Ease Your Way Into Movement: The Scientific Health Benefits of Exercise

In today’s society, it feels nearly impossible to go anywhere without hearing about exercise. We’ve all been told that it’s good for us - we hear about it from friends, healthcare professionals, social media, magazines, and of course all of our favourite celebrities. We may see pictures of friends running races, competing in Mud Hero competitions, practicing yoga, taking their dogs for walks, dancing, or going to the gym. There are so many different ways to move our body, and whether you follow a specific exercise program or not, you’re most likely engaging in some type of exercise on a daily basis.   

It may seem like exercise is more of a newer phenomenon, but it turns out that exercise has existed in cultures for many years. Exercise as a form of health promotion has been dated back to ancient China in 2500 BC, and the connection between exercise and physical/psychological well-being was highlighted in ancient Greece by figures such as Hippocrates and Plato (MacAuley,1994).


The Science Behind Exercise

It may come as no surprise to you to hear that exercise has been connected with physical health benefits, as well as psychological health benefits. According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, adults aged 18-64 should be engaging in 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week to reap the benefits of building physical strength, mental well-being, fitness, and decreasing the risk of physical ailments such as premature death, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity (CSEP Guidelines, 2012).

So what is it about exercise that is so powerful? Let’s first take a look at how we can define exercise and what happens to our bodies when we exercise. Exercise “involves participation in a program of regular, structured, physical exertion of varying degrees of intensity designed to increase heart rate and or muscle strength” (Edenfield and Blumenthal, 2011). When we exercise, our heart rate increases, which increases blood flow to our muscles, and builds overall strength and endurance (Harber and Sutton, 1984). With consistent exercise, our bodies begin to adapt, and function more efficiently at a metabolic, cardiovascular, hormonal level (Blair et al, 1992). Essentially, exercise makes improvements to many different areas of our bodies, which enhances overall physical health.  

Exercise has also been shown to have a positive impact on psychological health. Engaging in exercise increases the release of our feel-good hormones, called endorphins. When endorphins are released in the body, they can lead to positive mood changes, such as exercise-induced euphoria, decreases in pain, and decreases in stress levels (Harber and Sutton, 1984). You may have heard of this type of euphoria being referred to as “runner’s high”. Now putting all of these pieces together, you might predict that exercise can have a positive effect in people living with mental health issues. You’re right! Many studies have shown that being involved in an exercise program can reduce symptoms of psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety (Edenfield and Blumenthal, 2011).  


Tips for Getting out There and Moving Your Body

Now that we know all of the positive physical and psychological health benefits of exercise, you maybe wondering why everyone isn’t out there exercising right now! The truth is, it can be hard to findtime, motivation, or an activity that you really enjoy. Remember – exercise doesn’t have to be daunting – simply getting out there each day can have a huge positive impact on your mood, your health, and your overall outlook! 

Here are a few tips that may help you get started and stay motivated:

Start with a goal:  Starting with a goal can help you determine what you’d really enjoy, can help you stay focused, and keep you motivated when things get challenging. Research shows that setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Sensitive) goals can help us stick to our goal and achieve positive outcomes.

Find something you really enjoy:  If you’re going to be engaging in an activity for 150 minutes per week, make it something you enjoy! Or better yet, change it up. No one says that you can only do one form of exercise, or that it has to be something that you dread. The more you enjoy it, the more likely you’ll be to stick with it. How about giving yoga a try? 

Take the pressure off yourself:  When it comes to exercise you may feel a sense of pressure to be the fastest, the strongest, or that you have to push yourself to the max. This doesn’t have to be the case – simply getting out there, doing something you enjoy, doing something good for your body, challenging yourself to your own limits can be extremely rewarding.

Listen to your body:  Some days you may feel that you can exercise for hours, and other days you may feel like 10 minutes is too much. Listen to what your body is telling you – it’s usually right!  

 Have fun: Don’t forget the most important part – make it fun, and make it last! 

 

We hope these strategies will be helpful for you when you’re deciding the best way to get your body moving! Remember “walking is a man’s best medicine” – Hippocrates

 

Live life lighter,

Carolyn and Steph


References

Blair, S. N., Kohl, H. W., Gordon, N.F. (1992). How Much Physical Activity Is Good For Health? Annual Review of Public Health, (13), 99-126.

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (2012). Retrieved from:

http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP_PAGuidelines_adults_en.pdf

Edenfield, T. M., Bumenthal, J. A. (2011). Exercise and Stress Reduction. The Handbook of Stress Science: Biology, Psychology, and Health, 301-315.

Harber, V. J., Sutton, J. R. (1984). Endorphins and Exercise. Sports Medicine, 1(2), 154-171.

MacAuley, D. (1994). A History of Physical Activity, Health and Medicine. The Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, 87(1), 32-35.

Shahin, A., Ali Mahbod, M. (2007). Prioritization of key performance indicators: An integration of analytical hierarchy process and goal setting. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 56(3), 226-240.

Warburton, D. E. R., Nicol, C. W., Bredin, S. S. D. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174 (6), 801-809. 

Sam Cooper