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The Hidden Benefits of Exercise

We’ve all heard it a million times: exercise is important. In a society that is seriously obsessed with weight and appearances, we tend to strictly associate exercise with weight loss; however, fitness is about so much more than weight, and exercise has so many more benefits than simply slimming down.

Exercise causes your body to release endorphins and dopamine.

Dopamine and endorphins are chemicals released in the brain that trigger responses often associated with pain relief and happiness. The phenomenon known as “runner’s high” occurs when the body is working so hard that it can’t supply enough oxygen to your muscle cells, so endorphins are released to help the body cope. Endorphins and dopamine are highly involved in the brain’s reward pathway, so the release of these chemicals improves your mood.

Exercise improves memory and other brain functions.

The above picture is a scan of brain activity. As you can see, the brain of a person who has exercised recently is much more active than that of a person who hasn’t. During and after exercise, the brain releases several neurotransmitters that activate many regions of the brain, which allows for better memory retention. This increase in brain activity also contributes to an improvement in your ability to focus and process information. If you’re having a hard time focusing on an assignment, just a short workout can be enough to get your brain where you need it to be to perform more efficiently.

Regular exercise improves heart and lung health.

Exercising encourages your heart to pump more blood as efficiently as possible to get oxygen to your muscles. As the heart becomes stronger, your risk for potentially fatal coronary diseases decreases. In some cases, exercise can help reverse dangerous health conditions. Exercise also improves the health of your lungs. Have you ever been short of breath after climbing a set of stairs or straining yourself physically? That’s because your lungs are not taking in oxygen and using it as effectively as they could be. Regular exercise has been found to greatly increase aerobic capacity. If your heart and lungs are healthier, the rest of your body, which depends on oxygen intake and transport, will be healthier, too.

Learning to exercise is super important, and nobody should ever feel discouraged from exercising just because they are not losing weight or because they don’t look like “fitspo” models. Even just ten minutes of exercise a day can benefit your mood, mental health, and physical health. Exercising is proven to be an effective way of managing stress and anxiety. I also want to emphasize that going to the gym is not the only way to health and fitness. Exercise can be something as simple as walking instead of taking the bus, choosing the stairs over the elevator, taking a moment to do a few yoga poses or creating a short cardio routine (jumping jacks, high knees, etc) to get the blood flowing. Your body and mind will thank you.

 

Sources: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/exercise-happiness2.htm

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

http://nutritionstudies.org/exercise-and-cardiovascular-health/

Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4

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