The health benefits of being physically active

This post was written by Lisa K Jan 08, 2019 in Fitness, Health & Wellness, Mental Health

The benefits of physical activity go way beyond weight loss.

Ask most people why they walk daily or have a gym membership and they’ll tell you it’s to lose weight or maintain fitness. But there are so many hidden benefits to exercise—from building muscle mass to boosting mood—that it’s a smart health investment to keep exercising long after you reach your weight loss or fitness goals. Plus, exercise is free, so the only cost is your time. 

What’s more, research out of Finland proves that exercise impacts humans at the subcellular level. Mitochondria, the organelles that generate power inside every cell, are more efficient at burning off fatty fuel in people who are active. Finally, active people live longer. Research shows that even a brisk 20-minute walk daily can significantly reduce mortality. Need more reasons to stay physically active for life? Read on.
Increasing and maintaining muscle mass
Age-related muscle loss—a.k.a. sarcopenia—is a natural part of growing older. That’s why it’s important to kick frailty in the butt by resistance training or strength training to increase or maintain muscle mass. This type of exercise involves using resistance bands, weights or body weight (push-ups, squats) to gain muscle strength and endurance, two to three times a week. If you’re not sure where to begin, an NVRC fitness membership offers a hefty discount on a Get Started Consultation. You’ll meet with a personal trainer who will show you optimal exercises and proper form so you can build strength safely.
Improved bone health
At the same time your muscles are growing, weight-bearing exercise also prevents bone loss and keeps osteoporosis at bay. Exercises such as walking, stair climbing, hiking, dancing or skiing, work to build new bone tissue, which keeps your frame strong.  
Maintaining balance and coordination
Moving in ways beyond walking or resistance training is important to prevent common injuries as you age (tripping, falling, straining or spraining). To improve balance and agility, and increase or maintain your range of motion, incorporate exercises such as the flamingo stand (balancing on one foot), “tightrope walk” where you walk along a slackline or similar, or jump rope (timing your jump when the rope is on the floor is great for coordination). Activities that require side-to-side balance, such as hiking or skiing on uneven terrain, are also effective. Even playing catch, hopscotch or Frisbee with your kids will keep your coordination and agility on point. Check out NVRC's yoga programs and also the Balance Made Easy program at John Braithwaite Community Centre starting February 3, 2019. 
Improved mental health
Exercise does a body good and that includes the brain. Upping your heart rate and getting a sweat on releases happy hormones including endorphins, serotonin and dopamine that boost mood. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research says that people who exercise are less likely to have depression, high anxiety and other mental health problems (compared with inactive individuals). 
Exercise leads to improved sleep quality and longer periods of shut-eye. In fact, a study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity found that people sleep better and feel more alert during waking hours if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. Coincidentally, this is the amount of weekly physical activity recommended by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.
Energy boost
When we get moving our heart rate increases and we take in more oxygen. That crucial element travels to our cells and is required for them to release energy. That’s the delicious irony of moderate physical activity—instead of fatiguing us, it works to sustain our energy levels throughout the day.
Better sex
Yes, getting frisky at the gym may lead to a similar activity level in the bedroom. Research shows that for both men and women, spending more time exercising translates to greater arousal and satisfaction between the sheets. It makes sense—when we workout we feel better physically and mentally. And chances are those changes we are seeing in our body make us feel sexier, too!
Long-term disease prevention
Exercise really is the best medicine you can give your body. It’s also one of the eight healthy habits recommended by the Government of Canada to reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease. In short, daily physical activity is like taking a magic pill that can:
  1. Reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (stroke, heart attack, hypertension) by lowering blood pressure. Exercise also helps burn belly fat, which is a risk factor for heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.
  2. Reduce the likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group found that participants randomly assigned to an “intensive lifestyle intervention” of aerobic exercise and diet lowered their risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes by 58 per cent in three years. Interestingly, participants over age 60 had the best results, with a 71 per cent reduction!
  3. Keep osteoporosis and osteoarthritis (the breakdown or cartilage in the joints) at bay.
  4. Reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. Regular physical activity can actually sharpen the mind: Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise enlarges the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain in charge of learning and verbal memory.
  5. Reduce the risk of developing depression… and also treat it. Studies have shown that exercise can be as effective in treating depression as antidepressant medication. That’s a powerful fact.
Now that you have even more reasons to be physically active, it’s time to get moving! 
Lisa K.

Lisa is a B.C.-based journalist who writes about health, parenting, travel, outdoor adventure and cocktails. Formerly a lifestyle reporter at the Calgary Herald, she is now a freelance scribe for a variety of publications including WestJet Magazine, Best Health, BCAA Magazine, Today’s Parent and Just for Canadian Doctors/Dentists, as well as Postmedia newspapers.

When not skiing, travelling, researching or writing, you’ll find Lisa hanging out with her husband and two school-age kids, or hiking with her Brittany spaniel. 



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