15 Health Benefits of Exercise
We have yet to see a diet work in which exercise is not at least of equal importance with healthy eating. In the L.E.A.N. program, exercise is nutrition’s close partner. If you wanna lose it, you gotta move it. Why not just stay on the couch and eat less? Restrictions on calories, the basis of most diets, are the main reason they don’t work. Years of taking in more calories slows your metabolism, sort of like a mechanic turning down an engine’s idle speed. When you turn down your idle speed, you burn less fuel, and therefore less fat. Burning calories off by exercise boosts your metabolism. Combine this with a diet that emphasizes nutrient-dense foods without empty calories, and you are much more likely to stay lean than you would if you only cut back on calories. The good news is that the people who need exercise the most (overweight, sedentary, poorly-nourished, etc) are the ones most helped by it. Below you can find numerous health benefits of exercise.
Exercise contributes to your health by:
- burning fat
- decreasing the risk of nearly all major diseases
- releasing feel-good hormones that contribute to your overall sense of well-being.
The Health Benefits of Exercise
Exercise will help you lose fat and become lean. But there are even more important reasons to exercise. You exercise not only for health, but for life. Here are the main health benefits of exercise:
1. Resets your fat point
Buried somewhere in the brain, physiologists believe, is a sort of appestat that regulates how often and how much you eat. This appestat control is the fat point (also known as the set point), the fat level your body has gotten used to. Your body believes that it needs to maintain this fat level to protect you against the day when food may not be so plentiful. It believes this fat level is important to your well- being and it will strive to maintain this level of body fat. So, your body resists any attempt to lose fat or to lower the fat point, which is one of the reasons why people who lose weight tend to regain it. If you suddenly start to eat less, your body thinks “Oh, my goodness, there’s a famine. Hoard the fat.” Your metabolic rate slows (like a hibernating bear), and your appetite increases. You may struggle to stay on your diet, but your fat point insists that you store fat rather than burn it. Losing weight becomes very difficult. If, however, you follow your appetite and eat more, you may push your fat point even higher.
What you have to do is trick the fat point by gradually lowering your daily calories. The fat point gradually lowers and the appestat becomes more comfortable with the idea of burning fat stores, because there seems to be adequate amounts of food available. When your body gets accustomed to lower calorie eating, it becomes more efficient, using more energy instead of storing it.
The key to getting and staying lean is to set your fat point to fat-burn rather than fat-store.
How? By eating right and exercising more.
Exercise plays an important role in resetting your appestat. If you’ve been dieting and losing weight steadily, but then you reach a plateau. Your body has probably decided this is a good fat balance for you. Stepping up the amount of exercise you do will push your body back into fat- burning mode and you’ll continue to lose.
2. Reduces the risk and severity of adult-onset diabetes
Moderate exercise that burns just 200 calories a day, such as a brisk 30-minute walk, can lower the risk of adult-onset (type 2) diabetes. Exercise boosts the efficiency of insulin, helping it remove sugar from the blood before it can be stored as fat. (Insulin could be called the “unfair” hormone. It sees to it that excess sugar is stored as fat, yet it blocks the conversion of fat back to glucose) Increased insulin efficiency has also been linked to lower blood pressure, higher levels of the good (or HDL) cholesterol, and a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.
3. Boosting immunity is a health benefit of exercise
Regular, moderate exercise increases the white cell count, improving the body’s ability to fight off infection. Exercise also increases the number of “killer cells,” those special cells that are mobilized to fight serious diseases, and it increases the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin A. Another way exercise boosts immunity is by reducing stress, since stress itself can depress the body’s immune system.
4. Lowers cholesterol
When combined with a low-fat diet, exercise can reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol twice as effectively as diet alone. Exercise also increases levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Exercise is one of the few things that accomplishes both these goals.
5. Improves sex life
One of the great perks of the L.E.A.N. program is that it should improve your sex life. A study showed that a group placed on a program of improved diet, stress management, and exercise had heightened sexual arousal and pleasure.
6. Builds stamina
People who begin an exercise program often discover, “I have so much more energy.” At the muscular level, exercise improves the efficiency with which the muscles can use oxygen. Exercise also helps the body deliver more oxygen to vital organs, such as the lungs, brain, heart, and muscles. In a nutshell, exercise helps transport the oxygen through the body and into the cells more efficiently.
7. Builds a healthy heart
Exercise builds muscle, and when you exercise you build up the heart muscle. A stronger heart is able to pump more blood per stroke, and thus it requires fewer beats to pump the same amount of blood. In a study of 13,000 men and women divided into categories of fitness ranging from sedentary to well-conditioned, those who walked 30 minutes a day, three to four times a week, were half as likely to have a heart attack or develop cancer. In people with high blood pressure, regular exercise has been shown to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of ten points. Exercise also reduces the tendency for the blood-clotting cells, called platelets, to stick together, and thus prevents blood clots that reduce the blood supply to the tissues of the heart, brain, and other vital organs, causing strokes or heart attacks.
8. Slows aging
Nearly all the physiological changes that are associated with aging are improved with exercise. This includes decreased muscle mass, increased body fat, reduced muscle strength and flexibility, decreased bone mass, decreased metabolic rate (which promote fat storing), decreased cardiovascular fitness, sleep difficulties, reduced sexual performance, diminished oxygen utilization by muscle, and reduced mental acuity. Exercise acts like a tonic, improving many of the symptoms of aging.
9. Increases lifespan
A Harvard health study of 17,000 male Harvard alumni, ages 35 to 74 showed that men who exercised regularly lived longer. The death rates declined as the number of calories burned in exercise increased, up to a weekly calorie expenditure of 2,000 calories (which would be an average of 40 minutes of moderate exercise per day). New studies have shown that reducing calories can also increase a person’s lifespan, so the combination of a low- calorie diet with exercise to burn off calories brings double benefits. Between 20 and 80 years of age the average male may lose a quarter of his total muscle mass, which leads us to conclude that the amount of exercise you do should increase with age rather than decrease. The L.E.A.N. program is likely to help you die young – but at an old age.
10. Builds muscle
Exercise builds muscle, and muscle is the biggest fat-burner in the body. Muscle burns calories, not only during exercise, but while you are resting. It’s automatic. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories (and therefore fat) you burn, even during your sleep. This is why one goal of the L.E.A.N. program is to replace fat with muscle. Consider these fat stats: With moderate exercise (you don’t have to be an Olympic weight-lifter), you can increase your muscle mass enough to automatically burn over a hundred extra calories a day, which translates into an automatic fat loss (or lack of fat gain) of a pound a month. So once you become lean, you increase your chances of staying lean. The best exercise for building muscles is resistance training in which the muscles work against gravity, such as weight-training with free weights or a resistance machine. Even senior citizens can build more muscle with resistance training. So you could say, “lift weights to lose weight.” Exercise enough to build the muscle and maintain the muscle, and it keeps right on burning the fat to keep you lean. Exercise speeds metabolism. You not only burn fat while you’re exercising, your metabolic rate remains elevated for six to twelve hours after you exercise. You’re still getting the fat-burning benefit of your morning workout in the early afternoon.
11. Exercise also builds bone
Astronauts working in zero gravity in space lose bone mass. Weight-bearing exercise here on earth makes bones stronger. Weight-bearing exercise is a good way to prevent osteoporosis, or softening of the bone. One reason why exercise helps build bone is that exercising bodies tends to excrete less calcium through the kidneys than sedentary bodies do.
L.E.A.N Tip: Gain Muscle – Lose Fat
The best nutritional deal in the body is the more muscle you put on, the more fat you’re likely to take off. The reason is that muscle tissue, even just resting there, burns more calories than fat tissue, which essentially burns very little. Every pound of extra muscle you put on automatically burns 50-100 extra calories a day. So, just by adding an extra pound of muscle to your body you could automatically fat burn as much as ten pounds of fat a year. The cellular basis for the term “beef up” is that exercise causes an increase in fat- burning enzymes in the muscles, so that “beefing up” really means increasing the body’s ability to fat burn. As you can see, one of the main goals of the LEAN program is to change body fat into muscle.
12. Improves mood
Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s own internal opiates, or mood-elevating, pain-relieving hormones. It’s on the days when you least feel like exercising that you’ll notice the endorphin effect the most. It relieves tension and soothes out stress. Endorphins even curb food cravings. The neurochemicals that are released during exercise not only calm an anxious person, they can also pull you out of a depression. Studies shows that depressive symptoms decrease in women who engage in regular exercise, such as walking briskly, jogging, lifting weights or dancing, three to four times a week for eight to ten weeks. Psychiatrists often prescribe exercise to combat depression. It’s cheap and the side effects are all good ones.
13. Sparks the brain
Because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, it’s as good for the head as it is for the body. Exercise can help you concentrate and also helps your brain relax when it’s time for sleep.
14. Gives a good “gut” feeling
Exercise improves digestion and speeds the passage of food through the intestines. Constipated persons often notice a return to regular bowel movements during the L.E.A.N. program. So, exercise regularly to stay regular.
15. Reduces the risk of cancer
Exercise not only reduces the risk of colon cancer, a study of 13,000 men and women followed for 15 years by aerobics expert Dr. Kenneth Cooper showed that the incidence of all forms of cancer was reduced. The fitter the subjects were, the less their risk of cancer (See How Exercise Fights Cancer).
Exercise and a low-fat diet are partners in health
Dieting without exercise leads to little or no permanent fat loss, and possibly a fat gain. Exercise without good nutrition equals little or no fat loss. Dieting plus exercise equals lots of fat loss. You don’t burn off much fat while you’re doing the exercise. While you exercise, you burn mostly carbohydrates. The fat-burning occurs during the twelve hours after exercise when your metabolic rate is elevated. This is why morning exercise is likely to yield a greater fat loss than exercise in the evening or before bed. Sleep depresses your metabolic rate. So, the best time for exercise is first thing in the morning. Late afternoon, before dinner, is also a good time to exercise; you’ll eat less at dinner and burn calories all evening long. This metabolism speeding is especially important for the 40 somethings and older, since metabolism begins to slow down once you hit middle age, and exercise speeds up this natural slowdown.
L.E.A.N. Lessons: The Hazards of Being a Couch Potato
Just sitting on the couch will get you in trouble. Sitters are fat storers, and they’re less healthy than people who move. When a couch potato sits there, eyes fixed on the TV, his breathing becomes more shallow. In time this reduces the vital capacity of the lungs, which means there is less oxygen available to the intestines, muscles, heart, and brain. The heart, like all the other muscles of the body becomes weaker, so the heart works harder to pump less blood, further depriving the other parts of the body of oxygen. Inactivity raises the level of all the bad fats in the blood and lowers the level of good cholesterol. Even the muscles of the intestines slow down, increasing constipation, contributing to fatigue. The combination of a tired heart, tired brain, and tired gut motivate the couch potato to spend even more time on the couch. The sad result is that the couch potato is more likely than his longer-living lean friends to wind up in the permanent state of inactivity.
Health benefits of exercise: Picture the difference
It’s Monday night and Mr. Couch Potato is watching football. He lies on the sofa with a beer, potato chips, and onion dip. Mr. Lean Machine is outside on the lawn tossing a football with his kids after a brisk walk around the neighborhood. He comes in, grabs some fruit for a snack, and watches the second half of the game while doing an upper body workout with his weights. Obviously, Mr. Lean Machine is likely to be rewarded with a longer life and more Monday night football games than Mr. Couch Potato.
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.