Spring into action…

Warmer temperatures and longer days mean more time for exercise – and fewer reasons for excuses.

Need some motivation to getback into your exercise routine after winter? Whether your goal is to lose a few kilograms, train for a sporting event, or just improve your general fitness levels, you can be sure that regular exercise will allow you to enjoy far more benefits than initially anticipated.

It’s no surprise that exercise is good for health. Not only do you benefit from regular exercise by losing weight, gaining self-confidence, and improving your fitness, but there’s also a host of more subtle benefits. One benefit that can’t be ignored is the mood-enhancing properties of physical activity. When you exercise, your body releases “feel-good” hormones called endorphins. These endorphins contribute to a better mood, a more positive outlook on life, and decreased stress levels. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, aids in digestion, and assists in excreting harmful bodily toxins (through sweat).

The human body is designed to move, but unfortunately modern comforts such as driving, using public transport, watching television, working at a desk, reading, and other sedentary activities, contribute to major health setbacks in the developed world.

For all our “progress”, our health has regressed, and the only way out of this undesirable state is taking a step (or 10 000*) back and replacing our sedentary activities with a more active lifestyle.

New research reveals the harmful side effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time. Numerous chronic diseases including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer, can be linked to excessive sitting. In elderly people, sitting for prolonged periods of time is linked to at least 35 chronic diseases or conditions, some of which include high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression, back and musculoskeletal pain, and frailty.

If you aren’t convinced yet, here are three life-changing, research-backed benefits of regular exercise:

Exercise boosts brain-power: Hitting the gym is just as essential as hitting the books if you want to improve your cognitive functioning. This is because physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, which allows a continual supply of vital nutrients to be transported to the brain. Additionally, exercise is also associated with a reduced risk of dementia and impaired cognitive function in older adults, and a slow-down in general age-related physical decline. Protective effects of exercise are most prominent when doing a combination of cardiovascular and resistance-training (for example walking or jogging and using light weights or bodyweight to engage muscle groups).

Exercise serves as a natural detox: Numerous research studies confirm the powerful detox benefits of sweating (and what better way to sweat than completing a workout?). Although your body does excrete certain toxins through urine, some toxins are notoriously difficult to remove from your system without sweating. These include persistent organic pollutants (such as solvents, insecticides, and fumigants), phthalate (plasticiser), certain heavy metals (cadmium, nickel, lead, and aluminium), and the infamous hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) commonly found in most plastic products and canned goods. In one study involving 20 patients, sweating was found to be more effective than urine at removing 14 out of the 18 heavy metals monitored in the experiment.

Exercise regulates appetite: When you exercise regularly, your body is better able to regulate food intake (which means you are likely to eat much less in one sitting, and to be more in tune with your natural hunger and satiety cues). This is especially the case in the short term (a few hours after exercise), and proves most effective for moderate- (two to three exercise sessions per week) and high-level (four to seven exercise sessions per week) exercisers. Appetite regulation is crucial in preventing weight gain and obesity. This means that apart from the calories you burn while exercising, you also reap the benefits of better appetite control long after you’ve stopped exercising.

So, what type of exercise is best? Firstly, it is important to enjoy what you are doing to obtain the maximum stress-relieving benefits. Dancing, pilates, running, cycling, swimmingthe list is endless. Conduct some research to find out what local health and sport clubs offer. Most fitness studios and clubs offer a trial period such as one free class, or a per session rate.

This means you can try different activities before committing to one. For maximum benefits, aim to move for at least 30 minutes a day. Some people may find it easier to do one hour exercise three to four times a week. Try to find an exercise/s that incorporates cardiovascular, strength (weight-bearing), and flexibility/stretching training.

Research also points to the fact that exercising outdoors is more beneficial to health than indoor workouts. This is especially true when exercising barefoot (on grass, sea sand, or any other natural earth surface) and getting some sun exposure. Be careful not to exercise during peak sunlight hours (10am to 3pm) to prevent dehydration, sunburn and sunstroke. Lastly, be patient with yourself – building up your fitness levels takes time and dedication. Remember, each day that you exercise means you are one step closer to a fitter, stronger, healthier you – regardless of where you start.

*10 000 is the popularly-accepted number of steps that a person should aim to walk in a day (roughly equivalent to 8km).

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