I thought today I would provide a brief overview of why we should exercise; there will always be differences based on an individual’s own circumstances so this is a guide, written and summarised based on the science.

Health benefits from exercise

It is well established and understood that exercise positively impacts on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. There are plenty of studies providing substantial evidence for regular physical exercise being able to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases in the older population. This evidence supports both infectious diseases, such as viral and bacterial and non-infectious, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, exercise can help a person maintain healthy body weight, reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, assist with sleep and promote bone strength.

Exercise and mental health

More recently, research has focused on the effect of exercise on mental health, with a wealth of evidence suggesting that exercise can contribute to mood enhancement. The mechanism is not entirely understood, although some suggest that the endorphins released during exercise have a calming and mood-lifting effect. Others report the release of monoamines, for example, the neurotransmitter serotonin, during exercise can act in the same way as anti-depression drugs. The reality could be a combination of effects.

Disease control

Exercise can assist in the control of diseases such as asthma, while not preventative, symptomatic control can be observed in some. From a subjective perspective, I can personally testify to this! Individuals suffering from cardiovascular disease, including post heart operation, can improve heart strength, under guidance from a qualified fitness trainer/medical professions. Also, exercise can assist with blood glucose management in diabetics, essential to controlling the symptoms of diabetes.

How much exercise is healthy?

There is a lot of scientific evidence to support the role of exercise in physical and mental wellbeing, still there is also the suggestion that too much or too intense exercise regimes may be harmful. The widely accepted consensus is that moderate exercise, which should be performed daily, is beneficial to health. Of course, it could be argued that moderate exercise is subjective and is also dependent on an individual’s level of fitness. As a general guide, a brisk walk is considered moderate exercise; however, in a more athletic individual, one would think that moderate exercise would be jogging. A good determiner would be that during exercise, a reasonable conversation should still be able to be held. There are some good guidelines provided by the NHS in terms of exercise that should be undertaken: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/.

Exercise should not be a chore

To make sure exercise is not a chore, be sure to choose an activity you enjoy. Maybe incorporate exercise with a new hobby such as bird watching or flower spotting while walking? I am fortunate to live close to some beautiful walks, if you do not have the same luxury, consider listening to a series of informative or fun podcasts, this may help pass the time. It is also the perfect opportunity to join a club and meet new people, look up local cycling, jogging, hiking or walking groups.

In summary

Exercise is good for our health so whatever form of exercise you enjoy – just do it! Each person will have different limitations, so if in doubt about what type of exercise should be carried out, or it will be the first time for exercise, take medical advice. Finally, always listen to your body, if you experience chest pain, or breathing difficulties stop exercising and call for help. Some degree of muscle discomfort is likely to occur when starting a new form of exercise; however, this should not persist, and any post-exercise aches should disappear in a few days – if persistent seek professional assistance.

Published by Dr Tracey Evans

Neuroscientist (PhD & MSc), Biomedical Scientist (BSc (Hons)), Mental Health Advocate and a Writer.

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