What Happens When You Exercise?
Written by: Maritza Manresa
With change of the season comes shorter shorts, cropped tops and string bikinis, and if you are like most people in America, losing weight and getting into shape is a priority. Being healthy may be an underlying motivator, but more than likely, your urgency is based on vanity over health. However, you should really take a look at the benefits and the overall positive impact exercising regularly can have on your body — both inside and out. That is because although it is common knowledge that regular exercise can lead to a longer healthier life, what really happens inside the body that causes all the positive changes, is not such common knowledge. From head to toe every organ and every part of your body is affected by exercise.
The brain benefits greatly from the increased blood flow generated by exercise. As soon as you begin to exercise, the brain cells begin to function at a higher pace, which in turn makes you feel more alert while exercising as well as more focused even after you have finished. Additionally, according to Fern Christiansen, Exercise Physiologist at Ocala Regional Medical Center (ORMC) Take Charge Cardiac Rehab Program, you will feel better after an exercise routine not only physically but mentally since exercising triggers the release of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) including serotonin, which is known to reduce depression and anxiety. As an exercise physiologist, Christiansen specializes in studying the impact exercise has on the body, in particular focusing her attention on the cardiovascular end of it.
When you exercise routinely, the brain becomes accustomed to the regular surge of blood creating a boost in the function of brain cells, which in turn protect the brain from diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s or even help prevent a stroke. “Someone who stays active will stay sharper a little longer,” said Christiansen. Further, due to the extra oxygen pumped to the brain during exercise, new brain cells can be generated in the Hippocampus (the only section of the brain that can actually make new brain cells) which is the part of the brain that is highly involved in memory and learning. And, although many of the changes that occur in the brain while exercising eventually return to their normal state when you are less active, the new brain cells that were created in the Hippocampus will survive.
According to Gordon Wertz, RN, and head of Take Charge Cardiac Rehab Program at ORMC, when you exercise, the heart rate increases so that it can circulate more oxygen through the blood, at a much faster pace. Thus, the more you exercise the heart becomes accustomed to this new pace allowing you to then work out longer and harder. All of which in turn, lowers the resting heart rate in people who are fit. “Additionally, regular exercise can also stimulate the growth of new blood vessels as well as enlarging your blood vessels, causing blood pressure to decrease in fit people,” said Wertz. In fact, according to Wertz supervised exercise is extremely important for cardiac rehab patients – people who have had any type of heart procedure – as exercise actually helps to reduce their risk factor.
Bones, Joints & Muscles
Regular exercise will build bone strength — the more you exercise, the better the condition of your bones and joints will be. Exercising is excellent for people who have arthritis because by exercising they are helping to maintain the strength of the muscle which in turn helps support the weight bearing stress on the bones. For instance, weight bearing activities will increase bone mass and help strengthen bones and help prevent bone loss, thus reducing the risk for developing osteoporosis later in life. In addition, as the strength of the bones increase, so does the flexibility and the ease with which you can use your joints. As a result, by keeping the joints flexible, the cartilage tissue and the muscles around the joints get stronger. Another long term effect is that exercise helps delay muscle loss, a condition called Sarcopenia. Thus, exercising will help maintain muscles because as people age, the muscles that are not used are lost, so exercising regularly will keep those muscles in use and available for continued use.
Exercising has always been known to be a key factor in any weight loss program. Exercising regularly will help control your weight by using excess calories that otherwise would have been stored as fat. By increasing the metabolism more fat will be burned. In fact, according to Wertz, one of the things that burn calories more effectively is the increase in muscle mass. Weight training increases muscle mass, thus it helps boost your metabolism.
The American Heart Association recommends doing aerobic exercise for thirty to sixty minutes, five to seven days a week, consistently. Regular exercise builds stronger heart muscles and helps maintain bone density, thus reducing the risk of falling and bone breakage especially in older people. Additionally, according to Christiansen, regular exercise has been associated with reducing the risk for endometriosis, as well as colon, breast and lung cancer.
Although it is easier said than done to continue this regular exercise routine even after the swimsuit gets packed away for hibernation, it is a practice worth sticking to as it can truly have a positive long lasting effect on your life.