Every day brings with it a new scientific report on the benefits of exercise. Unfortunately, the reports don’t always coincide with each other. Some studies show hugely positive effects, others show hugely negative effects, and some don’t permit any conclusions at all. Although the path of least resistance may lead you to prefer those reports that show no, or harmful, effects of exercise, the truth is that the best way to keep your body and mind in top shape is to be physically active. Almost everyone, no matter what his or her physical condition, can engage in at least some form of bodily exercise. To be most efficient, your exercise regime should follow the guidelines for your age and overall health status. However, each and every one of us can certainly exercise our minds even if our bodies don’t always cooperate.
I’ve culled through the wealth of data on exercise and health to come up with this list of 19 solid reasons to work that body and/or mind of yours. Here’s the short and sweet on these impressive ways that exercise can keep you in the best possible shape.
1. Builds aerobic power. Your aerobic capacity is your body’s ability to work at maximum capacity by getting oxygen from the air to your body’s tissues. Ordinarily, people lose about 1 percent a year of their aerobic power or, if you’d like to do the math, 10 percent per decade. If you start calculating at the age of 40, this means that people can lose 30 percent of their maximum aerobic capacity by the time they reach age 70. That’s a lot of unnecessary huffing and puffing. Both long-term and short-term exercise training studies show that you can cut this loss in half so that you’re losing 15 precent rather than 30 percent in that 30-year period. Many of the other benefits of exercise stem from this basic fact, so if you remember nothing else from this list, building aerobic power is your most important reason to exercise.
2. Reduces blood pressure. Chronic hypertension is the number one form of heart disease. The causes of hypertension include the increased plaque in the arteries that builds up from consuming a high-fat diet. Exercise helps reduce your blood pressure, in part, by attacking the plaque in your arteries. As the arteries widen, the blood flows through more freely, and your blood pressure eventually starts to drop. Hypertension also decreases as the result of exercise because your heart, a muscle, is getting a workout. The stronger your heart muscle gets, the greater its ability to pump blood through the arteries, which also helps to reduce your blood pressure.
3. Lowers Type 2 diabetes risk. You’ve probably heard that an increase in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is becoming a world-wide public health crisis. Even if you don’t care about the health of the world, you should care about your own risk of diabetes. The complications of adult-onset Type 2 diabetes pose a serious risk to your physical well-being. By engaging in regular physical exercise, you improve your body’s ability to metabolize glucose, the key to staving off this disease.
4. Maintains immune functioning. Your immune system is what protects you from infection and other chemical toxins. The immune system also plays a role in maintaining a healthy response to stress (more on this later). Although for many years, researchers talked about “immune senescence” as an inevitable result of aging, we now know that the studies showing these inevitable declines were conducted on people who didn’t exercise. Even short-term exercise programs can reverse some of the deleterious effects of aging on this sensitive, complex, and crucial regulatory system which controls so much of your everyday health.