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Author: Christian Maino Vieytes, B.S. Nutritional Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, M.S. Candidate, Division of Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Why exercise?

The contemporary context of living has given way to a generation of individuals with sedentary and generally unhealthy lifestyles. Along with these changes, we have seen dramatic rises in chronic illness such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.1,2 It is not merely coincidence that these phenomena have coincided in their manifestation. Large epidemiological studies have demonstrated that at least some form of vigorous daily exercise is associated with decreasing risks of mortality compared to not performing any form at all.3 Disequilibrium in the work-life balance and industrialization of economies in Western societies have culminated with the sedentary posts that the majority of society’s members have been relegated to. Unfortunately, many fail to meet the threshold minimum for daily exercise.

What if I don’t have time?

One may find themselves repeating, “I wish I had time to exercise.” The truth is that obtaining adequate amounts of daily exercise may be easier than one believes. The traditional exercise archetypes that we envision give us the impression of exercise being a strenuous or difficult undertaking. However, it must be underscored that simply getting up from one’s desk and taking a 10-minute walk, a few times per day, may satisfy your daily requirement. The key to incorporating a new exercise regimen involves a gradual approach and setting short-term goals, whereby the level of exercise is augmented slowly.4,5 This may take the form of a 15-30 minute walk in the early phases and may eventually progress to a jog of the same duration. Many are drawn to the practice of yoga, as it unifies both a physical exercise routine with a mindfulness component that has been demonstrated to potentially alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.6

The body’s potential for adaptation to exercise is remarkable. The earliest changes seen involve enhanced capability of red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, enhanced ability of the body’s cells to utilize fat more efficiently as a fuel source, as well as changes to the structure and function of the muscles themselves.7–10 Exercise has also been shown to elevate levels of a key hormone-like molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which has been associated with promoting brain health.11,12

Ok, how do I get started?

The public health recommendations for weekly exercise time are all but absolute. Different health authorities and organizations set their own standards. Generally speaking, the consensus amongst scientists is that we should strive to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week.13 This can be as easy as taking a brisk 30-minute walk five times throughout the week. Other common recommendations often touted by public health campaigns include reaching 10,000 steps per day or engaging in and maintaining a garden!14 The exercise regimen need not be highly structured—the importance lies in moving your body through whatever form that takes.

What are other benefits of exercise?

The benefits of exercise extend beyond that of just physical well-being into the realm of the psychological. Moving one’s body has also been demonstrated to help improve mood and abate the severity of depression in those who suffer from the condition.15 It has also revealed to be an effective remedy for diminishing symptoms of anxiety and for combatting insomnia.16,17 Many of the studies that examine the relationships between exercise and psychological function are novel, and further research in this arena will clarify these findings. Nonetheless, these early results do support a role for exercise in promoting psychological well-being.

We have examined only a subset of benefits that can be accrued through a regular exercise program. Critically, physical movement forms a core component of what we understand to encompass overall wellness and well-being given the effects extended upon different domains of health. As highlighted,  these span from the physical to the psychological and neurological. These are the ingredients to longevity, but more importantly, for living a balanced and healthy life. It is critical to choose an activity that will be fun and provide joy at the same time that it imparts all of the benefits we have discussed. Playing a sport with friends is an ideal way of achieving your daily exercise requirement while at the same time building community. Simply moving our bodies more is what the goal should be.



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