If your health is your wealth, then consider physical exercise as currency. Exercise is vital for maintaining good health and is a powerful tool for the prevention and management of mental and physical illnesses. Moreover, physical exercise offers a multitude of positive benefits from mood boosting to improved cognitive function.
Physical health benefits
Exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight and can help prevent health issues such as Type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease. Regular exercise improves lung capacity, helps the heart and blood circulatory system become more efficient, and boosts high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (commonly referred to as ‘good cholesterol’) and decreases ‘bad cholesterol’ (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol), which helps to keep your blood flowing smoothly.
Weight bearing and resistance exercises are also important for building and maintaining bone density, with physical inactivity linked with higher risk of osteoporosis. Exercise is a protective factor for neurodegeneration and is important for overall brain health; regular exercise plays a key role in cognitive functioning, such as attention and memory, and mental alertness, which in turn improves our capacity for emotional regulation and psychological resilience, contributing to better mental health outcomes.
Mental health benefits
A natural mood booster, exercise has been shown to effectively reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Neurochemical factors of exercise include reduced levels of stress hormones in the body, such as adrenaline and cortisol, and the release of chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins serve as an analgesic, reducing our perception of stress and pain, and they also produce positive feelings.
Exercise also improves sleep quality and duration, which is crucial to our physical and mental wellbeing. Sleep allows our bodies to repair and heal; when we are sleeping, our brains consolidate memories, process information and eliminate toxic waste. Poor sleep is linked with physical problems such as a weakened immune system and reproductive issues, in addition to decreased brain functioning and mood disorders. Zevo Health host a range of wellbeing trainings, including sleep, which are designed to enhance the wellbeing of every attendee.
Psychological and behavioural factors also influence the emotional benefits of exercise; the sense of accomplishment can lead to increased self-esteem and body confidence, which may cascade into engagement in other positive health practices and mitigate maladaptive behaviours such as social withdrawal.
Current HSE guidelines advise that healthy adults should aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per day, five days a week (or 150 minutes a week) at a minimum. Oftentimes getting started can feel overwhelming, particularly if you are experiencing negative mood or depression, resulting in a lack of motivation and/or self-belief. Try setting small goals that feel manageable for you in your current capacity – once you begin to move and establish a routine, you can build from there and expand your goals in accordance with your progress. Setting goals is an important part of sustaining motivation in the long run, and tracking your progress introduces accountability and feedback which can improve your likelihood of success.
Remember, where or how you start doesn’t matter, the important thing is simply to start!
Note: Always check with your physician before starting a new exercise regime, particularly if you have health concerns or have not exercised for a considerable period.