercise.

Understanding the huge range of benefits for mind, body and spirit that can be unlocked through exercising is a great way to motivate you to take that first step and do that first session, whether you are planning skiing in Italy, running in your local village, using exercise bikes at the gym or doing yoga at home. I have written this article to help you better understand the connections between exercise and a healthy body and mind.

The benefits of exercise for your body and mind

Exercising to help with weight loss

Many people when asked about their weight say that they would like to either lose weight or maintain their current weight. Exercising regularly is a great answer to this – every single time you go out walking, running, or to the gym, you’re burning calories. Match this with a good diet and you’ll end up consuming less than what you’re burning off doing all those exercises you love to hate! 

Improving mental health and making you feel happier

Mental health is a key issue that is, quite rightly, being brought more into discussion recently. Whether the subject of mental health is something that has come up in your working life, personal life or both, we all know someone who has been affected, and it’s great that people are beginning to talk more openly about a topic that deserves some much-needed attention, without fear of stigma.

Taking part in fitness can really help with your mental health, and it’s proven to actually make you feel happier. Hormones called endorphins are released when you do any form of exercise, and they trigger a similar reaction to morphine within your body, leaving you feeling happier. Taking part in regular exercise can also help to reduce stress and feelings of depression.

Low intensity exercise completed over a sustained time period encourages nerve cells to grow and create new connections, which can help to relieve symptoms of depression.

Exercise helps you to sleep better. By burning energy and tiring your body, you’re more likely to get a better nights sleep, which then helps your mood the following day. It can also can provide a distraction from worries or intrusive thoughts. 

Intense exercise, in particular, forces you to be present and can provide a welcome break from your anxieties.

Exercising to keep your mind sharp and improve your memory

Exercising on a consistent basis can have a great impact on your brain and cognitive function. Whilst people normally only associate exercise with growing and flexing your muscles, it can also help to flex the grey matter too. In fact, exercising helps the body stimulate multiple growth factors, one of which is the hormones in the brain that links to brain cells and the growth of lots of new blood vessels in the brain.  As a result, exercise actually improves and helps to grow the section of your brain which helps control thinking and memory.

Increasing your energy levels

There are several studies that show that people who take part in regular exercise reported having the feeling of more energy or less fatigue compared to those who didn’t exercise. This is because exercise helps to make your cardiovascular system work more efficiently by delivering more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. The end result? You can now go shopping, climb stairs and do all your daily routines without feeling sluggish or out of breath!

Exercising to reduce the risk of heart disease

Heart disease is one of the biggest causes of death in the UK, making it a very worrying prospect for anyone concerned about their cardiovascular health. Exercise can help though, and doctors and fitness professionals all agree that being active and healthy helps to reduce the risk of heart disease. People who exercise regularly show reduced blood pressure, an increase in HDL (the good cholesterol in your body that helps to remove other forms of bad cholesterol), and a decrease in things like triglycerides (which is a type of fat found in your blood).

Helps to reduce blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can increase a person’s risk of heart problems and stroke. So, anything we can do to lower our blood pressure to a healthy level is always worth considering.

reducing blood pressure with exercise

Exercise improves the health of the heart and blood vessels. It makes your heart stronger so it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood around your body. Exercise also improves the strength and health of your bones and muscles, which can all contribute to a healthier body.

Recent studies have found it difficult to specify what exact exercises can help lower blood pressure as many people taking blood pressure medication are using more than one medicine and may have other illnesses.

However, it’s accepted that regular aerobic exercise in some form can help lower blood pressure. Blood Pressure UK recommends: Cycling, Walking, Swimming, Dancing, Gardening, Tennis, Jogging

Exercise to improve sleep

The amount and quality of sleep we get each night can massively affect our mood the next day. Our bodies use the time when we are asleep to repair and grow, as well as take care of important memory functions in the brain. For this reason, not getting enough sleep can leave us feeling drained and in a bad mood.

Thankfully, by incorporating a bit of exercise into your day, you will feel more tired at the end of the day and settle more easily into sleeping. This will help you to build a better routine with sleep over time.

Exercise to help with stress and anxiety

The act of doing something physical, whether it be going for a walk, lifting weights, running or yoga, releases the hormone cortisol. Cortisol has a number of different functions within the body, such as helping to regulate blood sugar, metabolism and assist with memory formulation, however, another great benefit is that it helps to manage stress levels in the body too.

Mental health and exercise

Now for the science-y bits. Increasing your heart rate increases the availability of neurochemicals like serotonin which can reduce symptoms of anxiety. Exercising makes you less susceptible to illnesses like common colds and flus. While sickness bugs aren’t often the cause of day-today anxiety, staying healthier for longer may certainly reduce stress and make life less difficult. Anxiety can cause your muscles to become very tense. Exercise can help release this pent up tension, leaving you refreshed and clear-headed

Exercise can help with anxiety in less direct ways too:

  1. Engaging in exercise diverts your thoughts away from those causing your anxiety. It can be pretty intense (ask anyone who likes spin classes!) so you’re forced to focus on the task at hand rather than worrying about the past or future.
  2. Exercise makes you a fitter, stronger and healthier version of yourself. Seeing yourself make progress and achieve goals can be a huge confidence boost
  3. Engaging in exercise often leads to an expanded social circle through classes, clubs or gyms. Even new casual friendships can give your self- esteem a boost and provides you with a whole new support network

Exercise to help with depression and boost your mood

Another way that exercise can benefit your mental health is by giving you a positive mood boost! If you’ve ever heard of the term ‘runners high’ this refers to the ‘feel good’ mood that many runners experience post exercise as a result of endorphins being released by the body. Of course, you don’t have to run to get that endorphin high. Any physical activity can help to get those feel-good chemicals pumping, improving your mood and giving you more energy.

If you suffer with depression, taking up some kind of regular exercise that you enjoy can be really beneficial to improving your mental health. Research shows that even 10 minutes of brisk walking a day can help to positively impact your mood.

Why exercise is important – and how you can get started

So, after reading about all the great benefits of exercise, for both your physical and mental health, I’m sure that you’re pumped to start your fitness journey so take a look at some exercise tips here.

If you are new to regular exercise try just easing into doing a few minutes a day and building up slowly over time. Don’t be afraid to try different activities too, not everyone will fall in love with running, but at the same time, yoga might not feel intense enough for everyone either.

I know that taking the first step on any fitness journey, however big or small your goals can be daunting. If you head back to the fitness coach page, I’ve put together some helpful articles to steer you in the right direction.

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