Top 10 Reasons to Exercise
So many of the clients at our practice struggle with consistently exercising. Are you in this boat too? To get motivated, you have to have a strong why to pursue your goal. If you’re not sure of why you would make exercise a regular part of your day, read on and choose a couple from the list! You’ll spot one of my why’s as you read…
Let’s take a look at 10 evidence-based reasons why exercise is a powerful contributor to looking, and more importantly feeling, your best.
1. Supports weight loss and management
This is probably the most well-known benefit of exercise, and for a good reason. In the United States, 66.3% of adults are overweight or obese, which is a major public health concern. (1) The good news is that we have scientifically-proven ways to combat weight gain, and exercise is one of the best! A large study reviewing the science showed that a consistent exercise program can help you lose as much weight as a diet program. (2) Even better, the exercise group lost more fat than the diet group. This review also determined how much is needed:
- A step-based goal doesn’t lead to significant weight loss (just being on your feet isn’t enough)
- Resistance training doesn’t lead to much weight loss, but it does significantly improve body fat and health markers
- Aerobic exercise leads to significant weight loss at 1 hour per day, 5 days per week
- Aerobic exercise helps maintain weight at 30-45min per day, 5 days per week
Therefore, the best idea is to do both aerobic and resistance training so you can both lose weight and fat, and dedicate an hour most days to sweating. Exercise helps you achieve these benefits in three ways: burn calories while working out, burn more calories the rest of the day, and better regulate appetite.
In addition, staying active is very effective at keeping the pounds from coming back on. One of the few things people who have lost at least 30lbs and kept it off for over a year have in common is that they’re physically active for about an hour per day on average. (3)
2. Improves gut health
This one may come as a surprise to you, unless you’re well acquainted with functional medicine. It always comes back to the gut! It’s important to pay attention to the gut not only for digestion, but also because it controls so much of the rest of our health. A whopping 70% of the entire body’s immune system is in the gut. Therefore, imbalances there can lead to autoimmune disease, allergies, and more. (4)
Since the gut is so important, taking care of it is vital. To that end, research reveals that exercise may regulate the intestinal microbiome composition. The microbiome is the ecosystem of all of the living organisms in the intestines. Exercise can actually have a similar effect as taking a probiotic: increasing good bacteria and bacterial diversity. (5)
While exercise really shines in the gut health department, it’s important to remember that too much of anything can harm you. For example, training to exhaustion may actually create more inflammation and microbial imbalances in the gut. (5) This is why it’s important to listen to your body and work with a functional medicine professional to help you address your body’s unique needs.
3. Improves gut motility
Gut motility is the process of food moving through your body. It starts with swallowing and ends in the toilet (no picture provided for this paragraph, haha). Research suggests that exercise makes this complicated process run more effectively.
This is beneficial for anyone struggling with constipation or difficult bowel movements. In one study on sedentary inpatients, a 12-week exercise program was proven to decrease the transit time through the gut (and therefore increase motility) by a full 24 hours! (6) The exercise group went from having a bowel movement every 2.25 days to almost every day. In contrast, the non-exercise group experienced no change. Fortunately, having more regular bowel movements then improves many other aspects of health (and just makes us feel more comfortable in our bodies).
4. Regulates blood sugar
Insulin resistance happens when the insulin your body releases to clear blood sugar becomes less effective. Therefore, insulin goes higher. However, when it can’t go high enough, your blood sugar starts to rise. Eventually, this becomes prediabetes and then diabetes.
A large portion of our population has insulin resistance, which can create fatigue and weight gain. Studies show that virtually the entire population can benefit from the positive effect of physical activity on blood sugar control, which is more comprehensive in its benefits than any medication! (7)
5. Lowers blood pressure
In simple terms, blood pressure is the pressure of the blood within the arteries. It is produced by contraction of the heart muscle. The act of exercising works the heart and increases circulation. As a result, studies show that aerobic exercise (more so than resistance training) may help lower and prevent high blood pressure by enabling blood to flow more freely. (8)
6. Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
It should be no surprise that exercise is essentially an insurance policy on your heart. This is especially important because it’s estimated that 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. are related to heart disease. (9) Fortunately, exercise is associated with reduced cardiovascular deaths. This is not only when used for prevention, but also for those who already have cardiovascular disease. (10)
Since your heart is a muscle, you actually make it stronger when you workout. Furthermore, exercise causes your blood vessels to be wider and more relaxed. As a result, they can be less likely to become injured.
7. Improves mood and reduces depression
In addition to physical health, exercise does wonders for mental health. It acts as a natural and effective anti-anxiety and anti-depressant, with side benefits instead of side effects! Research suggests that exercise is the most helpful for treatment-resistant depression, unipolar depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (11)
Being active helps our mood in many ways. Parts of the brain that have shrunk in those with depression actually grow when you exercise! (12) Moreover, the gut has a strong influence over the functioning of the brain’s mood chemicals. As we discussed earlier, exercise improves gut health.
8. Lowers risk of dementia
As chronic and progressive diseases, Alzheimer’s and dementia both require more than just medications to maintain quality of life. Accumulating evidence suggests that staying active can not only help prevent neurodegenerative diseases, but also improve brain function in those starting to suffer. (13)
Brain-derived neurotropic factor is a cool little chemical produced when you exercise that acts like fertilizer for your brain cells. It helps to prevent the shrinking and decline in function seen in dementia, improving memory and mood. (14) As a functional medicine practitioner, I need my brain to be functioning at 100% capacity to do my job well. Thinking of fertilizing my brain definitely gets me off my butt when I need a little kick to get going!
9. Lowers risk of falls
Even if you weren’t into working out when younger, you can still reduce the risk of falls by getting into the habit later in life. Just make sure to combine cardio, strength training, and balance into your weekly routine to maximize the benefits. (15)
10. Prevents bone loss
Osteoporosis is the thinning or weakening of the bones. Likewise, osteopenia is the early stages of this bone loss. Exercise is known to be an effective strategy for preventing bone loss and maintaining good skeletal health. In fact, studies show that targeted exercise is the only strategy that can simultaneously improve multiple skeletal and fall-related risk factors. (16)
Just like how it can tell your brain to grow, exercise also tells your bones to grow to support the muscles being used. Without this signaling, calcium supplementation and other strategies are less effective.
Takeaway: Exercise is a free natural medicine that has anti-aging powers and can help you look and feel your best! Regardless of the conditions you’re trying to improve, aim for at least 30min, 5 times per week of getting your heart rate up. Double that if you’re trying to lose weight.
I want to hear from you! What’s your motivation to exercise? What does it do for you?
- Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16595758/
- The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance. 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3925973/
- Is regular exercise an effective strategy for weight loss maintenance? 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5929468/
- Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/
- Exercise and immune system as modulators of intestinal microbiome: implications for the gut-muscle axis hypothesis. 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30753131/
- Aerobic exercise improves gastrointestinal motility in psychiatric inpatients. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4130869/
- Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance: Underlying Causes and Modification by Exercise Training. 2014. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23720280/
- Acute and chronic effects of aerobic and resistance exercise on ambulatory blood pressure. 2010. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20360924/
- Heart Disease Facts, CDC. 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
- Impact of exercise training on cardiovascular disease and risk. 2018. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30837069/
- Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31083878/
- Exercise effects on depression: Possible neural mechanisms. 2017. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29122145/
- Exercise, Nutrition and the Brain. 2014. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24791916/
- The aging hippocampus: interactions between exercise, depression, and BDNF. 2012. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21531985/
- Effects of different exercise interventions on risk of falls, gait ability, and balance in physically frail older adults: a systematic review. 2013. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23327448/
- Exercise for the prevention of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women: an evidence-based guide to the optimal prescription. 2019. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30503353