Updated: May 7
Most people has this misconception that working out, especially with weights, is only for young adults, film stars, and gangsters. Though these people have the most direct benefit of doing strength training. However, strength training has blessings for all of us. If you have been sick, injured, depressed, anxious, or have lived an unhealthy life let this be your signal to start working out.
In this article I'm going to briefly discuss the benefits of working out for all of us. Including the sick, and the injured.
With the cost of medical care becoming prohibitively high, especially for lifestyle diseases non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, CVD (Cardio Vascular diseases). India, with it's majority of population bearing the medical expenses out of pocket, this is one of the leading causes of poverty in our country. According to a survey 55 million or 5.5 crore Indians are pushed into poverty by the medical expenses alone.
With these staggering numbers in perspective, lets turn our attention to a form of wellness that has been provided to us for free. With the advent of social media quality information regarding exercise is available to a large audience without a hefty fees. If you are driven then you are already making use of these resources. But this article is for the non-believers, and fence sitters.
If rippling muscles, toned abs, and a firm butt is not in your bucket list then improving concentration, increasing longevity, preventing lifestyle diseases, getting rid of depression, and anxiety, boosting immunity, and avoiding having to undergo knee, hip, shoulder replacement in old age is what gets you excited, this article is for you.
Effect of exercising on mental health
Meditation is often prescribed to people to improve their mental health. Mental health is a broad term encompassing a wide spectrum of disorders. This article does not claim that exercising can help with all of them, although exercising may be utilized as an adjunct to proper therapy.
In this article we are going to see the benefit that regular exercise has on concentration, memory, anxiety, and depression.
Exercise and its effect on memory and concentration
Research has consistently showed a positive correlation between aerobic exercise and increased memory and concentration. Exercising moderately for 120 minutes per week has shown to positively effect the size of hippocampus, the area of brain that is responsible for new memory formation.
Researchers have also found that a brain protein, BDNF, which is responsible for memory consolidation, is increased by a bout of moderated exercise performed for 15-30 mins. Also, increased cardio-respiratory fitness has been shown to improve concentration in school going children.
Exercise and its effect on depression and anxiety
Depression and anxiety are crippling mental health issues that affect a large population of adults, and children. According to the WHO there are about 301 million people suffering from anxiety and about 264 million suffering from depression.
Depression and anxiety, combined, cost 1 trillion USD to the global economy. This cost is expected to rise to 6 trillion USD by 2030. With such a calamitous situation, we need more affordable and accessible forms of therapy.
Physical exercise, whether cardio-respiratory or strength, imparts many benefits to someone suffering from anxiety and depression. The increased blood flow to the the brain brings fresh nourishment, and oxygen. It also clears out the waste products from the brain thus promoting growth of new brain cells.
Exercising has other benefits like, increased strength and fitness, that can increase the sense of well-being and preparedness. Moving our body vigorously leads to endorphins and serotonin being released in the brain. Endorphins make us feel good, whereas serotonin helps in making us more relaxed. Task based exercises can have an additional benefit in terms of increased dopamine secretion in the brain. Dopamine is the pleasure hormone.
Exercising also regulates sleep and hunger thus prompting a need for a schedule. Good quality sleep and good nutrition are indirect ways by which exercising helps people with anxiety and depression.
Effect of exercise on diabetes and CVD
As can be seen from the graph above, CVD are the leading cause of death globally. Technical advances have made our lives very very easy. On one hand, it has reduced the labour that one must do on a daily basis and on the other it had made high calorie food, highly processed food very accessible.
These two factors combine to give rise to a host of modern lifestyle disorders. Obesity, diabetes, and CVD is the unholy trinity that is plaguing our society these days. Both resistance training as well as cardio exercises have been shown to be useful in managing and even reversing diabetes and CVD.
In practice a hybrid program that has a resistance training component to better manage diabetes, and a cardio based program to train the cardiovascular and the respiratory system of the body has effectively reduced, and in some cases have gotten the patients off medications completely.
Long term uses of diabetes and CVD drugs have a range of side-effects. From the very benign like flatulence, water-retention in the limbs, and upper respiratory tract infections to potentially life threatening such as liver and kidney anomalies.
Exercise on the other hand has no to very little side-effects. Unless you overexert a well planned workout plan will help you, in time, to get off the medicines for the said disorders. Researchers have found out that people with high cardio-respiratory fitness (CRF) have an all cause mortality rate which is 73% lower than their unfit counterparts.
This infographic summarizes the benefits of having high CRF for people with CVD.
Thus we have very strong evidence that exercising regularly will help you live longer. In the meantime you will also get leaner and look great too. It's the only side-effect of long term exercising.
Effect of exercising on bone and joint health
Human bone are a marvel and a constant source of intrigue to material engineers who have wondered at it's ability to withstand high compressive forces, upto 12x the body weight, and yet they are so light. Strong bones help us to accomplish crazy athletics feats to simple tasks of day-to-day living. Without the support of bones we'll be a heap of fat, blood, and muscles. Unable to accomplish much.
Also, fortunately, our bones are not welded together but are rather articulated by joints. Joints, that allow us to move in all the ways that we do, in turn are lubricated and cushioned against impact by joint fluids and thick cartilages. If any single piece of this system is malfunctioning, it can lead to significant decline in the quality of life and in some cases cause complete immobility unless corrected by invasive procedures such as joint replacement surgeries.
As good luck will have it, a free, for the most part, intervention is there that can help us keep our bones and strong, joints resilient. That intervention is exercising. Research in senior subjects (age>60 years), and in post menopausal women have shown that exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and sprints have shown to increase bone density in spine, and hips.
These same exercises, if performed correctly and in the absence of a pre-existing joint pathology will induce positive changes in the joints too. In research it has been repeatedly shown that weight bearing and moderate to high impact exercises led to the thickening of cartilage which then cushion the joint even better.
At this point you may ask if walking, cycling, or swimming will have the similar bone protective effects? What research has found is that the stimulus required to force bone modelling to happen is quite high. Such forces are not achieved in low impact, low resistance exercises such as walking, cycling, and swimming.
Therefore a program consisting of progressively heavier weights, and power movements (added as the skill and strength improves) will yield the desired result. This hybrid program will also improve muscular strength and power thereby improving balance. That will reduce the incidence of injury caused due to falls, and missed steps.
Effect of exercise on healing of injuries
Injuries are unfortunate, and they will happen. Especially if you are physically active. Some injuries are minor, they get better with a couple of days of rest. On the other hand are those that require weeks, and months of rest and rehabilitation and occasionally surgeries to correct.
We know from common experience as well as research that prolonged inactivity causes muscle loss, and bone weakness too. Therefore it is important that following a major injury there is a proper protocol in place that gradually re-introduces the forces experienced in day to day living. This will hasten the healing, and it will also ensure that you get back to your pre-injury level of performance.
With this I conclude by stating that we all need to exercise. No, walking and house chores, don't count. Our motivations may differ and that's okay and in the process if we achieve better over health and a better physique, I can guess noone is going to ask for their money back.
I hope this article helped you realize that the benefits of exercises are too many to ignore and that you should get moving, like right now. Book 3 free sessions with us and see the difference for yourself.
Cover Image - Starting strength for women
Infographic on CRF and mortality - Cardiorespiratory fitness measured with cardiopulmonary exercise testing and mortality in patients with cardiovascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis