Researchers have long been studying physical activities and sports and how exercise affects our bodies both directly and indirectly, results indicate that as well as increasing muscle capacity, physical activity can help to improve stamina, balance, joint mobility, flexibility, agility, walking speed and overall physical coordination. Physical activity also has favorable effects on metabolism, the regulation of blood pressure, and the prevention of excessive weight gain.
What happens to your body when you exercise?
One of the key health benefits of exercise is that it helps normalize your glucose, insulin, and leptin levels by optimizing insulin/leptin receptor sensitivity. This is perhaps the most important factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing chronic disease.
Here are some of biological effects that occur, from head to toe, when you exercise. This includes changes in your:
- Muscles, which use glucose and ATP for contraction and movement. To create more ATP, your body needs extra oxygen, so breathing increases and your heart starts pumping more blood to your muscles.
Without sufficient oxygen, lactic acid will form instead. Tiny tears in your muscles make them grow bigger and stronger as they heal.
- Lungs. As your muscles call for more oxygen (as much as 15 times more oxygen than when you’re at rest), your breathing rate increases. Once the muscles surrounding your lungs cannot move any faster, you’ve reached what’s called your VO2 max—your maximum capacity of oxygen use. The higher your VO2 max, the fitter you are.
- Heart. Your heart rate increases with physical activity to supply more oxygenated blood to your muscles. The fitter you are, the more efficiently your heart can do this, allowing you to work out longer and harder. As a side effect, this increased efficiency will also reduce your resting heart rate. Your blood pressure will also decrease as a result of new blood vessels forming.
- Brain. The increased blood flow also benefits your brain, allowing it to almost immediately function better. As a result, you tend to feel more focused after a workout. Furthermore, exercising regularly will promote the growth of new brain cells. In your hippocampus, these new brain cells help boost memory and learning.
A number of neurotransmitters are also triggered, such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA. Some of these are well-known for their role in mood control. Exercise, in fact, is one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression.
- Joints and bones, as exercise can place as much as five or six times more than your body weight on them. Peak bone mass is achieved in adulthood and then begins to slowly decline, but exercise can help you to maintain healthy bone mass as you get older.
This Is Your Brain During Exercise
“If you start exercising, your brain recognizes this as a moment of stress. As your heart pressure increases, the brain thinks you are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect yourself and your brain from stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This BDNF has a protective and also reparative element to your memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s why we often feel so at ease and like things are clear after exercising,” Leo Widrich writes.
Scientists have been linking the benefits of physical exercise to brain health for many years, but recent research has made it clear that the two aren’t just simply related; rather, it is THE relationship. The evidence shows that physical exercise helps you build a brain that not only resists shrinkage, but increases cognitive abilities. Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing your nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections, and protecting them from damage. There are multiple mechanisms at play here, but some are becoming more well-understood than others. The rejuvenating role of BDNF is one of them. BDNF activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons. It also triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health. Furthermore, exercise provides protective effects to your brain through:
- The production of nerve-protecting compounds
- Improved development and survival of neurons
- Decreased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases
- Altering the way damaging proteins reside inside your brain, which appears to slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease
BDNF and endorphins are two of the factors triggered by exercise that help boost your mood, make you feel good, and sharpen your cognition. As mentioned by Lifehacker.com, they’re similar to morphine and heroin in their action and addictiveness, but without any of the harmful side effects. Quite the contrary!
Take a look at these images, showing the dramatic increase in brain activity after a 20 minute walk, compared to sitting quietly for the same amount of time.
How is physical activity linked to breast cancer?
The relationship between physical activity and breast cancer has been extensively studied, with over 60 studies published in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Most studies indicate that physically active women have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than inactive women; however, the amount of risk reduction achieved through physical activity varies widely (between 20 to 80 percent). Making moderate to vigorous physical activity a part of your lifestyle lowers your risk of cancer and that of other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Moderate to vigorous physical activity is exercise that makes you sweat and your heart beat faster. It includes walking, swimming, cycling, or running. A growing body of research suggests that doing any kind of activity to avoid too much sitting can help lower cancer risk according to a study published online in the journal Cancer.
How does being active reduce my risk of breast cancer?
Physical exercise has been identified as a potential intervention to improve quality of life in women with breast cancer and survivors. Keeping active may also help you to cope with cancer treatment and improve your quality of life, general health and mental well-being, both during and after treatment. Maintaining a healthy weight helps to reduce risk, so physical activity may reduce breast cancer risk by helping us do this. Some studies have shown that physical activity may reduce levels of estrogen in the body – a hormone which is known to encourage the growth of some breast cancers. Other studies have shown that physical activity might help our bodies respond well to insulin which may also help breast cancers to grow.
Long-term studies show that women who engage in moderate to vigorous exercise for more than 3 hours per week have a 30% to 40% lower risk of breast cancer. Moderate physical activity should make you warmer and breathe harder and make your heart beat faster, but you shouldn’t be so puffed out that you couldn’t carry on a conversation. So you can use your physical activity time not only to reduce your risk of breast cancer, but also to catch up on the gossip with friends!
This applies to all women, regardless of family history or risk of breast cancer and the higher the activity level, the lower the cancer risk. However, it is unclear whether a specific activity level must be met to reduce risk. Activity throughout a person’s life is important, but activity at any age may help lower breast cancer risk.
You can find examples of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity physical activities on the CDC Physical Activity Website through this link: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical/pdf/PA_Intensity_table_2_1.pdf
Surviving Breast Cancer
I’ve had breast cancer. Can being physically active help me too?
Consistent evidence from epidemiologic studies links physical activity after diagnosis with better breast cancer outcomes. For example, a large cohort study found that women who exercised moderately (the equivalent of walking 3 to 5 hours per week at an average pace) after a breast cancer diagnosis had approximately 40% to 50% lower risks of breast cancer recurrence, death from breast cancer, and death from any cause compared with more sedentary women. The potential physical activity benefit with regard to death from breast cancer was most apparent in women with hormone receptor–positive tumors.
Another prospective cohort study found that women who had breast cancer and who engaged in recreational physical activity roughly equivalent to walking at an average pace of 2 to 2.9 mph for 1 hour per week had a 35% to 49% lower risk of death from breast cancer compared with women who engaged in less physical activity.
Researchers nowadays are pursuing many leads toward understanding the big picture of exercise and cancer, which undoubtedly will prove to be complicated. There is a lot of ongoing research on physical activity and its effects on cancer. Recent research shows that even light activity can provide some health benefits. Light activity is anything you do to avoid sitting or lying down.
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