The benefits of exercise and tips to maximize them
By Sarahlynn M. Etta, Yoga Teacher
The long-term health benefits of regular physical activity are numerous and varied, impacting all the body’s functions and systems.
Brain Power - The human brain is wired to move, and movement actually facilitates neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to adapt to change by forming new neural connections. Regular exercise increases cognitive function and improves attention, learning and memory.
Mood Booster - Movement stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators, as well as neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Physical activity elevates mood, increases self-esteem, decreases stress and anxiety, and reduces feelings of depression.
Sound Sleep - Exercise supports the ability to fall asleep more quickly, as well as improving overall sleep quality. Moderate aerobic exercise seems to increase the amount of deep, restorative sleep. And many types of movement help to decompress the mind, facilitating an easier transition to sleep.
Physical Health - Aerobic activity increases energy and improves metabolism while strengthening the heart and improving cardiovascular fitness, as well as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Movement lubricates the joints, resistance and weight bearing exercises strengthen the bones, and standing activities improve balance. Lower intensity exercises can also help to reduce inflammation.
Anti-aging - People who exercise regularly show improved blood markers related to aging and also increased telomere length (an indicator of disease resistance and increased life span). Resistance training has moderate benefit, while endurance and high-intensity activities seem to show the most.
Immune Function - Though the mechanisms are not clearly understood, regular movers seem to get sick less often and less severely. This could be because exercise increases blood and lymph flow, thus increasing the circulation of immune cells in the body. Regular exercise also potentially slows down changes that happen to the immune system with aging.
Anti-Inflammatory - One way exercise may support immunity is its generation of anti-inflammatory response in the body. The paradox here is that extremely intense exercise can temporarily increase inflammation, in which case low-impact activity is preferred.
To maximize the benefits of your movement:
Establish routines to help form habits. These benefits come with regular exercise. Strive to get in 150 minutes of movement each week, or five 30-minutes sessions. Strive for at least 20 minutes consecutively.
Engage in a variety of activities, including strength, stretch, cardio and balance.
Stay hydrated. Eat to fuel your body, but avoid heavy meals just before and just after exercise.
Take rests when you feel the need for them.
Avoid vigorous exercise right before bed.
Exercise with friends and loved ones to increase the release of oxytocin.
Exercise outdoors to stimulate the vagus nerve, which improves heart rate variability.
Engage in a mind-body practice such as qigong, tai chi or yoga to add the benefits of meditation and controlled breathing.
If you experience very high stress, chronic inflammation or an autoimmune condition, you should also consider keeping intense workouts to less than one hour; exercise regularly (physical fitness decreases the amount of cortisol produced during exercise); take regular break and rest days; leave intense sessions to later in the day, when cortisol levels are lower; and focus on low-impact activities, such as swimming, walking, yoga, tai chi, etc.
Sarahlynn Etta is owner, movement educator and meditation guide at Maitri Movement & Massage. To learn more or sign up for a yoga class, please visit MaitriMovement.com/move.