The Hidden Benefits of Exercise
Long-term benefits of a regular exercise habit.
When we go out for a walk, bring ourselves to the yoga mat, or jump in the pool for some laps, we feel rather immediately what movement does for us. We feel our breath change, our hearts beating, and the blood moving through our system. When we finish exercising, we may have an endorphin rush, feel less stressed, or enjoy the satisfaction of being done.
Some of the most important benefits of exercise are realized after you make it a consistent habit, part of your daily routine. Exercise can be any kind of movement, and it is daily activity that matters, as we’ve recently learned the very dangerous effects of too much sitting.
Some of the most intriguing longer-term benefits of exercise include:
- Motivation. A recent study from the University of Jyväskylä showed that resistance training, an activity that is suggested twice per week for most people, is an important part of building the motivation to exercise. In the study, 104 adults, age 65-75, were led through a twice-weekly resistance training program for nine months. At the end of nine months, participants were much more likely to have the motivation to continue resistance training, and they were much more likely to plan ways to continue to exercise.
- Telomere length. At a genetic level, exercise helps our cells seem younger. In a recent study out of Brigham Young University, exercise was shown to increase the length of our telomeres, which form the ends of our chromosomes. By keeping the structure of our our chromosomal ends, we maintain a healthy expression of our genes. Telomeres are an important indicator of aging, and those who exercise consistently have longer telomeres than sedentary folk.
- Brain health. In his recent book The Fountain: A Doctor’s Prescription to make 60 the New 30, Rocco Monto writes about the benefits of exercise on the brain. “Regular exercise has been shown to protect neural function, cut down on depression, improve sleep, and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.” By creating conditions that improve insulin sensitivity and make autophagy more efficient, exercise creates an environment that “prevents the buildup of debris in the brain.”
Knowing that exercise creates such profound immediate and long-term benefits might help you get past that resistance of inertia to get moving. The important thing is to remember that every minute matters, and that as you add up those minutes, you are not only building your muscles and your lung capacity, but you are also building your brain, supporting your genetic health, and increasing your motivation to keep going with every single step.
If you feel finally ready to start that habit, consider my new course Core Strength Balance: A 7-Day Mind Body Challenge, designed to kickstart a regular exercise regimen.