Exercise is Medicine
by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert
Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.
Exercise is a medicine that can do much more than help prevent disease. It can treat and even cure it.
Exercise is good for almost every organ in the body and has been proven to prevent heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, osteoporosis and some cancers. It also slows the aging process.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Stress is a natural part of life, but when it becomes chronic or intense it can take a toll on your health. It may cause headaches, stomach upset, or other physical problems.
The good news is that exercise can help reduce the negative effects of stress and anxiety. It can also boost your mood and self-confidence, lower mild depression and anxiety, improve sleep and more.
One study found that people who engaged in strength training on a regular basis reported reduced anxiety levels and worry symptoms. This type of exercise releases endorphins, which are chemicals that relieve pain and stress.
In addition to the obvious physical benefits of exercising, it can also help alleviate stress and anxiety by helping you focus on a single task instead of thinking about your worries.
Another way to reduce your stress is to practice mindfulness, or paying attention to the present moment. When you exercise, pay attention to the sensations of your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, and the feeling of the wind on your skin.
It can be difficult to get started with a new exercise routine, but you'll likely find that you stick with it more quickly if you make it fun and challenging. Experiment with a variety of strategies to discover what works for you.
For example, if you're struggling to stick with your exercise plan, try a different time of day or a different type of activity. You might want to work out with a group of people or do it by yourself, but find something that you'll enjoy doing.
Regardless of the approach, you'll want to make sure you get enough exercise every day. This will ensure you get the full benefits of your exercise program, including reducing your stress and anxiety.
If you find it difficult to stick with your new exercise regimen, you may want to ask a friend or family member to join in. Explain to them the many positive benefits you'll receive by making this change.
Strengthens the Immune System
Your immune system protects you from diseases and infections by fighting off germs that aren't supposed to be in your body. It's made up of two parts: innate and adaptive immunity.
The innate immune system is your body's first line of defense, and it works automatically to destroy germs that enter the bloodstream. It's made up of white blood cells, or leukocytes, that patrol the bloodstream looking for new or unknown pathogens.
Those cells then send messages to other immune cells to help them find and destroy the intruders. This process is called immunosurveillance.
Exercise strengthens your immune system by triggering this surveillance. During a workout, your blood flows more freely and increases the number of white blood cells that circulate in your body, according to research.
This increase in blood flow helps your immune cells locate and attack infected bacteria and viruses. Those white blood cells then send signals to other immune cells that can fight the infection, explains Jeffrey Woods, Ph.D., a kinesiology professor at the University of Illinois.
A recent study found that those who did moderate-intensity cardio five times a week for 30 minutes improved their immune function, while people who did high-intensity interval training (HIIT) three times a week did better too.
These results are in line with previous findings that showed exercise can improve your immune health, especially if you're doing steady cardio or HIIT. But a key to getting the most out of your exercises is consistency.
Consistent exercise also promotes the body's production of antibodies, which are proteins that your immune system uses to fight off germs. The more antibodies you have, the better your immune system will work.
Another way to strengthen your immune system is through proper nutrition. Eating foods with protein can boost your body's ability to make antibodies. Protein-rich foods like meats, eggs, and fish contain amino acids that your body needs to make antibodies. Those amino acids also help your body produce cytokines, which are molecules that trigger your immune system to defend itself against infection.
Exercise not only improves your body’s overall health but also can help you get a good night’s sleep. In fact, a survey of more than 155,000 adults in the US found that people who engaged in regular physical activity were less likely to report sleep problems and more likely to feel refreshed during the day.
Even small amounts of exercise can have a positive impact on your sleep, such as taking a brisk walk after dinner or going for a short bike ride in the morning. Exercising in the morning helps regulate your internal body clock and can help you fall asleep easier at night, according to a study published in the journal Sleep.
A variety of exercises can benefit your sleep: aerobic exercise, resistance training, and mind-body exercises like yoga or tai chi are all associated with improved sleep quality. It’s important to remember, however, that while all types of exercise are linked with better sleep, not all are created equal when it comes to promoting restful slumber.
The timing of your workouts can also impact your sleep quality: Vigorous exercise, especially in the hour before bedtime, can affect sleep onset and total time slept. This may be because of the increased core temperature that can occur after intense exercise.
Nevertheless, exercising in the evening has been shown to boost deep restorative sleep in some people. For instance, a study of healthy adults found that participants who exercised 90 minutes before bed woke up in a more restorative state than those who did not work out.
Another reason exercise can lead to better sleep is that it promotes a more natural, circadian rhythm for sleeping and waking up. This is particularly helpful for older adults who typically have weaker body clocks and are more likely to struggle with sleep problems.
As for determining the right type of exercise to improve your sleep, it’s best to find something you enjoy doing and that is consistent. It’s also important to choose a workout that fits in with your lifestyle – too much exercise during the day can lead to sluggishness at night, which may make it difficult to fall asleep. It’s also a good idea to be consistent with your exercise routine, as it can take some time to see changes in your sleeping patterns.
Improves Mental Health
It’s no secret that physical fitness boosts your mood, improves sleep and helps you feel more positive about yourself. It also makes you feel more energetic throughout the day and reduces anxiety symptoms.
While exercise isn’t a cure-all for depression or other mental illnesses, it can help prevent and treat them when they are diagnosed. In fact, exercise has been shown to decrease depressive symptoms in some cases as effectively as taking antidepressants.
The link between exercise and mental health is a bit complex, and scientists aren’t sure what exactly makes it so effective at improving mental health. But it appears to have something to do with BDNF, the protein that promotes growth and repair in the brain.
Researchers have found that BDNF is particularly important for brain regions involved in learning and memory. This can help explain how exercise has been proven to boost the effectiveness of some of the most popular anti-anxiety therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Another study shows that even moderate levels of physical activity are linked to a reduction in poor mental health days, especially among seniors who are experiencing stress due to changes in their personal lives and financial situation. The CDC survey examined responses from more than 1.2 million adults, and the results revealed that those who were active had significantly less poor mental health days than those who were inactive.
If you’re interested in incorporating physical activity into your life, it is important to find an activity that you enjoy and stick with it long term. It’s also a good idea to make exercise a social activity, as people who work out with friends or family tend to be more motivated than those working out alone.
It’s a good idea to discuss any exercise or physical activity plans you may have with your mental health professional, so that they can ensure that it fits into your treatment plan. They can also provide advice and guidance as to the best type of exercise for you.
Exercising at the right intensity and frequency is proven to reduce the risks of a number of chronic conditions. It can also make you look and feel better, boost your mood, increase energy levels and help you sleep.
The benefits of exercise go beyond just your heart and lungs: It also keeps your muscles strong and supports your joints, tendons and ligaments. It can also improve brain health by increasing blood flow to your brain, reducing inflammation and stimulating the production of hormones that encourage the growth of brain cells, including in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is important for memory and learning.
People who are depressed or anxious can benefit from regular exercise because it can help release serotonin and endorphins, the "feel-good" chemicals that boost your mood and lift your spirits. In a study of 977 patients, Norwegian scientists found that physical activity can have a similar impact on depression as antidepressants do.
It can also regulate your wake-sleep cycle: The hormones that promote the sleep-wake cycle, like melatonin, increase when you exercise. And it may help you get more restful sleep by helping set your body clock and reducing presleep anxiety.
You can start a healthy exercise routine with a few small steps, such as jogging a little every day or briskly walking. As you gain experience, you can increase the amount of time you spend exercising and add different types of activities.