Exercise can make shoulders bolder and waists waspier. It can make the mirror your friend, and elicit compliments from total strangers. Believe it or not, however, there are more important reasons to exercise than how it makes us look! (I know. I had to sit down when I heard that, too.)
Maybe you're motivated to train because you want to look like today's version of Frank Zane or Cory Everson, but it turns out that we're happier, healthier, and much more likely to live longer when we make physical activity a part of our lives.
Whether you're 18 or 80, male or female - you should be exercising. Answer the treadmill's call. Return the power rack's cry. Just get in the gym! Here's why.
1. Exercise Makes You Happier.
The "runner's high" is real! No, it's not just something your friend invented to get you to go running with her. It's been well established that plasma levels of endorphins rise after endurance and anaerobic exercise.
This is significant because, well, endorphins make us feel good! Studies have found endorphin activity to be in overdrive after both treadmill work and weight training. But, according to some studies, "lily lifting" won't get your endorphins flowing.
Apparently, we need some serious training to get the happy hormone coursing through our veins!
2. Exercise Helps Control Pain.
Although long-term pain is generally associated with the elderly, many of us experience enduring pain resulting from our desk jobs, restless nights, or that injury from the sweet tackle you made at the '95 state championship game.
According to numerous studies, exercise significantly reduced intensity of pain in most subjects. The elderly, the middle aged, and the young adults all found relief from pain after making exercise a part of their lifestyles.
3. Exercise Helps You Sleep.
Getting the right number of Zs is an integral part of good health. Several studies concluded that exercise makes for good sleep therapy. When one group of study subjects kept logs for 12 months, those doing moderate-intensity exercise had fewer fluctuations in how long it took them to doze off.
Exercise can also help prevent sleep disorders and improve quality of sleep. Rip Van Winkle had it right: 20 years of uninterrupted sleep does a body good.
4. Exercise Strengthens Your Bones.
According to Wolff's law, bone in a healthy person will adapt to the load it's placed under. In other words, if you lift heavy weights, your bones will get stronger in order to help you bear that load.
Bone tissue has the capacity to adapt its structure and function in response to mechanical forces and metabolic demands. (I only wish my bra would do the same. Now THAT would be a Wonder Bra.)
Doctors recommend physical exercise to improve bone mass in growing children and decrease bone loss in elderly men and women. As we age, our bones become more brittle and more inclined to break.
With strength training, our bones get stronger and are more likely to stay strong through our lifetimes.
5. Exercise Makes Your Kids Happier.
Children often model their behavior after their parents. If you portray a slug sitting on the couch, slurping Dr. Pepper with one hand and stuffing Doritos with the other, it's likely that your child will follow suit.
One study found that overweight children had significant fundamental movement skill difficulties, as well as poorer "physical abilities self-concept perceptions" (picture Junior stumbling around like Mr. Magoo in an earthquake) compared to non-overweight children.
Unfortunately, many studies have found a positive correlation between sedentary parents having sedentary children. If you take care of yourself by adding physical activity to your lifestyle, your child inherits a better chance at living a longer, healthier life.
6. Exercise Helps Your Brain Work Better.
Thomas Jefferson was ahead of his time when he said, "a strong body makes the mind strong." Research shows that children who don't perform physical activity perform poorer on standard neuropsychological tests.
Even in young adults, studies have found a positive association between greater aerobic fitness and brain function. Perhaps SAT preparation should be more like Navy SEAL preparation?
Evidence also supports the notion that aerobic and weight-training exercise benefits cognitive performance, brain function, and brain structure in elderly adults.
7. Exercise Might Help Fight Cancer
The American Cancer Society says that 1/3 of the more than 572,000 cancer deaths that occur in the United States each year can be attributed to diet and physical activity habits. Staying physically active and consuming a healthy diet can substantially reduce one's lifetime risk of developing, or dying from, cancer. (After reading this, I immediately did some push-ups on the office floor).
Among the subjects of 73 studies, there was a 25% risk reduction among physically active women compared to the least active women. Overall, the research to date suggests that physical activity reduces the risk of developing some cancers (particularly of the breast and prostate), helps cancer survivors cope with and recover from treatments, and improves the long-term health of cancer survivors.
It may even reduce the risk of recurrence and extends survival in some cancer survivor groups.
8. Exercise Helps You Live Longer
If you put all of these positive effects together, you get a healthier individual. Healthier people live longer, barring any disease that might stem from genetics or predisposition.
One study concluded that people with a low level of negative emotion and a high level of cardio-respiratory fitness (a measure of how your heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles work together) had a 63% lower risk of premature death than those with a higher level of negative emotion and a low level of heart-and-lung power.
Unless you have a cryogenic freezing chamber in your basement, exercise is a great way to add some years to your life.