By Dr. Magdy Badran
If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented. Exercise has been linked to better brain health and emotional well-being. Exercise boosts physical, mental and emotional health.
Physical inactivity is a global public health problem. It is the fourth leading risk factor for global death, after high blood pressure, smoking and high blood glucose and levels of physical inactivity are rising in many countries. Around 3.2 million deaths per year are due to physical inactivity.
The current levels of physical inactivity are partly due to insufficient participation in physical activity during leisure time and an increase in sedentary behavior during occupational and domestic activities. Likewise, an increase in the use of “passive” modes of transport has also been associated with declining physical activity levels.
Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases and has a negative effect on mental health and quality of life. The global prevalence of insufficient physical activity was 27•5% in 2016. If current trends continue, the WHO 2025 global physical activity target (a 10% relative reduction in insufficient physical activity) will not be met.
Exercise boosts immunity
Just like eating a healthy diet, regular physical activity contributes to overall good health and, therefore, a healthy immune system. Regular exercise can enhance vaccination response and boost the immune system. Exercise promotes efficient blood circulation, which keeps the cells of the immune system moving so that they can effectively do their job.
The stress hormones can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. Exercise may limit the effect of stress. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.
Stress is linked to headaches, infectious illness (e.g. ‘flu), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, and gastric ulcers. When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced.
Those who report high levels of stress are more likely to become infected. Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system as a person may use unhealthy behavioral coping strategies to reduce their stress, such as drinking and smoking.
Exercise boosts brain power
Research is finding that as we age, exercise may be able to help keep our brains healthy.
Regular exercise may play an important role in protecting our brains from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and may help improve brain function and symptoms such as depression or anxiety in those who have these conditions.
Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Exercise helps us sleep like babies
Exercise may improve sleep in people with insomnia. Exercisers sleep better and non-exercisers are the sleepiest and have the highest risk for sleep apnea. Getting enough sleep can protect the brain from damage. Poor quality sleep has been linked to a wide array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression.
Exercise improves mood
Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.
Exercise helps chronic depression by increasing serotonin which helps your brain regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. Exercise increases your level of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
Endorphins act as analgesics, which mean they diminish the perception of pain. Unlike morphine, the body’s endorphins do not lead to addiction or dependence.
Less screen time
You might like to do your exercise in the controlled environment of a gym, but there are always plenty of opportunities to be active outside. You might like to try to spend more time walking or cycling to work, gardening, cleaning up the yard, or doing other activities that get you moving and away from your computer or television.
There are so many benefits to exercising outside. A surprise benefit of green exercise is that exposing your body to plants can also improve your immune system. And unlike going to the gym, it’s all free.
Even five minutes of exercising in nature can lift your mood. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can concentrate more easily after walking through a park, compared with walking through a residential neighborhood.
Exercise and asthma
People with asthma should not avoid exercising. As long as asthma is under control, exercising is recommended to keep your lungs and body in good shape.
Exercise can strengthen breathing muscles, boost respiratory mucosal immunity and keep healthy body weight.All of these benefits can improve asthma in the long run.
If you have asthma that’s triggered by exercise, take your medications as directed and take a bronchodilator inhaler fifteen minutes before you exercise.Before exercising, warm up slowly by walking, stretching, and doing other low-level activities.
After you’ve finished exercising, cool down slowly for at least 10 minutes. Don’t stop exercising all of a sudden. Give your body time to adjust. Protect yourself from other asthma triggers while you’re exercising (cold air, smog, and pollen).
Other health benefits
Moderate exercise also has an abundance of other health benefits, like controlling hypertension and diabetes. Moderate exercise can provide antioxidant protection and promote blood flow, which can protect your skin and delay signs of aging. Recent research studies show exercise significantly improves cancer-related fatigue.
An exercise program for you
Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, especially if you’re a man over 45, a woman over 55, or have cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or a family history of heart disease.
A complete, safe and effective fitness program must include aerobic exercise, muscular strength and endurance conditioning and flexibility exercise. Aerobic exercise does good things for your cardiovascular system and is an important part of weight management.
Muscular conditioning can improve strength and posture, reduce the risk of low-back injury and is an important component of a weight-management program. Flexibility exercise is needed to maintain joint range of motion and reduce the risk of injury and muscle soreness.
Walking, jogging and jumping rope are good forms of weight-bearing aerobic exercise. There is also non-weight- bearing aerobic exercises, such as bicycling, stationary cycling, swimming, and rowing. Light to moderate exercise is as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
How long should you exercise?
If you are healthy, you should aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily (or three 10-minutes sessions per day) for general health maintenance. In general, 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week is enough to help boost your immunity.