14 June 2014

Exercise - Part 1: Benefits

As I mentioned in my recent health update post, I now exercise every day. This is kind of a Huge Big Deal for me, partly because I had been so sick that I couldn't live a normal life, and partly because even before I was sick I never enjoyed exercise.

In this series of posts I want to talk about how I was able to make these changes and reach a point where I exercise every day; I want to talk about motivation, how to get started and how to keep going, some of the equipment and apps I use, etc. If you have any questions I'd love to hear them! I don't claim to be an expert, but as someone who went from never exercising to working out consistently for 4 months so far (and actually enjoying it!), I have learned a thing or two that I'd love to pass on.

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In this post I wanted to talk about some of the benefits of exercise. We all know "it's good for you" but what does that actually mean? Well, the benefits affect you in three ways:

1) how you look
2) how it affects your body (and how you feel physically)
3) how it affects your brain (and how you feel mentally and emotionally)

These benefits are actually in reverse order! Sometimes we want to exercise because we want to lose weight and look better - this is actually the least important benefit. Even the way it is good for your body is secondary to the amazing and significant changes that take place in your brain.

But I'll tackle the benefits in the order listed above, and I'll try to keep it in bullet points so as not to ramble on too long.

How you look
- smoother, more radiant skin
- it actually makes you taller and improves posture
- increased confidence makes you more attractive
- weight loss and better weight distribution
- better muscle tone

How it affects your body (and how you feel physically)
- better immunity to illness
- reduced toxicity
- greater strength
- more stamina
- lower blood pressure
- lower resting heart rate
- improved cardiovascular health and efficiency
- bone density is increased (not all exercise does this, though)
- greater flexibility
- improved muscle tone, strength and endurance
- more energy
- more oxygen supply to all tissues and cells
- decreased blood sugar levels and risk of diabetes
- increased lung capacity
- more efficient fat burning
- decreased inflammation in your body

How it affects your brain (and how you feel mentally and emotionally)
- increased blood flow to the brain
- better information processing, memory and general executive functioning
- decrease of food cravings
- improvement in mood with a decrease of depression and anxiety
- natural pain-killer endorphins reduce the sensation of pain
- decrease of ADHD
- increase of motivation
- better able to focus
- hormone regulation
- greater sense of self-esteem, confidence and worth
- growth of new brain cells and new connections between cells
- decrease of stress hormones and increased stress resilience
- better reaction to complex situations
- a factor in fighting dementia, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases
- improvement in mood
- consolidate long-term memory
- help with serious mental disorders including schizophrenia
- improve children's school performance
- better sleep
- migraine prevention

(A Google search on the topic of "brain-derived neurotrophic factor" or "BDNF" will show you exactly how exercise benefits the brain. I learned so much from listening to the audiobook Spark by John J Ratey.)

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Granted, we can't always feel or see all of the benefits, but I certainly have felt some of them in the 4 months that I have been exercising. I have:
- lost weight
- been thinking clearer

- felt happier and more confident
- been so proud of my achievements and progress
- improved my posture
- become stronger and have more stamina
- lowered my resting heart rate
- become more toned
- had no food cravings (although giving up sugar and wheat are a huge factor too)
- actually craved exercise!
- managed stress much better
- become fitter - I don't get winded easily and can run and play
- decreased anxiety

As many benefits as I can see and feel, I'm sure there are plenty more that I can't see and feel but which are happening in my body nonetheless. I love knowing that I am doing what I can to improve my cardiovascular health and chances of fighting dementia, especially since I have a strong family history of stroke and Alzheimer's.

Are you feeling any more desire and motivation to exercise? Sometimes just knowing the benefits is not enough. Come back in a couple of days for a post containing a few thoughts on how I got motivated to start working out.

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