Updated: Aug 1, 2021
We are often told that exercise is good for us and that it improves both our physical and mental wellbeing. This is certainly true, but I know a lot of my clients get bored of hearing the same sentence over and over. As a health and fitness leader, I thought it was time I explained the importance of exercise in more depth:
· What benefits do exercise really bring?
· How does exercise improve my mental as well as my physical health?
· How long should I exercise for?
The benefits of exercise:
1. Exercise boosts energy
Regular physical exercise can boost muscle strength and improve endurance. Exercise also delivers oxygen and nutrients to tissues in the body and helps the cardiovascular system work more effectively. This, in turn, gives you more energy for daily tasks.
2. Exercise promotes better sleep
It is proven that exercise helps us to fall asleep faster, to stay asleep longer and to sleep deeper. It should be noted, however, that exercising too close to bedtime can increase energy and prevent you from falling asleep.
3. Exercises improves mood
Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may help us feel happier and calmer. The endorphins released during exercise can reduce feelings of anxiety and increase those of relaxation.
Exercise has also been shown to be an effective way to treat low mood and depression. A study at Harvard University found that just 15 minutes of running a day (or walking for an hour) reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. Additionally, exercise has been found to treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressants.
4. Exercise reduces risk of serious health problems
Being active reduces high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, in other words the “good” cholesterol, and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This helps improve blood flow reducing risk of cardiovascular diseases. Exercise has also been found to reduce the risk of:
· Metabolic syndrome
· High blood pressure
· Diabetes Type 2
· Types of cancer
5. Exercise can be fun
As crazy as it might sound, exercise can be fun! Physical activity provides the chance to unwind and connect with nature. It also provides a good setting to connect socially with family and friends. A real sense of achievement can be gained from exercise.
How often should I exercise?
The following physical activity levels are recommended:
· Children 0-5 years: 180 minutes a day
· Children 5-18 years: An average of 60 minutes a day.
· Adults aged 19 and over: 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
It is important to stress that these guidelines are only recommendations. At the end of the day, you have to do what feels right for you. As a high-level runner, I far exceed the recommended activity guidelines for adults. This is perfectly acceptable as long as you manage your diet correctly. The more you exercise, the more fuel you need. I am not suggesting that running a 10 miler warrants eating a whole chocolate cake (although there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a slice of cake a couple of times a week). It is about increasing the calorie intake with foods that give you the best energy return.