Exercise. For some of us – like me, this was always a foreign, uncomfortable concept. I was not good at sports in school however, did find an active passion young, it was swimming. I swam 5-6 times a week with a swim team. I enjoyed it a lot and it kept me active and healthy. It also meant I could eat whatever I wanted.
This however, only lasted until I was a teenager and my interests in shopping and making friends overcame my interest in swimming meaning I was no longer active. I started gaining weight. That is where my relationship with my body and exercise started to take a turn for the worst. I like junk food, a lot, especially if it has anything to do with chocolate. The high school cafeteria was a novelty, I could buy whatever unhealthy food I wanted to for lunch without any further thought. What I didn’t realize was how this food was making me feel and its effects on my body. I gained weight and started losing confidence. But I still hadn’t considered picking up a new activity because being a teenager was fun and making friends was a top priority, that was until my later high school years. It was then that my relationship with my body became even more unhealthy. I was in a phase where I exercised because I understood that it is an effective weight loss tool. I would go to the gym and make myself workout on the elliptical or the treadmill, counting the minutes until the 45 minutes was up so I could go home and eat more unhealthy food. This carried on into university but that’s where weight loss efforts seemed to become more desperate. Now exercise was paired with fad diets. I could lose 5lbs in one weeks by making promises and trade-offs in my head about what I ate (which was not much) and how good I would feel after. These diets didn’t work, I often gained the weight back and more in the next week.
Nursing school and beginning the full-time career after didn’t really help either. Shift work is not conducive to good sleeping habits, meal prep or, healthy eating. It wasn’t until I realized I needed to take care of myself to take care of other and important aspects of behavior change that I have since lost 30lbs and feel better. Let me tell you, exercise really is the best medicine, it makes you feel better about yourself, provides thought clarity, more energy and man, those endorphins. Let’s explore what research suggests the benefits to exercise are.
First, let’s talk about how much.
It is important that you consult your family doctor about the amount of exercise that is right for you.
Canadian guidelines indicate that we should aim for 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week in at least 10-minute intervals. Using the American Heart Association’s example, if you rated your physical activity efforts on a scale from 0-20, moderate physical activity is 11-14 and vigorous activity is 17-19.
Ok- now on to its specific benefits.
Exercise increases blood flow to your brain because your heart is pumping faster. This extra blood flow helps repair damaged brain cells and also delivers hormones that make you happy and assist in mood control throughout the day. If you exercise in the morning, this will prepare you for mental stressors throughout the day. Your brain has all those extra nutrients and energy, it will help you focus and think better.
Exercise trains the heart to pump more efficiently. This helps to lower your blood pressure, work against clotting and lowers stress on your body.
Exercise helps improve your muscle strength and coordination. Your muscles are then better able to support your bones to prevent wear and tear with aging. Increased coordination decreases your chances of injury or falls that lead to fractures.
Exercise helps improve your sleep. Stress is often a root cause of the inability to sleep. Exercise, as mentioned above, decreases stress levels and improves daytime alertness, therefore is thought to improve sleep indirectly.
Exercise can assist in weight loss. Exercise improves metabolism by building muscle. This means that you will burn more calories throughout the day. Muscle, also improves the tone of your body. It also has great effects on appetite and controlling cravings.
So how do you flip the switch?
Find something you love doing. It’s only recently that I learned you do not have to hate being active. Being active does not mean that I have to force myself to go to the gym. Find an activity you love and commit to it. It is so easy to make everything else a priority, especially if you’ve never had an active lifestyle. The second secret is – don’t go from 0 to 100 in one week. Slowly work your way up to an activity level that you can maintain. It is easier to commit when baby steps are involved.
Dr. Mike Evans has a great, informative YouTube video about exercise and its health effects called 23 ½ Hours, worth the watch! Click here.