We’ve spilled plenty of ink talking about nutrition in this blog. It’s a complex subject matter, full of nuance, and there’s plenty to say!
But if you needed to boil down everything we’ve said about nutrition into a sentence, you probably could… something like: we eat food to provide our bodies with energy, and the specific foods we eat provide specific nutrients our bodies need to perform specific, essential functions.
Even more simply put, we can’t live without eating. Exercise on the other hand, we can – and many do! – live without.
That doesn’t mean foregoing movement is advisable, however. And you don’t need to be an aspiring Olympian or competitive powerlifter to benefit from moving your body on the regular.
When we talk about “regular exercise” – the minimum amount of exertion required to experience its benefits – what’s generally being described is:
At least 150 weekly minutes of moderate aerobic activity, least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of the two. (That works out to 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, or going for three 25-minute runs or bike rides a week.)
Plus at least twice-weekly “strength training” sessions. Yes, that can mean going to the gym and lifting weights or devising an at-home push-up and body weight squat routine, but plenty of everyday activities like yard work or carrying the groceries home if you walk to the store also fit the bill!
As is the case with eating fruits and vegetables, in the case of exercise, any is better than none. The above guidelines are merely the recommended baselines to begin seeing optimum health outcomes – the more you move (within reason!), chances are, the better it will be for you.
The most commonly focused-on consequences of exercise tend to be cosmetic. Just look at pretty much any magazine on the rack next time you’re checking out at the grocery store – shredded, sculpted, toned, lifted, ripped. And yes, those delightful expressions of leanness can be achieved through frequent, vigorous, and structured exercise.
But the real benefits to working out are the internal, lasting ones, that have more to do with overall health than anything “beach season” adjacent. That’s probably less glamorous than bulging biceps but undoubtedly more important!
Here are just a handful of positive, long-term effects of regular exercise.
Improved cardiovascular health: Regular activity strengthens your heart, which means it can beat more slowly and efficiently. Exercise has been shown to boost arterial health, as well, and also contributes to higher levels of HDL cholesterol – the “good” kind.
Lowered risk for metabolic syndrome: In studies, metabolic syndrome – which increases your likelihood for developing heart disease or diabetes – has been combated highly effectively with moderate amounts of exercise. Consistently exercising at a sustainable level trumps inconsistently exercising vigorously.
Reduced risk of certain cancers: Research shows that those who exercise more regularly have a reduced risk of developing common cancers like bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach cancers. Exercise helps with hormone regulation and digestion – both of which have been shown to help lower your chances of developing diseases like cancer.
Healthier muscles, joints, and bones: As we age, we tend to naturally lose muscle mass, our bones become less dense, and our joints become less flexible and functional. But regular exercise seems to help combat all of these processes. Any weight-bearing exercise that puts force on bones tends to result in them becoming stronger. Keeping muscles strong not only fights their atrophy, but it improves joint health as well, by assisting with natural motion and ensuring movements are performed by the appropriate muscle groups.
Positive impacts on the brain: And all of these benefits don’t even touch the mental positives exercise can bring. Exercise can reduce feelings of anxiety in the short term (think: that post-workout “endorphin rush”). Working out regularly can reduce your risk of depression and sleep problems, too.
The best form of exercise is the form of exercise you’re most likely to do regularly. But we get that everyone has their reasons for avoiding certain activities or barriers to finding the time to move. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to sport gym clothes for exercise to count, nor does activity need to be contiguous for you to see and feel the benefits!
Look for ways to bake 10-minute spurts of activity into your day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Incorporate walks or push-up breaks into your daily routine. If you’re a public transit-rider, hop off a stop short of your destination and walk the remaining distance.
Making exercise into a regular and social enterprise can help tremendously with accountability. Have a neighbor who is reliably out the door each morning for a three-mile walk? Ask to start tagging along! Set a couple of reminders on your phone to go for a short stroll or grab that kettlebell and churn out a few light reps of the exercise of your choice. Or try to game-ify movement by setting goals to hit on your smart phone’s step counter.
Struggling to climb a rope in front of all of your peers as a youngster can be a traumatic experience. But you don’t have to sign up for a group pilates to reap the benefits of movement. Plenty of trainers and instructors offer Zoom alternatives to their in-person offerings, allowing you to test out new workouts from the comfort and privacy of your home.
Live above a yoga studio? Inquire about a trial membership. Constantly think about how much you miss playing soccer? Look into rec leagues in your area. Two of the most important factors in sticking to any routine – and exercise is no exception – are whether it’s easy to do, and whether you enjoy doing it. Don’t join a gym that’s an hour drive away, and don’t decide to become a dedicated road cyclist if you hate getting on the bike because there are no places to safely ride in your area.
Okay! We believe you! Seriously! We do! But how about this? If your job keeps you desk-bound, consider investing in a standing desk – or fashion one yourself by stacking a box or two on your working surface. Even alternating between sitting and standing counts as movement, and any movement is positive movement!