If I randomly asked 100 people if they believe exercise is important I would receive 100 responses from people saying that it is. Not whether or not they like to exercise, but if exercise is good for you. Maybe 99 would answer positively, and the 1 that doesn’t would only be because they had a bad experience in a gym or in some type of exercise class in their life. Essentially everyone knows that exercise and physical activity are important parts of living a long and healthy life. But can you tell me why it’s important? On a physical, physiological and psychological level? That would be a much harder question for you, and others, to answer. The physical benefits are somewhat simpler for people to understand because we see physical things. It is a lot harder to understand the things that we can’t see and a very large amount of the benefit that we receive from exercise physiology is related to the things that are invisible to us such as internal health relating to our bodily systems (physiological) and our mental health relating to our brain (psychological).
The majority of the time, when a client contacts us for help with their health and lifestyle, they are doing so because they need help with their physical body. Either they aren’t happy with how they look or they aren’t happy with how they physically feel. We are currently in an epidemic of obesity the likes of which western civilisation has never seen before. At the moment 60% of Australians are obese. Let that sink in for a moment – 6 in 10 people. Obesity is not the same thing as being overweight. An overweight person is someone that may only be 1 or 2 kilos outside of their ideal range and, visually, it can be hard to spot. To give you some numbers to better understand exactly what obesity is, for a man that is 180cm tall, to be considered obese, he would need to be roughly 15 kilograms above his ideal weight range, or roughly 20% heavier than he should be. This means that 60% of Australians are 20% heavier than they should be, which for someone that works with bodies, is absolutely shocking. I will write about this in more detail in another blog.
I digress a little bit, but I had to make a point. When we think of physical health and the physical benefits of exercise physiology, we are usually talking about weight loss and our body. Therefore, the clearest benefit to engaging in a structured exercise program for the average person is that they will lose weight and start to look a little bit better. In this sense we then also get into the realm of body shaping, and for women this will usually mean toning and for men this might also mean toning but will often times also involve adding muscle to their body (I will write about the concept of toning in another blog as this is an interesting point that rears its head a lot and needs some clarification). Adding muscle to your body is always a good thing and there is not a single reason that exists, or has ever existed, to counter that. Adding muscle to your body will improve your strength, your power, your ability to do basic daily tasks and will improve your metabolism and metabolic rate because muscle is an extremely metabolically active tissue. One of the more repetitive conversations that I have had in my life is the one involving the reassurance to women that lifting weights is important and very necessary. I will write more about this in future blogs as well, but very quickly, as a woman you are extraordinarily unlikely to add much muscle mass to your body no matter how often you lift weights. You will still feel the physical benefits of being stronger and more metabolically healthy, but for hormonal reasons lifting weights will not make you ‘bulky’.
In future weeks I will write more about the topics above, but I will move on now from the physical benefits of exercise physiology to the physiological and psychological. When we talk about physiology we are talking about biology and the functions of our parts, specifically in this context I am referring to our internal physiology – the things we can’t see. The benefits of exercise physiology to our own physiology are too numerous to mention here, but the main ones are always going to be:
- Improved blood sugar levels leading to a decreased likelihood of Diabetes
- Improved blood pressure
- Improved blood cholesterol levels
- Decreased risk of heart and cardiovascular complications and illnesses
- Decreased risk of developing some cancers
- Decreased risk of developing osteoarthritis
This is a very abridged list, but I hope you can start to get the idea. There are actually very few physiological diseases that cannot be improved with an exercise physiology program. We tend not to focus on these aspects as much because we can’t see them and in many instances can’t even feel them. But they are happening, whether we feel them and see them or not.
The third, and possibly most major benefit of exercise physiology, is to our psychological health. This blog post is only meant to provide a broad overview of some of the benefits exercise physiology, so again, I won’t go in to detail here but the benefits to our mental health include:
- Improved mood
- Decrease in feelings of depression
- Decrease in feelings of anxiety
- Improved cognitive function and ability
- Improved mental clarity of focus
- Improve coping skills
Again, this is a very abridged list and this topic will require yet another separate blog post to elaborate (I must be up to about 10 new blog posts), but the above all happen for reasons that relate to the release of a huge amount of hormones and neurotransmitters when we perform exercise. Virtually all mental health organizations and institutions make exercise physiology a mandatory part of the management process for the very reasons listed above.
So, what started out as a simple blog post has become a monster! But hopefully you can begin to understand that the benefits of exercise physiology are varied and multifactorial. Stay tuned for the many blog posts to follow this one!
Yours in Health.