The benefits of physical activity are more far-reaching than people realize.
Exercising is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of improving
all kinds of medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, type 2
diabetes, thyroid problems, and depression. While it is best to follow a
specific program, such as the one described in this book, studies have shown that even ten minutes a day of aerobic activities like walking or riding a bicycle can have a positive effect on health. That’s how sensitive the body is to exercise.
Benefit 1: Reduces Fat, Not Just Pounds
As we have seen, scale weight can be deceiving. The goal of any good
a weight-loss program should be to lose fat, not lean muscle tissue. While most people connect weight loss with going on a calorically restrictive diet, few realize that an exercise is a powerful tool for taking off the weight.
A recent article in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reported that while dieting did take off the pounds, exercising was more effective at
reducing pounds of body fat: “Although total fat decreased in both weight
loss groups (exercise vs. diet), the average reduction was greater in the
exercise-induced weight loss group than in the diet-induced weight loss
group.” Exercise also preserved and even increased lean muscle tissue,
whereas dieting alone tended to reduce lean muscle to a certain degree.
Benefit 2: Improves Blood Profile
According to a recent survey of studies conducted by the Human Nutrition Program, regular exercise also improves blood chemistry on many levels, from the lipid profile to levels of hormones, to amounts of glucose and
• Exercise lowers total cholesterol and increases levels of HDL (good
• Exercise decreases the amount of leptin, a hormone that plays a role in regulating body fat and energy, in your bloodstream. The more leptin present, the higher your body fat.
• Exercise stimulates the production of epinephrine, a potent hormone that stimulates LPL lipase, an enzyme that catalyzes the release of free fatty acids from adipose tissues. The more epinephrine and lipase, the lower your body fat.
• Exercise decreases levels of insulin in the blood, which in turn decrease the amount of glucose present.
While dieting alone can cause some of these changes in blood chemistry, regular exercise along with dieting increases all of these benefits. It is important to remember that a woman’s blood chemistry responds best to
lower- to moderate-intensity exercise and a man’s blood chemistry to moderate to higher levels of intensity.
An article in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry that studied the cholesterol levels of male cyclists showed the effectiveness of prolonged high-intensity cardiovascular exercise in decreasing levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and increasing levels of HDL (good cholesterol).
Benefit 3: Reduces Blood Pressure
Hypertension is so prevalent in the United States that the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institute of Health has come up with a whole new set of guidelines for those who may be at risk for developing high blood pressure. There are now three categories:
- Normal—the systolic pressure is less than 120 and the diastolic is
less than 80.
- Prehypertension—the systolic range is 120–139 and the diastolic
range is 80–89.
- Hypertension—the systolic number is greater than 139 and the
diastolic is greater than 89.
Since blood pressure increases steadily with age, getting it under control and keeping it under control is crucial. A number of studies have shown that the mortality from heart attacks, strokes, and other vascular diseases increases progressively as blood pressure levels rise. The Framingham Heart Study suggests that even people who have normal blood pressure at age fifty-five still have a 90 percent chance of developing high blood pressure if lifestyle choices that prevent these increases are ignored. When coupled with fat loss from an appropriate food program, regular and appropriate exercise is one of the lifestyle changes that has been shown to decrease hypertension significantly.
Benefit 4: Increases Elasticity of Major Arteries
Aging in adults is associated with a marked decline in the flexibility of the
large elastic arteries that promote circulation in the chest region—in other words, those huge arteries that help your heart to circulate blood. The more sedentary the individual, the greater the stiffness of these arteries and the less efficient cardiac circulation becomes.
Even healthy adults can suffer from this condition. Studies have shown, however, that regular exercise appears to minimize age-related changes in the elastin and collagen that make up the artery walls, enabling them to retain their flexibility.
Benefit 5: Protects against Breast Cancer
A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that even modest levels of physical activity, coupled with reduced caloric intake to help lose body fat, decreased a woman’s chances of having breast cancer. This was one of the largest studies of its kind involving 74,000 women between fifty and seventy-nine years old. An
important point was that this exercise did not have to be intense: “While the longer duration of physical activity provides the greatest protective benefit, such activity need not be strenuous.”
Benefit 6: Protects against Sarcopenia (Muscle Wasting)
Most people believe that a significant loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) is inevitable with age, leading to decreased strength, mobility, and flexibility.
This is not so. According to a recent article published by the Journal of the
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, most age-related changes in muscle can be reversed through an appropriate exercise program incorporating both aerobic and resistance/strength training (working with weights or objects that you have to push against).
Benefit 7: Combats Erectile Dysfunction
A recent study of over 31,000 men between the ages of fifty-three and ninety showed that exercise delayed the onset of erectile dysfunction with
age and improved sexual performance in those who already suffered from
this problem. This research project, conducted by the Harvard School of
Public Health, found that an average of one-third of test subjects reported
problems getting and keeping an erection.
Most of the men studied said that they had few problems before age fifty, but 26 percent had difficulty between ages fifty and fifty-nine; 40 percent between ages sixty and sixty- nine; and 61 percent over age seventy. Men who watched more than twenty hours of television per week, consumed too much alcohol, smoked, were overweight, had diabetes, had a previous stroke, or took antidepressants or beta-blockers had the most problems with ED.
One of the most interesting conclusions of this study was the connection between overall cardiovascular health and the ability to sustain an erection. ED could even be viewed as an early warning system that something was seriously wrong with the body’s vascular system and heart health.
Men who did the equivalent of three hours per week of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise such as running or playing tennis had a 30 percent
lower risk of erectile dysfunction. It is important to note that researchers stress high-intensity exercise in combating ED.
Benefit 8: Protects Postmenopausal Women from Fat Gain and Loss of Lean Muscle
Lately, there has been a great deal of controversy over the safety of hormone replacement therapy. The major study designed by the Women’s Health Initiative was stopped midway because some participants taking HRT developed higher incidences of breast cancer and heart disease.
The main argument in favor of HRT has been that it has the ability to
help postmenopausal women conserve lean muscle and avoid gaining body fat. The American College of Sports Medicine published an article in which researchers were seeking an alternative solution to taking HRT to maintain healthy body composition. Four groups of women participated
in a resistance exercise program:
- No exercise, no HRT
- No exercise, HRT
- Exercise, HRT
- Exercise, no HRT
At the end of one year, researchers discovered that the group of women who exercised and did not take HRT did better than the nonexercise HRT group and did as well or a little better than the group that exercised and took HRT. They concluded that resistance exercise was just as effective for menopausal women in keeping off body fat as taking HRT.
Benefit 9: Protects against Osteoporosis
Most people have heard that exercise helps protect against bone loss, especially as men and women reach menopause or andropause. But many do not know that the type of exercise determines the level of bone health.
In order to not only maintain bone density but to build it, you need to do exercises that “overload” the bone, giving it something to lift or push against that forces it to work at a higher level than it experiences in your day-to-day activities.
Benefit 10: Fights Stress and Improves Mood
Worries, depression, and mood swings undermine your health, relationships, and work performance and reduce your sense of being in control. Research has shown that people who make exercise a regular part of their lifestyle experience stress reduction, improvement in moods, and a greater ability to handle the worries of daily life.
Studies that compare the body chemistry of joggers and those who do resistance exercise with the body chemistry of sedentary individuals show a greater percentage of mood-elevating substances such as endorphins in the bloodstream of those who are regularly involved in some form of exercise. One study on the psychological effects of exercise on people suffering from osteoarthritis showed that exercise
• Helped release pent-up feelings and improve mood
• Gave people a coping strategy for control of pain
• Increase levels of independence and feelings of self-sufficiency
• Increased self-esteem
• Improved social interaction
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Source: The Fat-Burning Bible by Mackie Shilstone