“It doesn’t matter who you are or what your health status is,” said Dr. Kori Krueger, a Marshfield Clinic internal medicine and pediatrics physician. “Exercise can benefit you. It doesn’t have to be strenuous or involve running or weight lifting to be healthy.”
Walking, swimming, yoga and stretching are physical enough to count toward exercise goals.
And losing weight doesn’t have to be the objective.
Dr. Krueger shares seven reasons to exercise other than to lose weight:
1. “Runner’s high”
Various studies have been conducted to determine what causes the euphoria experienced by exercise. Often credited to endorphins, the body’s built-in painkillers, causes of runner’s high are not completely known. In general, brain chemicals cause runner’s high.
“Neurochemical systems in the brain give the body a sense of well-being and positivity with increased exercise,” said Krueger.
2. Cardiovascular function
Muscles need continual exercise to build and maintain mass. This same concept applies to the cardiovascular system.
“Your heart is just like other muscles,” he said. “If you don’t exercise your heart, it won’t maintain stamina and strength.”
3. Stress and anxiety
Enter more brain chemicals. Anxiety and Depression Association of America supports the idea that exercise can reduce stress and anxiety and proclaims, “When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind.”
People who routinely exercise tend to experience better sleep patterns.
One caveat though: Do not exercise right before bedtime. This may trigger the neurochemicals of runner’s high and increased wakefulness, making it more difficult to sleep.
“Exercising in the morning is usually best,” Krueger said. “If that’s not possible, exercise early in the evening, preferably no later than two hours before bedtime.”
5. Brain function
Exercise improves alertness and efficiency of mental function. People who exercise frequently may be able to more quickly process everyday learning and conversations.
6. Immune system
One plus one equals two and reduced stress plus better sleep equals an improved immune system.
“There’s a pattern,” Krueger said. “People who are physically active tend to maintain overall better health and immune system function.”
7. Age and overall health
Physical activity will help you look and feel younger longer, and in general improve your overall health.
It’s important to keep fit as you age for even more reasons than listed above. Regular physical activity increases muscle mass and bone density, reduces risk of falling and improves lung function.
To be safe, talk with your doctor before you start or add any strenuous exercise plan.