Updated: Apr 13
In this article we will explore the many benefits associated with exercise
In 2009 an Australian research team published a paper showing the positive effects exercise exerts in the fight against cancer. The research demonstrated that exercise, in conjunction with established treatment methods, can positively support cancer patients irrespective of what stage they are at in their treatment. Since the publication of that seminal 2009 paper the benefits accrued through supplementing exercise during cancer treatment have been extensively reviewed. A recent publication reported that of 140 such studies 75% showed ‘statistically significant and clinically relevant benefit through exercise on a range of treatment-related side effects, physical, functional, and psychosocial outcomes,’ (Maloney, et al. 2018).
The single most successful outcome of the Australian research team’s paper, besides stimulating wider scientific interest, was to inspire the medical profession to prescribe exercise to cancer sufferers as a supplementary method of treatment.
Wait! There’s more – much more
Of the myriad benefits exercise confers the cancer fighting one is arguably the crowning jewel. But we should not be dazzled and allow this one benefit to lessen the lustre of the numerous other gems that adorn the diadem of exercise. If not equal they should be given the due consideration they deserve.
It is these benefits that will form the body of our discussion.
The corpus of this blog comes in two parts. Firstly, with the time-strapped reader in mind, the health benefits associated with regular exercise have been encapsulated in a list. Following the list, for the reader not so conscientious of time management, a number of the benefits have been discussed in greater detail. In an attempt to lend this blog a scholarly gloss academic references have been enlisted to support content (all references and suggested reading have been included after the conclusion).
I might be committing an impropriety by saying this now, but what you are about to read is really no more than an impassioned panegyric. This author not only loves exercise but also believes everyone else ought to. Thus through the immense din of so much insensible noise I’m attempting to reach out with a few words of inspiration. For it is my sincere hope that the information contained within this blog will fire your desire to take up exercise and in doing so reap the many benefits it has to offer.
It is to those benefits we now turn . . .
If you decide to implement an exercise regime as part of a move towards a healthier lifestyle you stand a statistically greater chance of pocketing the following positives:
o Weight control
o Improved body composition
o Protection against coronary heart disease (CHD)
o Improved cardio-respiratory performance
o Protection against stroke
o Improved immune function
o Decreased depression
o Helps reduce anxiety
o Mitigates chronic stress
o Promotes a positive attitude
o Enforces self-efficacy
o Improves self-confidence and self body image
Wow! What a singularly impressive list of health benefits. Makes me want to slip on a pair of sneeks and go out for a five mile run followed by a set of 500 kettlebell swings. To think, each mile, each set of ten could be boosting my immune system and protecting me against heart disease!
Anyway, let’s delve a little deeper into some of those benefits shall we?
Obesity is now considered a global epidemic. Worldwide more than 1 billion people are believed to be either over weight, obese or morbidly obese. By 2030, if current trends continue, it is predicted that over a quarter of all people alive will be obese. To account for this phenomenon many interesting theories have been put forward – theories that range from mass misbehaving microbiota to hormonal imbalances caused by chemical pesticides and airborne pollution. And whilst it would be unwise to dismiss these theories off-hand, as it is yet unclear what role they play in the prevalence of obesity, the one that maintains the most credibility is by far the simplest to comprehend.
Today more people live a sedentary lifestyle than at another time across all human history. According to a leading research article, compared to just the previous generation, ‘we are spending increasing amounts of time in environments that not only limit physical activity but require prolonged sitting,’ (Sparling et al. 2010). Habitual sedentary behaviour, that is, lounging in front of the TV or using automation instead of walking or cycling, has been shown to be a significant ‘risk factor for cardiometabolic disease and all-cause mortality.’
By being more active, by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking or cycling instead of gas guzzling, by introducing more exercise into our lives we can work to keep our weight within a healthy range thus significantly reducing our risk of succumbing to the many diseases associated with obesity.
Protection against stroke
Most people understand how serious a stroke can be but few understand how they are caused. Otherwise known as acquired brain injury (ABI), strokes are the result of the disruption of blood supply to the brain cutting off oxygen to cells. If cells are starved of oxygen, even for just a few seconds, they die – in their millions and billions. The death of cells in the brain results in damage to localised areas. This in turn can lead to loss of neurological functions and memory impairment (Haslem et al 2018).
Simply put, strokes are devastating; they can impede motor function, rob people of cognisance and, at their most severe, kill.
However, researchers have produced a substantial body of evidence demonstrating ‘that regular physical exercise affords protection against stroke,’ (Curtis 2000). By improving the ratio of high-density lipoproteins to low-density lipoproteins (commonly referred to as good and bad fats respectively) exercise reduces the quantity of bad fat in the blood. It is this bad fat that can clog up capillaries starving the brain and cells of oxygen.
By following this simple logic, if we engage in regular exercise we will, in turn, decrease bad fat and with it our susceptibility to suffering from stroke.
One in four people at some point in their life will suffer from depression. It’s been estimated that currently 264 million people are currently suffering from this debilitating condition (WHO, 2020). The misconception is that depression is a mild disorder brought on by rainy days or a soppy film. In reality depression can be hugely debilitating the symptoms of which can range from loss of motivation, to low self-worth and even to suicide ideation.
Anyone who has suffered depression can attest to the inescapable agony it induces.
How might depressions be treated? How might the symptoms be mitigated? Unsurprisingly there are many methods available. Only recently one method has been called into question and has subsequently sparked controversy. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) involves ‘passing electric current through the patient’s brain to cause seizures or fits,’ (Easton, 2020 – BBC News). Dr John Reed, of the University of East London, has spoken out against this procedure damning it as dangerous, irresponsible and unbecoming of modern medical practice.
Of course, there are other, less intrusive methods of treatment available, methods that don’t put the patient at risk of ‘brain damage’ (Easton 2020).
Exercise has been shown to offer a measure of relief. ‘In the areas of depression, people who exercise regularly are generally less depressed than sedentary people are,’ (Curtis 2000). The way exercise achieves this is twofold. Firstly by ‘stimulating the production of brain chemicals call endorphins’ exercise lifts mood and promotes a sense of wellbeing. Secondly, because it requires high focus exercise turns attention outward – away from the constant negative and harmful introspection that characterise depression, (Griffen and Tyrell 2003 – p165).
I’m loath to wrap this blog up on the sour note of a caveat, but I would be trading in misinformation and deception if I did not make two things explicitly clear. The first thing: of all the benefits mentioned exercise only statistically decreases susceptibility – it is NOT preventative. The second thing: exercise is NOT a panacea of all disease. Contrary to popular opinion exercise does not eliminate the detrimental effects that a toxic diet and poor lifestyle habits have on health. To better reap the rewards of exercise you must include it as part of the healthy lifestyle whole.
Ok, you’ve read all about how keep fit keeps us healthy whilst also dramatically reducing the risk of developing many diseases, the question I’m sure you’re now asking is: how do I get more exercise in my life?
Because that question can be answered in numerous ways I’ve compiled a list of methods you could use to get more exercise in your life.
Designate at a minimum three days a week on which you can set aside 30 minutes to an hour for exercises. Once you’ve settled on the days decide at what time exercise is to take place. Now, if you’ve never exercises before, I would advise against rigorous exercise. Start with just a walk, or an easy cycle, swim or light session at the gym. Stick to this low intensity regime for a minimum of two weeks and then, when you feel ready, raise the intensity.
Partner up with a buddy and get active together. Better still, if you’ve got a friend/family member who is already active, ask them to show you the ropes or take you under their wing.
For the price of skinny mocha and Belgian choc-chip brownie you could procure one of the excellent Hungry4Fitness Circuit & Workouts or check out the Hungry4Fitness website which provide you with all the tools, teaching and training needed to take charge of your fitness and become you own personal trainer.
Suggested Reading The China Study (author Collin. T. Campbell, PhD)
The science is clear. The results are unmistakable. You can dramatically reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes just by changing your diet. More than thirty years ago, nutrition researcher T. Colin Campbell and his team at Cornell, in partnership with teams in China and England, embarked upon the China Study, the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease. Click for you copy
How Not To Die (Michael Greger MD.)
How Not To Die gives effective, scientifically-proven nutritional advice to prevent our biggest killers - including heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes - and reveals the astounding health benefits that simple dietary choices can provide.
Click for your copy
The New Psychology of Health: Unlocking the Social Cure (Haslam. C, Jetten. J, Cruwys. T)
Why do people who are more socially connected live longer and have better health than those who are socially isolated? Why are social ties at least as good for your health as not smoking, having a good diet, and taking regular exercise? Why is treatment more effective when there is an alliance between therapist and client?
Until now, researchers and practitioners have lacked a strong theoretical foundation for answering such questions. This ground-breaking book fills this gap by showing how social identity processes are key to understanding and effectively managing a broad range of health-related problems.
Integrating a wealth of evidence that the authors and colleagues around the world have built up over the last decade, The New Psychology of Health provides a powerful framework for reconceptualising the psychological dimensions of a range of conditions – including stress, trauma, ageing, depression, addiction, eating behaviour, brain injury, and pain.
Click for your copy
References Curtis. A. (2000) Healthy Psychology. Routaledge. USA.
Griffin. J. Tyrrell. I (2003) Human Givens. HG Publishing. UK.
Haslam. C. Jetten. J. Crywys. T. Dingle. G. Haslam. A. (2018) The New Psychology of Health. Rutledge. New York.
Owen N, Sparling PB, Healy GN, Dunstan DW, Matthews CE. Sedentary behavior: emerging evidence for a new health risk. Mayo Clin Proc. 2010;85(12):1138‐1141. doi:10.4065/mcp.2010.0444 (cited online (6/6/2020): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996155/)
J.T. Fuller, M.C. Hartland, L.T. Maloney, et al.Therapeutic effects of aerobic and resistance exercises for cancer survivors: a systematic review of meta-analyses of clinical trials Br J Sports Med, 52 (20) (2018), p. 1311