Why is exercise important? At first glance, this may seem like a fairly simple question: Education systems around the world tell us that exercise is a great way to stay fit and healthy. But what are the current physiological benefits of increasing heart rate and why are they so important to human functioning?
First of all, it is important to understand what exercise is. For many, the phrase will trigger mental images of a session on one of the best treadmills. (opens in a new tab)a HIIT bike workout (opens in a new tab), or a trip to the gym, and this is not too bad. A 1985 public health report (opens in a new tab) seeking to refine the established term into a definition of “planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement performed to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.”
So whether you’re tracking your sets and reps while weight training (opens in a new tab) for hypertrophy (opens in a new tab) with the best adjustable dumbbells (opens in a new tab)or undertake a 10K race with the goal of burning calories, you are exercising.
Now onto the main event. Why is exercise so important?
“This list is almost endless,” Liam Walton, validation lead at sports engineering company INCUS Performance, told Live Science. However, with qualifications in Sport Biomechanics, Applied Sport and Exercise Science, as well as years working in the fitness industry, he is better positioned than most to provide an answer.
Below, he explains some of the key reasons why exercise is so important and beneficial to human function, including the positive impact participation can have on positive longevity, proprioception, and reduced risk of muscle-related disease. Lifestyle.
Reduce the risk of lifestyle-related diseases
“One of the most important benefits of exercise is reducing the risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease,” says Walton.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, with one person dying every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (opens in a new tab).
Walton continues: “Daily exercise has been scientifically proven (in a 2019 study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity (opens in a new tab)) to reduce the risk of heart disease, 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is enough to make a difference.”
Hearing that exercise can be beneficial for heart health may not be news to you. But why exactly does it have such a positive impact?
“The heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, it needs regular stimulation to stay strong and healthy,” says Walton. “Without regular exercise, fatty material builds up in the arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack.”
A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine (opens in a new tab) stated that “resistance training is associated with elevated levels of circulating high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and, to a lesser extent, with a reduction in triglyceride levels, both changes that can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
It then adds: “Physical activity can improve a variety of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as dyslipidemia (lipid imbalance) or hypertension (high blood pressure).”
In essence, what we mean by “positive longevity” is exercising in the present to ensure that you remain healthy and functional in the future.
“It can be difficult for younger people to imagine that they are older people and that many people only exercise for aesthetics, but exercise should be considered a long-term investment,” he says. “Being healthy and active now will prevent conditions like osteoporosis (a health condition that weakens bones, making them more likely to break) later in life, which can have a huge impact on mobility and quality of life when we are older. greater. ”
Practicing positive longevity involves taking care of your organs, muscles, and joints. And what is one of the key ways to achieve this? You guessed it: exercise.
“You have to think of your body like a car: it needs constant maintenance to keep it running well,” says Walton. “For our bones and joints, resistance training may increase bone density (as suggested in this study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise), which means you’re less likely to break or fracture bones over time.” as you age.
“According to the World Health Organization (opens in a new tab)Falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide. By exercising regularly and keeping your bones and muscles strong, as well as improving your balance and coordination, you will reduce your risk of falls in the future.”
An often overlooked factor when considering the benefits of exercise, Walton describes proprioception as “your awareness of your body in space.”
“It relates to coordination,” he says. “Someone with good proprioception is less likely to be injured by small accidents, like tripping over a curb and twisting an ankle, or cutting a finger in the kitchen.
“Regular exercise can really improve your proprioception and coordination, which means if you’re a clumsy person, you can fix that.”
Arguably the best-documented impact of exercise is its potential to affect body composition, which includes factors such as body fat percentage and muscle mass. Whether you’re hitting the gym to pack on slabs of muscle or sliding down the saddle of one of the best exercise bikes around. (opens in a new tab) In an attempt to lose weight, many people are motivated to exercise by the possibility of making changes to their structure.
After reviewing the existing literature on the topic, a 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis was published in the Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome. (opens in a new tab) stated, “The effect of exercise on obesity is greater on outward appearance (BMI and waist circumference) than on practical factors (weight and percentage of body fat).”
However, exercise may still have a positive impact on preventing or reversing obesity symptoms, and the study authors concluded: “We suggest that people with obesity should exercise consistently to achieve significant improvements in their health.” “.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that “being overweight or obese can have a serious impact on health.”
It continues: “Carrying extra fat leads to serious health consequences, including cardiovascular disease (primarily heart disease and stroke), type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis, and some types of cancer (endometrial, breast, and colon). These conditions cause premature death and substantial disability.
“What is not widely known is that the risk of health problems begins when someone is very slightly overweight, and that the probability of problems increases as someone becomes more and more overweight. Many of these conditions cause long-term suffering for individuals and families.”
The WHO says that being overweight or obese is “largely preventable” if people can “achieve an energy balance between calories consumed on one side and calories consumed on the other.”
The organization says, “To increase calorie intake, people can increase their physical activity levels to at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity on most days.”
This, combined with elevated levels of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) (opens in a new tab) and a proper diet can help you achieve caloric maintenance or a caloric deficit (opens in a new tab)preventing or reversing the symptoms of overweight and obesity.
How much exercise should you do per week?
This is a highly individualized question with answers that will vary from person to person. However, Walton has advice for anyone looking to improve their health by incorporating a sustainable exercise routine into their weekly schedule.
“Official physical activity recommendations (opens in a new tab) I suggest 150 minutes of moderate exercise
per week is enough to stay healthy,” he says. “However, it is important to note that a general sedentary lifestyle with an hour-long visit to the gym every day is not enough to combat the negative effects of such a lifestyle. Instead, it’s better to make long-term changes to a more active lifestyle.
“This could include walking to work instead of driving, if possible. If not, try parking further away and walking the last 10 minutes. Or, if you use public transportation, get off a few stops early and walk the rest of the way.
“Try to fit a walk or even a run into your lunch hour and travel under your own power (walk or bike) as much as possible. Small changes really add up and are the best way to prevent the negative effects of an inactive lifestyle.”