The Benefits of Physical Activity

We are constantly being told that we need to do more exercise in order to improve our health; and as the nation’s obesity levels continue to rise, then it’s only natural that television adverts should begin to appear to remind us of this fact. But is it just the obese population that these campaigns are aimed at? What about the large population that are not obese, should they begin to increase their physical activity levels too? The benefits of physical activity are vast, and of the utmost importance to consider; thus, bringing you the following guide.

How to lose weight

We know that in order to lose excess weight we need to create an energy deficit – in other words, the amount of energy that we consume (through what we eat and drink) should be less than the amount of energy that we use. Therefore, we need to eat and drink fewer calories than we use. In order to do this there are three ways:

• We can reduce our food intake so that we consume fewer calories than we burn through our daily activities.
• In order to burn off more calories than we consume, we could increase our physical activity levels.
• Or we could reduce the amount of calories consumed, as well as increase our physical activity levels.

Most health professionals will advise you to use the third option as this will not only burn fat, but will improve health too.

Exercise is not just for fat loss!

There have been many studies completed which show evidence that physical activity is also good for our mental health. Most of us that have dragged ourselves out of bed early morning and gone to the gym or completed a workout will know that after the initial warm up period, there follows a feeling of happiness, then a feeling of success and pride.

What the experts say:

Mark Stibich, PhD explains how this happens: “When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals all work together to make you feel good. In addition, after exercising you may feel a sense of accomplishment and your muscles will relax deeper because of the workout – easing tension and strain.”
You can read more here.

Derek Whitney mentions this in his Blog.
“These chemicals also induce feelings of well-being. Endorphins can cause euphoria. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor soothes ruffled neurons to promote a sense of clarity. This is why a problem can seem more manageable after a walk or run to clear your head. Your brain has literally returned to baseline to allow you to respond most effectively to environmental threats.”

Time to myself

For many of us, exercise can also be an escape from our busy lives, a way to have time away from high pressured and demanding environments, and a time when we can often process our thoughts without the external distractions. However, our mental health can benefit from exercise in other ways too:

Heading for fitness

An article on Your Brain Matters states that, “There have been brain imaging studies done which have shown that people doing regular moderate-intensity physical activity, compared to those who are inactive, have increased brain volume in regions important for memory, learning, concentration and planning . They have more brain cells and more connections between them, helping their brain to function more effectively. It is normal for the brain to shrink a little as we grow older, but this age-related shrinkage is reduced in people who do regular physical activity. Older adults who are physically active have brain volumes and connectivity typical of younger adults.”

The article then goes on to inform us that, “The health of blood vessels in the brain is vital for healthy brain function. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity can damage blood vessels and lead to vascular disease in the brain, a major contributor to dementia. Physical activity reduces the risk of these conditions, helps to keep blood vessels healthy, and supports the growth of new small blood vessels. Physical activity also increases blood flow to the brain, providing both long-term and immediate benefits.”

Therefore, physical activity really is good for our mind, body and soul. The need for us to remain physically active is absolutely vital as we get older in order to prevent or delay the onset of some age-related illnesses. It’s a great way to meet new friends as well.

How the medical profession is changing

A recent guidance publication, ‘Improving the physical health of people with mental health problems: Actions for mental health nurses’, published in May 2016 states, “A holistic approach to managing mental and physical health is needed. Physical and mental health are inextricably linked and it is detrimental to a person’s overall well being to regard these as two separate entities.”

Alistair Burt, Minister of State for Community and Social Care Department of Health, tells us that, “People with severe mental illness are particularly at risk and die on average 15-20 years earlier than the general population. Being in contact with mental health services does not necessarily mean that people will have a physical health assessment, have their physical health monitored, or receive the information and support they need to adopt a healthier lifestyle”

Burt goes on to say, “NHS England has agreed that by 2020/21 at least 280,000 more people living with severe mental health problems should have their physical health needs met.”

Exercise on Prescription

Many health professionals may have previously referred patients onto an exercise scheme if they are rehabilitating from a stroke, cardiac and pulmonary procedure. However, Mental Health UK has reported on the impact that physical activity can also increase our self-esteem and self-worth. It also goes on to state that physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety.

Michael Otto Ph.D. suggests that we should, “Consider exercise when the antidepressants have not helped,” after a study, published in the August, 2011, issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research provided data that exercise can provide benefits when medication alone does not.

Your Brain Matter informs us that, “There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but you can reduce your risk. Around 13% (over four million) of Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide were found to be attributable to physical inactivity. In the USA, a higher 21% of cases were found to be attributable to physical inactivity. The researchers found that if a quarter of inactive people became physically active, this could prevent nearly one million cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide.”

How much exercise should we do?

This will really depend upon your fitness level. The NHS are currently encouraging participants to try to achieve 10 minutes of brisk walking a day; however anything is better than nothing, so it may be that you need to begin with two minutes, three times a day and build yourself up to a 10 minute walk. Others may be able to manage 30 minutes a day. The NHS recommend that adults aged 19 and over should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week.

What kind of activity should I do?

There are four types of exercise:
• Aerobic – this increases your breathing rate and heart rate. It includes moderate-to-high intensity activities like walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling. Adults are advised to do at least 30 minutes and children at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every day.

• Resistance training – this activity uses weights or resistance, including your own body weight, to work muscles. This form of exercise improves your muscle strength and tone as well as helping to strengthen your tendons, bones and joints. Adults are advised to do this type of exercise at least twice a week.

• Flexibility exercises – this is where you stretch your muscles. If performed regularly these will help your joints and muscles. You can do various kinds of flexibility exercises which include yoga, Pilates and tai chi which can be done as frequent as you like.

• Balance exercises – these help to improve balance and coordination and reduce the risk of falls. Movements in the routine will help with balance, and lower-body strength. Yoga and Pilates routines will incorporate this form of exercise. Older adults would benefit from completing balance exercises at least three times a week.

At what cost?

Exercise doesn’t have to mean attending a gym or fitness class and can be done for FREE.

There are lots of activities you can do without leaving the house and they do not have to be expensive.
• Gardening – Gardening can burn up to 371 calories. Gardening will also help with muscle stretching and resistance.
• Cleaning the house at a vigorous speed – An hours dusting and polishing can burn around 334 calories.  Thus leaving your house spick and span too.

When out and about:

• Try parking the car further away from the shops, so that you have to walk a little further.
• Take the stairs instead of using the elevator.
• Take a walk in your lunch break

In order to be able to exercise regularly and long-term, you will need to choose activities that you enjoy. It may be an idea to team up with a friend too for encouragement and support.  There are lots of groups offering support and activities, and a fantastic way of making new friends whilst improving your health too.

Small changes really will make a huge difference to your life!

Before exercising, it is advisable to speak to your doctor and an exercise professional first.

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