Physical activity is more than just a solution to keep weight in check. It acts as a universal remedy, offering a myriad of benefits to our mental and physical health, thereby improving our overall wellbeing. Regular exercise can not only prolong your life but also mitigate depressive symptoms, improve sleep quality, and slow down mental deterioration.
Here are 5 reasons you should start exercising right now:
1. Exercise helps you live longer.
Consistent physical exercise contributes significantly to longevity by strengthening the body’s vital functions and warding off chronic diseases. Several studies have revealed a correlation between regular exercise and an extension in lifespan, largely due to exercise’s role in maintaining a healthy weight, boosting the immune system, and reducing risks of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
A 30-year study on the role of moderate to heavy exercise in decreasing mortality revealed a strong connection between longer periods of exercise and longevity. The research showed that 150 – 300 minutes of vigorous exercise per week decreased all-cause mortality by 35% to 42%. Double the amount of moderate physical activity has a similar impact on mortality.
2. Exercise helps you sleep better.
Regular exercise can significantly improve the quality of sleep by helping you fall asleep faster and deepening your sleep. Physical activity increases the amount of time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase, where the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. Additionally, the rise in body temperature during exercise may contribute to improved sleep by helping it drop during sleep, inducing a state of drowsiness.
3. Exercise staves off cognitive decline.
Exercise also plays a vital role in combating cognitive decline, which is often associated with aging. Engaging in regular physical activity boosts the blood flow to the brain, nourishing the cells with vital oxygen and nutrients. Studies have shown that consistent exercise can lead to increased brain size and volume. A 2011 study revealed that moderate exercise training increased the size of the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory) by 2%, and even reversed age-related declines in brain size.
Exercise also stimulates the production of hormones that can promote the growth of brain cells, enhance learning, and improve memory capabilities. In this way, regular physical activity can effectively slow down cognitive decline and even protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older age. Another study found an inversely proportional relationship between the amount of exercise and subjects’ self-reported experience of cognitive decline. These benefits also extend to subjects with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
4. Exercise slows the physiological effects of aging.
Not only does exercise hamper cognitive decline, but it also slows and reverses the physiological signs of aging. As we age, our skeletal muscles undergo a process known as sarcopenia, characterized by a gradual loss of muscle mass and strength. This typically begins around the age of 30 and accelerates after 60. Factors contributing to sarcopenia include reductions in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to start movement, a decrease in the ability to turn protein into energy, not getting enough calories or protein each day to sustain muscle mass, and a lack of physical activity.
Not surprisingly, some form of exercise reduces the effects of age-related decline in muscle tissue, as well as overall physical performance such as strength, balance, endurance and flexibility.
5. Exercise treats depression and anxiety:
Exercise can significantly contribute to the management of depression. Primarily, it stimulates the release of endorphins, often referred to as “feel-good” hormones, which induce a sense of well-being and euphoria. Physical activity also enhances the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, sleep, and appetite, which is typically low in individuals suffering from depression. In addition, engaging in regular exercise can provide a sense of accomplishment, divert attention from stressful thoughts, and improve self-esteem.
In fact, researchers have found that exercise is 150% more effective than antidepressants or cognitive behavior therapy at reducing moderate depression, anxiety and psychological distress. Moreover, the same study revealed that exercise programs of shorter duration have the greatest benefit in reducing psychological symptoms.