Science

Scientific reasons to exercise and get moving

runner exercise
Our bodies are designed with locomotion in mind - we are made to move. Source: Annette Shaff/Shutterstock (via Vox)
Exercise is a miracle medicine with countless benefits and during lockdown there has never been a better reason to get moving.

By Eva Rodericks | Contributor

The human body contains approximately 360 joints and 700 skeletal muscles because the human body is designed to move. Nationwide lockdowns have left many spending one too many hours watching Netflix, slumping over desks and sleeping more than usual – which usually doesn’t leave us feeling too good. When we sit down the lungs become cramped, reducing the amount of oxygen pumping around the body. Additionally, lipoprotein lipases, the proteins that break down fat in our blood, stop working when we sit. 

Exercise is backed up by science as one of the most transformative things you can do to strengthen and protect your body. Some of the biggest benefits of exercise include:

Lose excess weight

Arguably the most well known benefit of exercise is weight loss; exercise burns calories which reduces the amount stored by the body, leading to weight loss (or reduces weight gain). Being a normal weight protects against many diseases related to obesity such as type two diabetes and high blood pressure. Research suggests that regular exercise can even increase your resting metabolic rate (that is the rate at which your body burns calories when you’re resting). When exercise is regularly added into a person’s routine, making healthy eating choices becomes easier. 

What we all really want to know is what is the bare minimum required to obtain such life changing effects? Dr Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist at New York University, recommends at least 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week, which must include movements that get your heart beating faster than usual. Whilst we wait for it to be safe for gyms to open, all is not lost; you can still go running, walking or cycling. There are also online resources including YouTube which contains workout videos to follow, including popular styles such as HIIT, tabata and dance workouts.

Top doctors have said that if exercise was a medicine, it would be deemed a miracle drug. It is free, accessible and can be fun. 

Protects against dementia 

Losing weight is not all that exercise can do. When you think of your brain as a muscle, it is logical that it can also be affected by a workout; the harder it works, the stronger it becomes. Exercise is so transformative it can actually change the anatomy of your brain. Exercising works the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, the two parts of the brain most susceptible to neuro diseases including dementia. Working out strengthens these two muscles, creating greater protection against these illnesses. Incredibly, exercise actually stimulates the hippocampus to produce brand new cells and increasing the volume of the hippocampus improves memory.

Improves concentration and energy

Studying can often feel like one long deadline, and at a time with little distraction, exercise can both help break up the day and improve attention. An immediate effect of exercise is an increased attention span; it has been shown that post workout the brain’s ability to focus improves for two hours. Exercise also sends nutrients and oxygen around the body, which in turn improves energy. 

Reduces susceptibility to heart disease  

According to the British Heart Foundation, regular exercise reduces your risk of heart and circulatory disease by 35%. Exercise strengthens the heart and increases blood flow which protects against a number of problems such as coronary heart disease and high cholesterol. 

Mood boost

Exercising releases the ‘feel-good’ chemicals dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline which take instant effect after a workout.  Exercise is a useful mental tool for an intense lockdown where anything to lift spirits should be prioritised. Simply getting fresh air and surrounding yourself in nature can lift your spirits. When we feel under stress we tense our muscles and some suffer from cramp, which exercise eases. When the body feels more relaxed, so does the mind. 

Quit smoking 

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to stop smoking and as we go into February many well intended resolutions have fallen by the way-side. Exercise may aid the transition from smoking by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It’s common to gain weight immediately after quitting, so exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight throughout this period.

There are many other benefits of exercise, and some the scientific community are only just discovering. It is a miracle medicine that we all have access to and should use, during times such as this, to its maximal advantage. The body was designed to move, so let’s aim to use it for its purpose. 

 

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