As children, I’m sure most of us were pretty active. Playing outside, PE and school breaks, sports clubs and teams after school…
But at one point, that went away. We were ‘too old’ to play outside. School was mostly sit-down classes and outside of class, we had homework and work.
When people try to be more active as adults, it’s often to lose weight or ‘look good’.
But being active (both working out and simply being more active throughout your daily life) is good for so much more than weight management or aesthetics! Once you notice and feel that, it’s so much easier to incorporate activity into your routine regularly.
You’re not being active for a hypothetical, future goal but feel the benefits right away. (For example; “I might lose weight” vs “That was so much fun!”)
Ok, let’s have a look at some of those benefits!
Reasons to be active and exercise
- Increase your endorphins. Endorphins suppress pain and stress and are partly responsible for your feeling of happiness. It has to do with your reward center, which ensures that you do a certain behaviour/activity more often. At the University of Vermont, researchers concluded that 20 minutes of exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours!
- Exercise breaks down the stress hormone cortisol more quickly.
- Sports can be a social activity. Think football with friends, participating in a team sport, training at a club, or walking dates with friends and family.
- Clear your head. There’s no space to think of other things because you’re busy counting or strategizing.
- You’ll feel stronger, physically and mentally.
- And you’ll be stronger physically too, depending on what you’re doing, of course.
- Because you’re producing happy hormones, activity helps against depression and anxiety symptoms. In fact, a 2018 study in the US shows that people who exercise regularly had 43% less days of poor mental health a month!
- It’s fun!
- You build your self confidence.
- Improve your metabolism (and yes, that burns more calories, but more importantly, it helps against bloating and constipation and lowers the risk of colon cancer).
- Thanks to the happy hormones and distraction, activity can help with pain relief. Please note: This helps with headaches or menstrual pain, for example. Stay within your limits if you have certain limitations or injuries.
- You’ll get better sleep. Exercising can help you fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake up less often during the night.
- Self-esteem goes up. This is due to the happy hormones that are released, because you build up more self-confidence, and because you can be proud of your discipline and willpower.
- You’ll train your heart and blood vessels and as a result, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Movement improves your brain function so you can focus better and have less risk of dementia as you age.
- You may also lower your risk of breast cancer—especially in women over 50 years old. Exercising lowers your estrogen levels and high estrogen levels are linked to a higher rish of breast cancer.
- Train your endurance, so that you can do intensive activities for longer. This means running and cycling, but also keeping up with your kids, for example.
- Many people get energized from exercising. That’s because more oxygen and nutrients go to your muscles, producing more energy.
- Also, your stamina and strength increase (depending on the kind of activity) and you’ll be able to handle more in a day (for example, household chores, running for the bus, etc.).
- Because you train your heart, it gets bigger and stronger and more blood gets transported per beat, lowering your resting heart rate,
- and blood pressure, as your blood vessels widen during exercise. High blood pressure increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, among other things.
- Elder people can remain independent for longer, thanks to exercise. It helps them remain more mobile!
- Increase your insulin sensitivity. This means more glucose is absorbed from your blood, allowing you to better regulate your blood sugar. For people with type 2 diabetes, this can even counteract the disease, but it’s also important for people without diabetes.
- Improve your cholesterol levels.
- If you take good care of your body, you’ll recover faster from injuries, surgery, or illness.
- Being active can bring structure to your day or week.
- Learn to set goals, plan for them, and achieve them.
- Strengthen your bones and reduce the risk of fractures, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
- You can concentrate better.
- Improve your sex life; not only do you have more energy and self-confidence, many people also crave sex after exercise and men who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from erection problems.
- Train your discipline and willpower.
- If you’re overweight, you’ll counter inflammatory reactions in your body (even without losing weight).
- Shopping for a new sports wardrobe or expand it!
- Be proud of you body for what it can do, not how it looks. Even if you don’t have that Instagram body.
- Keep your muscles and joints flexible.
- Effect on the rest of your lifestyle: I call it a positive vicious circle, but it’s also called the domino effect or ripple effect. Activity makes you feel good so you’ll move more often, sleep better, and want more nutritious food.
- Improve your immune system. That way, you’re less likely to catch a flu, cold, or other virus, but also get through it more easily and faster if you do get sick.
- Healthy pregnancy! Exercise during pregnancy can also make your delivery easier (but consult your doctor if you want to (continue to) exercise during pregnancy!).
- All of these benefits can give you a longer life (in good health!).
- Become flexible. Your muscles lengthen when you stretch (with yoga, for example), making you more flexible and limber.
- It’s a form of self-care.
In 2013, researcher Richard Bailey (in partnership with Nike and co-researchers) developed the Human Capital Model. It contains 79 benefits of regular exercise and activity in six areas: intellectually, financially, physically, socially, individually, and emotionally.
Physical activity guidelines
The physical activity guidelines from the WHO (World Health Organization) are based on research proving many of the above health benefits.
Physical activity guidelines from the WHO for adults aged 18 to 64 are:
– should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity* aerobic physical activity;
– or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week
– should also do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.
– may increase moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to more than 300 minutes; or do more than 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week for additional health benefits.
– should limit the amount of time spent being sedentary. Replacing sedentary time with physical activity of any intensity (including light intensity) provides health benefits, and
– to help reduce the detrimental effects of high levels of sedentary behavior on health, all adults and older adults should aim to do more than the recommended levels of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity
*moderate intensity means you can just hold a conversation while being active.
Data from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey shows that only 53% of American adults met the physical activity guidelines for aerobic activity and only 23.2% for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. The Health Survey for England in 2016 shows that 67% of men and 55% of women aged 16 and over do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Only 34% of men and 24% of women do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
By sticking to the guidelines, you’ll get many of the health benefits I mentioned above. Too much? No worries, all activity is better than sitting on the couch. And do you want to do more? That’s always good. Doing more brings more health benefits (as long as you don’t do too much).
And remember: activity isn’t just working out. Gardening, walking, biking to work, playing with your kids, etc. all count as activity!