There is no doubt that regular exercise is essential for achieving and maintaining fitness, losing and maintaining weight, and preventing and treating conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. What you may not know is that exercise can improve your health in ways you may not notice at the gym or on the scale. Here are a few ways exercise can improve your health.
Improve your immune system
Exercise can have a positive effect on your immune system. People who participate in moderate exercise on a daily basis have fewer and less severe colds and have up to 50% fewer sick days than those who are not regularly active. Research shows that exercise increases the activity of certain immune cells called helper T cells. This makes the immune system’s response to viruses, such as colds and flu, more robust. The strongest evidence is seen when exercise is of moderate intensity and duration, such as 30 to 60 minutes of walking or jogging.
Fighting the fire of inflammation
Inflammation is a key factor involved in the development of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and some cancers. Many people look to their diet for foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, but it turns out that exercise can have a significant impact on reducing inflammation as well. This has to do with the fact that exercise causes your muscles to produce chemical signals called myokines that affect other organs. One of them is IL-6, which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Balance your gut bacteria
You’ve probably heard that the bacteria that naturally inhabit your gut are linked to your health. Simply put, some of these bacteria are harmful to your health, causing health problems directly or indirectly. Gastrointestinal problems are the most obvious, but these bacteria can also affect your hormones and metabolism in ways that lead to inflammation, obesity, and heart disease. Other bacteria are considered “good”, meaning they have a positive effect on health. Research shows that exercise can have beneficial effects on gut bacteria, which can potentially influence gastrointestinal health, inflammation and weight control.
Increase your brain function
Research shows that exercise has far-reaching effects on brain structure and function, resulting from increased cerebral blood flow and the production of BDNF, an important growth factor that promotes brain growth and repair. Benefits include improved learning and memory, better attention and the ability to ignore distractions, improved stress management, and improved mood.
Exercise has long been associated with improved sleep. This is thought to be because exercise depletes energy stores and raises body temperature, while sleep restores energy, promotes tissue repair and regulates body temperature. Exercise is a healthy, safe, inexpensive and simple means of improving sleep, potentially replacing sleeping pills. Research also shows that aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality, mood, and feelings of vitality in people with chronic insomnia.
Take steps to achieve these benefits
Like improved fitness and weight control, these other benefits depend on the type, intensity, and duration of exercise you do. At a minimum, making time for activity each day is essential, even if it’s a 30-minute walk. You should schedule longer workouts on some days, shorter, more intense workouts on others, and strength and flexibility workouts at least two days a week. This will achieve fitness and weight management goals, as well as achieving other hidden benefits of exercise that will promote better overall health.