You already know exercise is good for you, but you may be surprised to realize how much it benefits every part of your body. Whether you're concerned about recent lab tests showing you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, you have a family history of Alzheimer's disease, or you just want to drop a few pounds, exercise can be an answer to what ails you.
How Exercise Helps the Heart
Exercise forces the heart to pump more blood through the body to provide the entire body with oxygen and remove waste products. Regular exercise helps condition the entire cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, the lungs and the blood vessels, making it stronger and healthier.
The importance of exercise to the heart and cardiovascular system grows with age. People typically lose 1 percent of their aerobic power per year. However, studies show that exercise can cut this loss in half over both the short term and the long term. This means, for example, that while someone who doesn't exercise regularly can count on losing 20 percent of his aerobic power over two decades, the same person loses only 10 percent if he exercises regularly.
How Exercise Helps With Weight Loss
The cardiovascular system is also given a boost by the fact that exercise can help with weight loss. Physical activity burns calories, which results in weight loss. When the body is fit and not burdened with excess weight, the heart doesn't have to work as hard to supply blood throughout the body.
Exercise also gives the metabolism a boost. Those with metabolisms that burn more slowly than normal are more likely to gain weight over time. Exercise speeds up the metabolism, creates more lean muscle and helps the body to burn fat with greater efficiency. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, bicycling, dancing or swimming, is particularly beneficial when it comes to burning fat and creating lean muscle.
How Exercise Helps Fight Disease
The overall effects of exercise on the body help to fight back various diseases and long-term conditions. This happens especially with diseases that are exacerbated by being overweight. Since exercising helps fight weight gain, it reduces the likelihood of these diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and arthritis.
Exercise is particularly useful in the fight against Type 2 diabetes. Regular exercises help the body metabolize glucose in an efficient way, preventing the rise of diabetes.
Regular exercise increases your body's production of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and it reduces your triglyceride count, decreasing your risk of pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes. One of its major benefits is to reduce hypertension, or high blood pressure. Exercise widens your arteries, which allows your blood to flow more freely, thereby lowering your blood pressure. The extra strengthening of your heart muscle also makes blood flow more freely. Since hypertension is the most common form of heart disease in the United States, this benefit is significant.
How Exercise Reduces Stress and Improves Your Mood
Exercise also benefits the body and your overall sense of well-being by reducing stress. As you exercise, your brain releases endorphins into your bloodstream. These chemicals lower your stress and help you relax. If you exercise long enough, you may experience a "runner's high," which is caused by the release of endorphins.
The overall relaxation produced by exercise is also good for your general mood. Exercise can help prevent depression by lowering cortisol, the stress hormone. The decrease in stress levels also has a positive effect on your relationships, since you're less likely to be irritable or grouchy around others. In addition, because exercise tones your body, you're likely to feel better about the way you looking when you're working out regularly, which can also lift your mood.
How Exercise Helps the Brain
Exercise sends oxygen to the brain and boosts the levels of serotonin in the brain. This leads to an increase in mental clarity and greater productivity in all areas of your life. Exercise also sends increased levels of glucose to the brain. The brain uses glucose as fuel, so this increases mental acuity.
The release of endorphins also helps you feel more energetic and less fatigued. Combined with the increased cardiovascular stamina and strength provided by exercise, this means you have greater energy to accomplish everyday tasks.
Exercise is also beneficial to your memory. Even regular walking helps the brain's hippocampus remain healthy. The hippocampus is the site where memories are formed and accessed. The lowered levels of cortisol that result from exercise also boost memory. Because of this, as well as because of the increased flow of oxygen to the brain, exercise may help stave off Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Exercise is good for the body, good for the brain, and good for your emotional and psychological state. By lacing up your walking shoes, diving into the pool to swim a few laps, or heading to the gym to lift some weights or take a yoga class, you give every part of your body a boost. You also help stave off potentially serious conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and even dementia. Making time in your busy week for exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
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