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6 miles of running = 600 calories burned.
40 minutes on the elliptical = 400 calories burned.

For many years of my life, that’s how my mind worked. Miles of running and minutes on the elliptical translated to calories burned. And calories burned meant I could lose weight quicker and/or justify an extra portion at dinner.

When it comes to exercise, though, my sole motivation for weight loss was simply a product of the conventional wisdom and advice subscribed to by SO many of us.

“Want to lose weight? Eat less and move more. It’s a simple math equation of calories in, calories out.”

Well, weight loss is not that simple. Hormones, genetics, current health status, stress levels, emotions, etc… these are all woven into the equation of our biochemically unique metabolisms.

Moreover, the greater PURPOSE of exercise portrayed in the news and media has been whittled down to nothing more than vanity.

While it’s true that weight loss may be a byproduct of exercise, we’re missing SO many bigger picture reasons of health to engage in exercise. And, Heavens to Betsy, 60% of Americans struggle to exercise beyond 10 minutes per WEEK.

My hope is that one (or more) of these reasons resonates with you, sparking a motivation to exercise with a deeper and greater purpose.

1) Exercise is part of our genetic wiring for optimal health.

As humans, we are wired to move. Our ancestors walked a LOT, sprinted occasionally (while hunting), and took part in weight bearing activities via carrying animal carcasses and children, climbing trees, and the like.

Unfortunately, since those early times, our genes have hardly budged from their imprint. Yet, we’ve managed to architect exercise out of our lives in so many ways. As a species, we NEED to move to achieve optimal gene expression.

The good news?  Even a single workout can set off a chain reaction of health benefits, favoring positive genetic expression (Ericson, 2013).

2) Exercise is spiritual.

Your body is a gift that is to be honored:

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”                      1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20

Simply put, when you exercise and care for your body, you glorify God. Pretty simple and amazing, huh?

3) Exercise fuels your metabolic machinery. 

An important health biomarker is your resting metabolic rate (RMR), or how many calories your body burns while at rest.  RMR is the largest component of our daily energy budget. Therefore, any increases in RMR in response to exercise are of huge benefit (Speakman & Selman, 2003)!

After all, muscle burns 6 calories per pound per day, and fat burns only 2 calories per pound per day. So, the greater the muscle you have, the more your machine will burn at rest, fueling a strong metabolism and supporting healthy body functions!

4) Want strong bones? Exercise.

Osteoporosis affects 10 million Americans and counting, characterized by deterioration of bone tissue, and a susceptibility to fractures. Physical activity in the form of both weight bearing and strength training have been shown to increase bone mineral density and decrease the rate of bone loss that occurs with aging, though! This is because it places a mechanical strain on the bone, stimulating the formation of more bone. It doesn’t end there: for the musculoskeletal benefits:

“Bone density, posture, muscle strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and balance all improve with exercise. There is reduced risk of falling and fracture with an active lifestyle, which helps people live independently and maintain a better quality of life” (Zarowny, 2011).

5) Exercise = Greater independence as an elder.

Up to 75% of older Americans are insufficiently active to achieve health benefits, which is remarkable considering that regular exercise has been shown to decrease mortality in older adults (Nied & Franklin, 2002).

Second, regular exercise and strength training afford huge advantages that translate into maintaining independence: Being able to perform daily life activities, bone preservation, a reduction in the risk of falling, and the ability to get on and off the toilet. 🙂

As a prime example, my grandfather was extremely active throughout his whole life. I remember him playing 18 holes of golf regularly well into his ‘80’s, and he was able to drive (albeit scarily) into his early ‘90’s.  Similarly, my husband’s grandfather constantly moved and used his body, and boasted a remarkable physique well into his ‘80’s. He, too, drove until he was 90 years of age.

The “Godfather of Fitness,” Jack LaLanne, is an inspiring example of this, too! He lived to be 96 years of age, performing miraculous feats of strength and keeping his physique until his passing. (See video here for an overview on his life.)

6) Exercise sharpens the mind.

John F. Kennedy said it best:

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”

Indeed, both exercise and strength training play a vital role in maintaining brain and cognitive health throughout life. Want to improve your memory? Studies show that high intensity and high-load training can increase the volume of brain structures important for memory (Voss, Nagamatsu, Liu-Ambrose, & Kramer, 2011).

Growth of new nerve cells and blood vessels, as well as improved attention, decision-making, and multi-tasking are also beneficial effects from exercise (Voss, Nagamatsu, Liu-Ambrose, & Kramer, 2011).

7) Exercise mitigates stress.

Stress. We all deal with it, and some of us do a better job than others with mitigating its negative health effects. The good news? Exercise is a powerful tool to relieve and better handle stress in other forms:

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” according to Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion (Reynolds, 2009).

8) Exercise makes you feel psychologically GOOD.  

Do you struggle with mood issues and/or depression, like millions of Americans? Exercise. Endorphins, or feel-good brain chemicals, are released following exercise, inducing a positive effect on mood and depression.

In those with major depressive disorder, it’s been shown that those who exercise have improved symptoms and a much lower relapse rate (Babyak, et. al, 2000).

9) Exercise is medicine.

The list of health biomarkers improved with exercise – blood pressure, waist circumference, resting heart rate, etc. – are too long to fully list (King, Hopkins, Caudwell, Stubbs & Blundell, 2009)! Exercise is one of the single, most powerful forms of medicine. Doctors should be writing prescriptions for it!

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Exercise Tips 

I think you get the point about exercise, now!

Whether you’re a beginner or an elite athlete, young or old, busy or with ample free time, here are some of the best ways to engage in regular exercise:

  • Aim to walk or perform low level activity for at least 3 hours each week (biking, walking, gardening, hiking, performing manual labor, swimming, etc.) This mimics our ancestral pattern of movement and helps to promote proper metabolic function. It doesn’t have to be in large chunks of time, too! In fact, it’s best if you integrate it into your daily schedule. Often, I engineer it into my day by walking to and from the grocery store, or getting in 10-minute walks frequently throughout the day.
  • Aim to perform 2 – 3 strength training sessions each week, such as lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises and/or activities (yoga, pilates, etc.). Muscle is medicine, and it doesn’t have to take long to reap the benefits. Even 20 minutes is sufficient!

Exercise Resources

For exercise and workout examples and demonstrations, refer to my posts here:

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Your turn: What are some ways that you’ve managed to work in exercise on a regular basis?

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References

Babyak, M, Blumenthal, J., Herman, S., Khatri, P, Doraiswamy, M., Moore, K., Craighead, E., Baldewicz, T. Krishnan, K. (2000). Exercise treatment for major depression: Maintenance of therapeutic benefit at 10 months. Psychosomatic Medicine. Vol, 62, no. 5: 633-638. http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/62/5/633.short

Ericson, J. (2007). Exercise programs affect gene expression: how a single workout can set off a chain reaction of health benefits. Medical Daily. http://www.medicaldaily.com/exercise-programs-affect-gene-expression-how-single-workout-can-set-chain-reaction-health-benefits.

King, N., Hopkins, M., Caudwell, P., Stubbs, R., Blundell, J. (2009). Beneficial effects of exercise: shifting the focus from body weight to other markers of health. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 43:924-927. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/43/12/924.short.

Nied, R. and Franklin, B. (2002). Promoting and Prescribing Exercise for the Elderly.  American Family Physician. 65 (3): 419-427. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0201/p419.html .

Reynolds, Gretchen. (2009). Phys Ed: Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious. New York Times. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/phys-ed-why-exercise-makes-you-less-anxious/?_r=0.

Speakman, J. and Selman C. (2003). Physical activity and resting metabolic rate. Proc Nutr Soc. 62(3): 621-34. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14692598

Voss, M., Nagamatsu, L., Liu-Ambrose, T., Kramer, A. (2011). Exercise, Brain, and Cognition Across the Lifespan. Journal of Applied Physiology. 10.1152/japplphysiol.00210.2011.

Zarowny, Y. (2011). Osteoporosis: Exercise and Safe Movement. Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Vol. 144, no. 1. http://cph.sagepub.com/content/144/1_suppl/S16.full