Perhaps one of the widest held misconceptions of a healthy lifestyle is that the person practising it has to spend several hours in the gym every day. And while regularity is crucial when it comes to exercising, putting in such a hefty shift each day isn’t.
In fact, the CDC recommended guidelines on healthy levels of exercise aren’t as arduous as you might think. They suggest 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity each week (which amounts to five 30-minute sessions) in addition to strength-training exercises on two days each week.
What’s more, this activity doesn’t necessarily have to be solid work at the gym. This might be a brisk walk to and from work, or it might be a sporting activity; anything which essentially increases your heart rate and speeds up your breathing.
Exercising to burn calories
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of physical exertion is its capacity to burn calories; and ultimately, help us lose weight. Again, you don’t have to bust a gut for hours on the treadmill to shift hefty numbers. Many sporting activities can burn as many as 400 calories in just half an hour, which serves to further demonstrate how beneficial short bursts can be.
However, the advantages of exercising regularly are numerous, and not simply limited to shifting calories and losing weight. Here are a handful of ways in which frequent physical activity can help to change your life for the better:
Firstly, let’s start with the basics. As well as helping you to maintain a healthy weight, regular activity will also help to maintain your range of motion and stay agile. That means that your joints won’t be as stiff as you get older, and you’ll be able to retain better mobility: and the more mobile you are during old age, the less susceptible you’ll be to circulation problems and osteoporosis. One study backed by the National Institute on Ageing found that regular exercise significantly reduced the risk of disability.
Lowers risk of chronic illness
The range of conditions whose risk directly correlates with being overweight or obese is an extensive one. As well as those related to reduced mobility mentioned above, those with a high body fat percentage are more likely to develop serious conditions stemming from increased pressure on internal organs; such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and liver disease.
A co-commissioned study by the American Diabetes Association and the American College of Sports Medicine stated that a programme consisting of physical activity and ‘modest weight loss’ reduced the development of diabetes in high risk subjects by as much as 58%.
Increases pain tolerance
Another physical benefit which has been linked with exercise by research is a better capacity to tolerate pain.
Many might associate physical exertion with increased pain, due to the short-term pressure it puts on joints and muscles. However several studies have shown that regular activity actually helps the body to develop a resistance to pain; and by increasing bone strength, regular physical activity also reduces the likelihood of strains and injuries.
Exercise also has an effect on stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), and the way the body responds to them.
In the short term, exercising actually raises levels of cortisol and adrenaline; this is because activity gets the body working harder, and causes these hormones to be released. But the more you work out, the better your endocrine system becomes at coping with these hormones and compensating for their presence; which means that in the long term, the body has a better capacity to manage stress hormones and keep them under control.
Physical activity has the added benefit of triggering endorphin release. This is a hormone which is a natural analgesic and even makes us feel good, which also helps to lower anxiety and reduce pain.
Undertaking regular exercise can make you more productive in a variety of ways.
Again, the way in which activity controls and regulates hormone release plays a part in this. By facilitating a better capacity to handle stress hormones, exercise can help us to be more alert and better handle the pressures of a busy workload.
In addition, regular physical activity enables the body to process sugars more efficiently. This means that the body will be less likely to experience steep energy spikes and dips over the course of the day; helping us to remain focussed and on task.