It is no surprise that exercise provides meaningful benefits to overall physical and emotional health. So why discuss the importance of exercise? Exercise is a well-established topic in health. Unfortunately, a resounding amount of people do not incorporate exercise into their daily living. In this post, I am going to review why exercising is so imperative and why you need regular exercise just much as you need food and sleep. As the title says, I believe 30 minutes five times a week can change your life.
I know personally finding 30 minutes a day can be difficult. I have gone through stints of little to no exercise. When I am not working out I feel the effects. I get depressed easier, less confident, and have lower energy levels. Even though I know the importance of regular exercise, I often struggle to do it. Being told you should exercise or go to the gym often loses its gravity by being redundant. Your doctor can only tell you so many times to lose weight and exercise before you become jaded to the information. I know as a therapist, it is easy to gloss over the necessity of physical activity. I often tell clients to exercise but rarely follow up with them. I often forget to put enough emphasis on exercise as an integral part of their treatment. As I went deeper into research on the benefits of physical activity, the more I was reminded of its absolute necessity.
The CDC provides a wealth of information about the impacts of exercise. I will provide a link at the bottom of the post. Below are some of the researched health benefits of exercise provided by the CDC. Research from the CDC found the benefits listed below followed after 150 minutes up to170 minutes of exercise a week.
• Lower risk of all-cause mortality
• Lower risk of cardiovascular mortality
• Lower risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke)
• Lower risk of hypertension
• Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
• Lower risk of adverse blood lipid profile
• Lower risk of cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach
• Improved cognition
• Reduced risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease)
• Improved quality of life
• Reduced anxiety
• Reduced risk of depression
• Improved sleep
• Slowed or reduced weight gain
• Weight loss, particularly when combined with reduced calorie intake
• Prevention of weight regain following initial weight loss
• Improved bone health
• Improved physical function
• Lower risk of falls (older adults)
• Lower risk of fall-related injuries (older adults)
What a list, right! Why are we not exercising regularly? It would seem that exercise is imperative. Reality is, not even 50 years ago, most people did 30 minutes of exercise out of necessity. Spending 150 minutes a week was a cakewalk for most due to regular life demands. Humans historically have not needed to make exercise a priority because it was already in their daily living. Today's society, as a whole, is less active. The necessity of being disciplined and scheduling exercise is a relatively new discipline to learn. Exercise takes more conscious effort than it has before. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, then I want to encourage you to recognize the importance of scheduling physical activity in your daily living.
One of the areas I want to focus on is exercise impacts on stress. Stress has become an epidemic in society. Even though technology supposedly makes life simpler, stress levels seem year over year to rise. We all know stress is bad. But how bad is it? In healthy doses, stress helps us to be motivated and respond in a way to help maintain life. If I stumble on a predator in a field I want and need to have a stress response because it enables me to have increased chances of survival. This is why stress is important because it gives us a sense of urgency when we need to be urgent. Stress becomes destructive though when it is prolonged. The stress response is part of a deeply engrained system within our central nervous system.
Our central nervous system is in charge of the fight, flight, or freeze response. The hypothalamus of the brain manages this physiologic response. When this is triggered, your adrenal glands release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones raise your heart rate and increase blood flow to respond to stress. Prolonged levels of stress has effects on your cardiovascular system, digestive system, muscular system, immune system, and emotional well being. Stress, when unmanaged, can be damaging to your health. Luckily exercise is an antidote to our body's stress response.
A study done by Harvard found that exercise is highly productive in reducing stress. They found that exercise reduces the adrenal response making your ability to deal with stress more manageable. Aerobic exercise helps condition the heart allowing it to be more adaptive to the adrenal response. Not only does exercise reduce the effects of the adrenal response, but it also stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins are natural painkillers and mood elevators. Working out is effective in reducing stress at the source of the adrenal response but also developing a more positive mood. In short, exercise is highly effective by improving mood and reducing stress.
Often accompanying stress is anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression have become a major issue among the American people. The estimated economic impact of depression per year is 210.5 billion a year. Depression and anxiety issues are incredibly common and something that sneaks up on many people. Several studies reveal that daily exercise for 30 minutes dramatically reduces the risk of developing anxiety and depression. Not only is it preventative, but it also reduces the effects in those already impacted by anxiety and depression.
Typically the clients I see that make the most progress with managing their depression or anxiety are actively doing therapy, exercising, and seeing a psychiatrist for medication management if needed. Once they are in a healthier place mentally, most clients can stop medications with the advice of their psychiatrist and therapy. Guess what the one thing they are encouraged to maintain after therapy and medications? It is regular exercise. The maintenance of regular exercise has the potential to reduce the effects of depression, anxiety, stress, diabetes, hypertension, and several other issues long term. The key to this information is that it is not enough simply knowing the positive effects of exercise, it has to be applied.
Exercising also provides a substantial boost in confidence. By confidence, I don't mean being able to look in the mirror and seeing massive gains in your physical appearance. In the age of social media, physical appearance is often a primary motivator for people to hit the gym. The number on the scale is important but not as important as the physical and emotional progress that exercise provides. I want to make it clear that physical appearance in my opinion is one of the hardest sustainable motivators for exercising. I always encourage people to move away from physical appearance as being their primary motivation for working out. I encourage them to focus on self-development and personal health. Let the benefits of exercise like a slimmer waistline or muscular physic be secondary to the benefits to your emotional and physical well being. As you develop more strength, stamina, and emotional well-being, confidence begins to develop in individuals.
Confidence/self-esteem often waxes and wanes with each day. One day you can feel like you doing great. The next you feel like your struggle to get one thing right for the day. Confidence and self-esteem is an integral part our of daily living. It is how we determine personal value and external value in the world. Confidence determines our perceived abilities to excel in different areas of life. Think of your self-esteem like a boxer in a fighting ring. Your opponent is the day. The more confidence you have, the more blows you can take. Counseling and therapy are effective in developing confidence but often take diving into yourself and exploring your psyche. In contrast to doing psychotherapy, exercise is something you can do that is concrete and provide benefits when done consistently. In my research, I found several articles depicting groups of different populations doing different exercise regiments from yoga, to running, and lifting weights, all showing improved self-esteem and confidence.
I will try to make this practical. Think of a recent event that boosted your confidence. Maybe you recently bought a new outfit or got a haircut. Imagine having that feeling daily. Feeling accomplished that you were able to add more distance to your run, more weight to your lifts, or lose a few pounds on the scale. That feeling is something that can be tapped into by doing 30 mins x 5 days a week of exercise.
In my research, I had a renewed desire to continue to maintain my exercise regimen. I want to challenge you to start your exercise regimen. The overwhelming evidence shows that your life will be changed by exercise. The odds are stacked in your favor to have some benefit from exercising. So get out their start small and build up, let your life be changed by doing what our bodies are designed to do by being physically active. Do 30 minutes a day five times a week or 45 minutes 3 times a week and actively take control of improving your life.
Live your best life today.
Aaron Martinez M.Ed. LPC
*Disclaimer: When beginning a new exercise regimen or physical activity, please consult your healthcare provider to discuss any potential health risks.
CDC Physical health booklet.
Stress impacts the body.
Stress reduction research
Depression and anxiety research
Prevention of depression https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111223