Exercise. It’s good for us. We know it is. And yet it can so easily get squeezed out of our day. How many times do we take the car because it’s quicker and more convenient? Or spend hours sitting in meetings or in front of a computer or scrolling through social media? Or get to the end of the day and watch just a bit more TV because we’re tired? And it’s even harder to get moving in winter when we’re cold and just want to hibernate under a blanket!
We’ve all been there. Our modern ‘squeeze-as-much-as-you-can-into-a-day’ lifestyles are wreaking havoc on our bodies – and brains. The less we move, the more unwell we become.
Why is moving so important?
When we exercise, certain chemicals called endorphins are released in our brains, which can help us feel calm, more alert, happier, raise self-esteem, relieve anxiety and depression and improve mood.
Exercise also improves blood flow and increases the level of oxygen supplied to the brain. In fact, research has demonstrated that exercise can increase hippocampal volume by 2 per cent – the part of the brain that shrinks as a symptom of Alzheimer’s.
For those of us that suffer from migraines it’s also good to know that exercise helps to reduce excess glutamate in our brains.
Muscles are really important for supporting our skeleton as well as helping to control our weight. The more muscle we have, the more calories we will use and fat we will burn. In fact, exercise can help to prevent Type 2 diabetes.
Conversely, being under stress causes our bodies to use muscle for fuel, to provide energy as part of the fight-or-flight response. So it’s really important to not only exercise, but also to try to reduce stress.
Reduces chronic inflammation
Regular exercise reduces stored fat and increases muscle mass, both of which decrease inflammation.
Exercise helps to lower blood pressure, strengthens the heart muscle, increases blood flow and delivers more oxygen to our body. It also helps to reduce the LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase the HDL ‘good’ cholesterol, thereby preventing a build up of fatty deposits in the arteries.
Regular exercise helps to keep our digestive system working well; it increases blood flow, which helps food move through the digestive tract, and supports our microbiome. Exercise also helps to use up excess stress hormones so our bodies are no longer compelling us to eat.
We have two circulatory fluids in our bodies; blood, which is pumped around our blood vessels by our heart – and lymph, which moves through the lymphatic vessels when our muscles contract. The lymph is part of our immune system and needs to keep moving in order to work effectively. However, if we are too sedentary then our lymph doesn’t circulate like it ought to.
Joint and bone health
Regular, moderate exercise increases joint strength and flexibility and reduces joint pain. It also strengthens our bones, thereby preventing osteoporosis.
All-in-all, quite good for us then!
So what do we do?
Basically, the more we move, the better, so we try to find various ways of fitting it into our busy days.
Whether it’s a walk to the shops or in the countryside, getting some fresh air as well as some time in nature is a great way to get moving.
We try to take the stairs at work and are often up and down the stairs at home in our townhouse.
Having both suffered with chronic shoulder pain, it’s now part of our daily routine to go through a series of stretches.
We bought bikes last year after not cycling for 20 years – and we’re loving cycling into town!
Housework & gardening
While it’s not our favourite way of getting exercise, it does kill two birds with one stone – not only do we get a workout but the house and garden look great!
Several years ago we decided to purchase a couple of bits of exercise equipment instead of paying for gym membership and we still love using them. I really enjoy watching an episode of friends while working out so I get a good laugh at the same time!
We also have WiiFit so sometimes do a bit of chucklesome exercise on that.
Working in quite a big organisation I hear of various ways that people get moving. Here are a few other ideas:
- Putting on some music and having a jolly good dance
- Being part of a running club
- Going to the gym
- Attending classes such as Pilates
- Playing sports such as badminton, football etc
Want to understand more?
Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD talks about exercise in all her books, as it’s so key to our health. For a good grasp of how exercise helps when it comes to stress I would suggest her book ‘Fat around the middle’ (Kyle Books ISBN 978-1-85626-655-0)
Kelly McGonical PhD has written a book on ‘The Joy of Movement’ (Avery ISBN 978-0-593-08744-2), where she explains how exercise and movement has totally changed some people’s lives.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information has several research articles about the effects of exercise on chronic inflammation. Here is one of them: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3320801/