Posted on July 15, 2019
Category: Healthy Habits
Are you ready? This could be the most important article you ever read. Nobody likes being sick but sometimes—despite our regular use of hand sanitizer and our artful avoidance of uncovered sneezes—we wind up getting sick anyway. What if there was another way we could ward off sickness? After all, preventing sickness is much better than treating sickness, right? Well, as it turns out, staying active does more than keep you from getting winded too easily; it actually helps your body fight off illness.
Read on to learn more about the role physical activity plays in our ability to avoid illness.
How Does South Dakota Stack Up?
According to the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, South Dakota ranked 9th out of all 50 states in overall well-being. Top 10 is pretty good, right? Well, when you take a closer look, the numbers showroom for improvement. The index is made up of five different element scores: physical, community, financial, social and career. The Rushmore state shines in the career, financial and community score sections, but fell short on the physical score. In the index, Gallup defines the physical score as “having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.”
What does this mean?
Gallup’s index is a pretty solid sign that our state’s energy and physical activity levels could use a boost, but what that means is a bit different for everyone. For instance, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of two and a half hours per week of moderately intense exercise for adults aged 18 to 64. As an alternative, they recommend combining moderate and high-intensity workouts for at least one hour and 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children and adolescents do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.
Check out this video from Tech Insider on What Happens To Your Body When You Start Exercising Regularly:
The Little Stuff
So, physical activity may sound like a good option, but what does it actually do to prevent illness? Regularly getting your blood pumping has countless little impacts on the way your body runs that help to prevent a whole host of minor, yet annoying, conditions.
- Colds & Flu
Simply put, regular exercise helps to build up your body’s immune system by regularly putting it under small amounts of stress. When you exercise, you use your muscles heavily and, as a result, do slight damage to the muscle tissue that, when healed, makes your muscles stronger. This process, in addition to eliminating fat cells—which can impede recovery from illness—may familiarize your body with the act of preparing and protecting itself. Ultimately, physical activity seems to better prepare your body to fight off germs and infections by keeping it on alert.
- Aches & Pains
When it comes to aches and pains, health problems tend to compound. When you experience pain, you don’t move as much, which leads to your muscles weakening which can result in further pain. In contrast, staying active can help to strengthen your muscles—especially those around your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders—which help your body stay healthy.
- Overall Energy Improvements
Exercise helps to ensure that your tissues receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to perform more efficiently. Exercise also improves heart and lung health, which allows them to more effectively deliver blood and oxygen to different parts of your body, which leaves you with more energy throughout the day.
- Better Sleep
A good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health. While neuroscientists don’t have all the answers about why we need sleep to function, they’re in agreement that exercise promotes deeper, sounder sleep. According to Johns Hopkins, “moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate.”
- Weight Control
In a world filled with seemingly unlimited weight loss programs and boot camps promoting healthier bodies, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that physical activity can have on our weight. Exercise 101 is that physical activity burns fat, and eliminating fat helps us keep our weight under control.
The Big Stuff
While regular physical activity helps us fight off a myriad of smaller, less substantial illnesses, it also protects our bodies from a number of serious conditions as well.
- Heart Disease
According to the CDC, heart disease kills more than 610,000 people in the United States each year—making it the leading cause of death for both men and women and the cause of a quarter of all deaths in our country. Thankfully, regular exercise increases the levels of good cholesterol in your system, which helps to lower your risk of heart disease by flushing out bad cholesterol.
It’s estimated that someone dies of stroke every four minutes. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes all significantly increase the chances of stroke. Additionally, an individual’s stroke risk can vary based on their age, race and ethnicity. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help prevent strokes. According to the National Stroke Association, people who exercise five or more times per week have a significantly reduced risk of stroke.
- High Blood Pressure
Lowering your blood pressure is yet another significant benefit of regular physical activity. The more you exercise, the stronger your heart is. The stronger your heart is, the more blood it can easily pump through your system. When it’s easier for your heart to pump blood, your arteries don’t have to work as hard, and your blood pressure lowers.
- Type 2 Diabetes
Studies have found that exercise increases the insulin sensitivity of your cells. Simply put, Type 2 Diabetes is a condition where your body does not make or use insulin well. By exercising regularly and increasing your cells’ insulin sensitivity, your body will require less insulin to function—which greatly reduces your risk of diabetes.
It’s well-documented that exercise can directly impact those suffering from depression. James Blumenthal, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at Duke University. On the topic of exercise and depression, he says: “There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program.”
- Anxiety & Stress
The mental health benefits of regular physical activity don’t end with depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults, making them the most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S. Physical activity produces endorphins—which are a special type of hormone that can act as a pain reliever. When endorphins are released, they can help eliminate feelings of stress and anxiety in those diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
Cancer is one of the most troubling illnesses plaguing humanity today—in part because there are so many different types of cancer and each can be caused by any number of catalysts. However, the American Cancer Society has found significant reductions in risks for 13 different types of cancers as a result of physical exercise.
Two of the most common forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are degenerative conditions that lead to the deterioration of cartilage over time. When you exercise regularly, your body pumps more blood around the cartilage—which helps to nourish and lubricate the cartilage in your joints and prevent deterioration.
Regular physical activity greatly improves the strength of stabilizing muscles, especially in older adults. These muscles help keep an individual upright while walking or standing and, when they are weak, a person is at a greater risk of falling. Additionally, regular exercise has been shown to increase bone density, which helps prevent breaks following a fall.
A Word About Your White Blood Cells
It’s worth noting that your white blood cells play a major role in your ability to fight off illness. Regular exercise causes change in your antibodies and white blood cells. These are the immune system cells that fight disease. When you exercise, they circulate in your bloodstream more rapidly, which allows them to more effectively fight off illnesses and infections. Think of them as county sheriffs patrolling the superhighways of your immune system.
Simple Ways to Get Started
By now, you’re probably fairly convinced that regular physical activity is a big win for your overall health, but knowing that something is good for you and taking steps to accomplish it are often two very different things. With that being said, here are a few easy ways to get started:
Physical well-being is a marathon, not a sprint! You don’t have to take up rock climbing or cross-country skiing to kickstart your immune system. Going for a brisk 30 minute walk every day will get your heart pumping, your blood flowing and immune system on high alert.
It may not feel like you’re sweating when you’re swimming, but that’s just the pool playing tricks on you. Swimming is a great physical activity that puts a number of different muscle groups to work at the same time and effectively gets your heart rate up—even if you’re just treading water.
Looking for a more scenic method of exercise? On a bicycle, you can travel farther than you would on your own two feet and see more while you’re at it. Take to the trails, and you’re sure to get your blood flowing in a way that makes you feel better and helps your body fight off sickness more effectively.
Yoga is a great way to get your heart rate up from the comfort of a cushioned mat. With variations like hot yoga and yoga sculpt that incorporate heat and weights into your workout, your yoga exercise can be whatever you want it to be.
This list is far from being all-inclusive. The most important thing is that you find something you can stick with and keeps you active. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s important to start small and build upon your progress. Once you get started, you will likely find that you love the way staying active makes you feel, and sometimes that can be all the motivation you need. As long as you’re increasing your physical activity, whatever you decide to do will be a step in the right direction.
As with everything that relates to your physical health and well-being, it’s important to talk to your doctor before jumping into your new fitness program.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, September 6). Stroke Facts. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, November 14). Youth Physical Activity Guidelines | Physical Activity | Healthy Schools | CDC. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/guidelines.htm
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Exercising for Better Sleep. Retrieved June 25, 2019, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019, May 11). 7 great reasons why exercise matters. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389
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