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The Other Reasons
We know of the major benefits of exercise and healthy eating, but there are some lesser-known ones that are in no way lesser.
Photo: Yusuf Belek via Unsplash
I admit it. When I started to really put a lot of effort into working out and eating to support that goal, the reason for it was entirely superficial. I simply wanted to look good. I wanted any sort of competitive edge that I felt I had to have against a sea of single guys in getting the type of attention that would result in a date.
Oh, and feeling better about myself was high on the list as well, though not as high as that main, super aesthetic reason. Ain’t no shame in that my friend.
The health benefits of exercise were way back on the backburners so to say. If they happened, of course that would be great, but if they didn’t, I would’ve been just as happy.
That was the 20-something year old version of me anyway.
Over time, the priorities, and therefore the focus began to shift. There was one particular experience which kickstarted this change in thinking for me.
A moment of truth
Thanks to an anxiety-induced hypochondria, I had developed the good habit of getting annual medical health check. It was after one of these checkups that my doctor was going over the results with me and said in a surprised tone “Wow, you are in excellent health and you seem to have huge vascular reserves. That is because you exercise frequently and take care of what you eat. Keep up the good work”.
That statement ended up making me feel better about myself than any compliment about my physical appearance ever did. At the end of the day, when we are in good health, the more aesthetic motivators kind of fall in line.
My interest in the health benefits of working out and nutrition increased dramatically to the point where it became by far the most important reason for me to toil away at the gym and maintain sharp focus on what I was putting in my mouth.
Better heart health, a leaner physique, the ability to perform physical tasks more efficiently absent of injuries are well-known and immensely valuable benefits of a fit lifestyle, but there are many more, lesser-known ones that can tip the scales towards a better outlook on life. Here are 8 of the ones I've found most interesting - in no particular order.
I love the feeling of having “earned my meal” due to the efforts I put into exercise. It’s a wonderful way to stimulate our brains’ reward systems.
But exercise affects digestion even more directly. The idea of “walking off dinner” is not so far off base, even though to truly “walk off” the average North American portions you’d probably have to cross international borders. The reality is that even a short, relatively easy bout of physical exertion like a 20-minute walk will help greatly with getting the process of digesting your food more efficiently.
Oh, and keep those portions reasonable while you’re at it.
Even a small of amount of exercise can affect blood sugar levels positively throughout the day which helps to move glucose from the bloodstream into the muscles.
So, after your biggest meal of the day - why not get some fresh air and start those digestive juices flowing?
2. Making memories
There are plenty of studies available from all over the world that point to the impressive impact that exercise has on cognitive functions. Improved oxygen levels and blood circulation are often credited with increases in brain plasticity.
This happens via increases in the production of cells in the hippocampus which is part of the limbic system and influences learning and memory. Exercise also encourages nerve cells to bind to one another which provides the basis for learning new information.
Like I always say, if you want to be smarter - don’t just read more fascinating articles about health and fitness (wink), but actually do it. Even if it’s just standing up and sitting back down 10 times in a row. Get that blood flowing! Maybe do it right now before you read the next section.
4. Breaking the chains
As a response to pleasure – be it from food, alcohol, drugs or sex – our brain releases dopamine, a.k.a. the “reward chemical”. Dopamine can be addictive and in fact, some people become addicted to the substances that produce it, needing more and more of it to feel good.
Exercise has been shown to be very beneficial here too. In the short term, it effectively de-prioritizes the perceived need for the substance of choice. In the medium term, the brain starts to “re-wire” towards exercise as being the dopamine producer; and in the long-term exercise is effective at improving the many body processes that are disrupted due to addiction to more damaging substances.
As a former smoker and recovering food addict, I can attest to this completely.
5. Being original
Even creativity is bolstered by working out. And it’s not just your thoughts as you’re running on a treadmill, taking a brisk walk in nature or setting a personal best lift at the squat rack that can bring about inspiration.
Research about how exercise can boost creativity shows that both divergent thinking (considering multiple solutions to a problem) and convergent thinking (considering one solution to a problem) had improved in study subjects who exercised as compared to their sedentary counterparts.
6. Getting it done!
People who take time to exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their sedentary co-workers. Even as little as 15 minutes of exercise in a day can make a difference here. You can read more about this very topic here.
7. Gettin’ down!
Mentally, looking good and feeling better about yourself makes you feel sexy and acts as a confidence boost when it comes to getting naked (you know, the original reason most of us start to work out).
From a more physical standpoint, it’s not just direct stimuli like Kegels that can help with setting the sheets on fire. Cardio, core, balance and pelvic floor exercises can dramatically improve one’s amorous acrobatics.
Specifically for men, exercise has been shown to help with erectile dysfunction. Nitric oxide and testosterone are two key factors in managing this common problem and both are most effectively produced with physical activity.
And while we’re on this topic, sometimes the pheromones our nostrils pick up at the gym just get things….going.
Let’s keep doing those Kegels as we move along…
8. Don’t forget those chompers
Exercise for oral health? One of those things most of us wouldn’t even think about, but it’s true.
According to a study in the Journal of Dentistry, physical activity has clear, positive impacts on oral health conditions and lowers the risk of periodontal disease.
Researchers suggest that exercise stimulates the production of cytokines. Those are small proteins that affect the growth of cells that help the body's immune and inflammation responses which in turn reduces the occurrence of the disease by 16%.
Among former smokers who are physically active (raising my hand here), that number rises to 74%!! One more reason to quit.
On the flipside, a separate study found that the risk of periodontal disease increased as bodyfat levels did. Again, something that can be effectively managed by exercise.
The bottom line
It seems that the more research is being done on benefits of physical activity, the more it looks like the list is becoming endless. And I bet that in the future we will see even more tremendous benefits being uncovered.
We are simply not designed to function optimally any other way, no matter where in our bodies and minds we look.
If you’ve read some of my posts here before, you may have noticed a type of mantra:
Nothing you do is a waste of time.
But the catch is the “do” part.
Unless you have a severe physical limitation, there really is no excuse to spend your life with minimal physical exertion. At the expense of sounding overly dramatic, the difference between sedentary and active is literally the road to potential misery or a chance at lifelong wellness.
I hope you choose and stay on the right one every day.
Until next time,
Make your future self grateful for your current self's wisdom.
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