Health Agenda

Physical Health

7 reasons you should exercise (that have nothing to do with fitness)

Exercise doesn’t just keep you trim, it enhances your wellbeing from head to toe. Here’s how.

Catherine Dow
February 2018

We all know that exercise is good for weight loss and overall health, but there are many other reasons you should make time to move on a regular basis.

1. To improve your mood

People who exercise are considerably less likely to experience low mood than those who don’t.

“Physical activity increases the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter serotonin,” says registered psychologist Dr Adriana Ventura. “Serotonin, among other things, plays a major role in maintaining a balanced mood.”

It may also prevent future depression, with a small study from 2012 from the University of Maryland showing moderate exercise (the study used cycling) helps people better handle anxiety and stress long after a workout session.

And an 11-year study of more than 33,000 people led by the Black Dog Institute found that 12% of cases of depression could have been prevented by regular physical activity.

The Black Dog Institute study found most of the mental health benefits of exercise are gained within the first hour of exercise done a week, meaning just 60 minutes each week could help you reap significant rewards. The study found you could enjoy these benefits regardless of exercise intensity – whether you’re playing soccer or just walking, for example.

 2. To increase energy levels

A small 2010 study by the University of Georgia found that exercise increases energy levels by 20%.

“Too often we believe that a quick workout will leave us worn out – especially when we’re already feeling fatigued,” said researcher Tim Puetz. “However, we have shown that regular exercise can actually go a long way in increasing feelings of energy.

3. To strengthen your bones

Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become weaker, leading to a higher risk of fractures. Osteoporosis Australia says regular weight-bearing exercise and progressive resistance training can increase bone density and prevent bone loss.

A variety of weight-bearing activities (such as walking, climbing stairs and weight training) and progressive resistance training (for example, increasing the repetitions or weight in weight training over time) for is recommended by Osteoporosis Australia for healthy adults.

4. To sleep better

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, 33–45% of Australian adults are getting inadequate sleep. It recommends adults aged 18 to 64 get 7–9 hours of shut-eye a night.

Dr Ventura says, “Serotonin plays a role in regulating sleep, which is crucial for optimal wellbeing. Regular exercise can improve sleep quality and help with concentration levels throughout the day.”

5. To avoid developing diabetes

Regular exercise improves blood sugar control and can prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. In fact, a 2017 Canadian study found this form of diabetes can be reversed in 4 months with an exercise regimen, as well as cutting calories.

6. To lower cholesterol levels

Cholesterol is a waxy substance cells use to make hormones and vitamin D, and aids in digestion.

The body produces just the amount of cholesterol we need. High cholesterol mainly occurs when we eat foods high in certain fats, increasing the risk of heart disease.

A Greek study of more than 2,000 people published in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease found exercise helped increase levels of HDL cholesterol, the ‘good’ form of cholesterol which helps clear LDL (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) from the body.

A 2014 UK review of research on the relationship between exercise and cholesterol concluded that just 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week maintains low LDL levels and increases HDL cholesterol. The study defined physical activity as aerobic exercise like walking or swimming or resistance training such as weight training, or both.

7. To protect your heart

If you’re looking to live longer and avoid problems with your heart, best get moving. A 2013 US report found higher levels of physical activity were associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

The National Heart Foundation of Australia recommends 30–45 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week, and muscle-toning activities twice a week.

So how much exercise should I do?

The Department of Health recommends being active most days. We should “accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity” each week.

The intensity of the exercise is about how hard it feels. For example, moderate intensity may be a brisk walk or swimming, and vigorous intensity may be jogging or group sports.

It also says to includes muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days each week.

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