The Importance of Exercise

We are always being told that exercise is good for us, but how important is it really?

The positive effects of physical activity on physical and mental health as well as quality of life have been well documented. Insufficient activity is a major public health problem. 

What are the benefits of exercise?

Exercise has significant health benefits and some you may not even realise. These include reducing risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lower back pain, depression, anxiety and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease — an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and non-reversible asthma. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness)

The table below shows how much physical activity can help reduce the risk of long-term conditions and mortality. For example, doing physical activity can reduce your risk of getting breast cancer by 20%!

DiseaseRisk reduction
Death20 – 35%
CHD and Stroke20 – 35%
Type 2 Diabetes35 – 40%
Colon Cancer30 – 50%
Breast Cancer20%
Hip Fracture36 – 68%
Depression20 – 30%
Alzheimer’s Disease20 – 30%
Functional limitation, elderly30%
Prevention of falls30%
Osteoarthritis disability22 – 80%

On top of these long-term conditions, physical activity can help with:

  • Sleep – exercise helps you drift off more quickly and into a deeper sleep, allowing a better night’s rest. A good night’s sleep is essential for overall health.
  • Boost energy levels – the surge of blood around the body transports oxygen to the brain to make you feel mentally alert. It also increases blood flow to the tissue as well as your lungs and heart. Better conditioned muscles and cardiovascular system require less effort to perform physical tasks and over time as the body becomes stronger so too does the immune system reducing the risk of illness.
  • Memory — regular exercise has also been shown to improve memory and learning functions, both of which are impaired by chronic stress. Scientists have also discovered that exercise helps in preventing dementia and cognitive impairment in older adults. 
  • Depression — Exercise helps chronic depression by increasing serotonin, which helps your brain regulate mood, sleep and appetite. Immune system chemicals that can worsen depression are also reduced.
  • Mood – exercising also releases a chemical called endorphins in the brain, which help to improve your mood.
  • Reduces inflammation and visceral (abdominal) fat – increasing physical activity increases muscle activity, which then increases a substance called anti-inflammatory myokines. This in turn reduces systemic inflammation and also reduces the fat around your organs knows as visceral fat. Visceral fat itself can be dangerous and causes an increased risk of dementia, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, breast and colon cancer. 

So how much exercise should we be doing?

1. 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week OR

75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week OR

A combination of both

2. Muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 day per week 

3. Limit time spent sitting for extended periods (recommend getting up for 2 mins every 20 mins)

4. For older adults (65+) — Balance and co-ordination activities at least 2 days per week

This doesn’t mean that you have to go to the gym every day and lift heavy weights, the most important factor is to pick something that you enjoy doing, make it achievable and build it into part of your daily routine. For example, getting off one tube stop earlier and walking. Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator. Run or cycle into work as part of your normal daily commute. Head out for a walk in your lunch break. Try a new hobby with some friends. 

Remember.… More is better. Some is better than none.

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