10 Important Reasons to Exercise (and weight loss isn't one of them)
Updated: Jun 8, 2019
I recently returned from spending a month in Uganda. The trip itself was unforgettable and honestly life changing. I slept under a mosquito net, washed my clothes in basins outside, taught students English and math at an extremely humble school, interacted with the community, and ate more rice and beans than I probably have in my entire life. I found myself adapting to the culture and the environment around me in a very transformative way that is hard to explain. During the trip however, I completely lost my exercise routine.
Many of you know that I am an avid exerciser. I grew up participating in every sport I could, played basketball throughout college, picked up marathon running in grad school, and basically just have a passion for being active - it is a core part of who I am. However, because of the conditions, safety concerns, and lack of calories throughout my trip, exercising was almost nonexistent.
Surprisingly, now that I am back in the US, I am finding it somewhat difficult to get back into my once second-nature exercise routine. So…this blog post is as much for me and my motivation as it is for you.
Here are 10 of the most important reasons to exercise (and none of them have to do with weight loss).
1. Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Exercise is incredibly beneficial to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Studies have shown that just 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week can offer significant cardiovascular protection. In one large-scale study, physical inactivity (less than 1 hour per week of exercise) was associated with a 52% increase in overall mortality and a doubling of mortality from cardiovascular disease.
2. Decreases risk of diabetes.
Both aerobic and resistance exercise have routinely been shown to decrease risk of Type 2 diabetes. Exercise helps to decrease blood sugar levels and drastically improve blood glucose control. In fact, exercise outperforms Metformin in head-to-head comparisons of long-term blood glucose control. It is an absolutely essential component in the overall prevention of diabetes.
3. Lowers blood pressure levels and reduces risk of hypertension.
Regular physical activity strengthens the heart, which in turn decreases the force on the arteries and ultimately lowers blood pressure. Studies have shown that becoming physically active can reduce your systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of 4-9 mmHg, which is as good as some blood pressure medications.
4. Strengthens bones.
Weight bearing, or bone loading, activities are essential to build and maintain strong bones at any age. Because bone is a living tissue, it adapts in response to forces placed upon it and therefore strengthens with those forces. While helpful at any age, studies have also shown that early physical activity in children improves bone health later in life by up to 14%.
5. Strengthens the immune system.
Have you ever noticed that chronic exercisers rarely get sick? One of the remarkable benefits of exercise is the ability of your body to actually enhance or strengthen its endogenous antioxidant defense system (the antioxidants your body makes itself). Antioxidants are what protect your body from free radicals that cause oxidative stress and ultimately inflammation. This is important to not only keep you healthy from the common cold, but also to decrease your long-term risk of chronic disease.
6. Decreases body fat percentage.
Body fat percentage, particularly central obesity, is strongly correlated with many chronic health disorders. Both aerobic and resistance exercise have been shown to positively influence body composition and reduce body fat percentage. Results are observed even with low-intensity physical activity, but the effects are enhanced as intensity rises. Physical activity, particularly resistance training and high intensity interval training, are an extremely effective way to optimize your fat loss attempts.
7. Increases metabolism.
Lean body mass (or the proportion of your body that is not fat) is a major determinant of resting metabolic rate and metabolism. Likely the single greatest thing that you can do to increase your metabolic rate is to increase your skeletal muscle mass. Exercise, including both resistance exercise and high intensity interval training, has been shown to significantly increase metabolism.
8. Increases energy levels.
While a nap might seem like the best option when you are tired, studies and anecdotal evidence (I personally credit exercise for my energy level and productivity) continue to demonstrate that exercise actually reduces fatigue and increases energy levels. So if you are feeling tired, instead of taking a nap on the couch or drinking a cup of coffee, perhaps think about lacing up your shoes and heading outdoors for some exercise.
9. Improves mood.
Research consistently demonstrates that exercise and physical activity have beneficial effects across several mental health outcomes, including lower rates of depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as improved mood states and perceived quality of life.
10. Increases sleep quality.
Sleep is one of the most undervalued, yet critically important factors of overall health and unfortunately, many of us are chronically sleep-deprived. Luckily, studies have shown that adults with sleep problems can significantly improve sleep quality when engaging in exercise, and regular physical activity regimens are consistently associated with sleep quality in adults.