The Source of the Physical and Mental Benefits of Exercise

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Some of the benefits of exercise have a logical and obvious explanation; if you burn more calories than you have consumed throughout the week, you have a caloric deficit, which explains your weight loss, for example. The sources of other physical and mental benefits, such as enhanced mood, immunity, bone density and heart health, are subtle and more complex. Understanding them helps you manipulate them to your benefit.

The Physiology of Happiness

  • The psychological effects of a good workout might stem from physiological changes in your brain. Exercise stimulates your central nervous system, which in turn triggers an increase in oxygen to your brain, as well as an increase in "feel-good" neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine and endorphins. Synchronised physical activity in a group setting increases endorphin release, according to a study published in "Biology Letters." The Oxford University researchers reported that the pain thresholds of 12 rowers were higher group training than after individual training. Improved pain tolerance indicates a higher endorphin level. This might explain the increased endorphin release resulting from group exercise classes.

Immunity

  • The enhanced endorphin levels resulting from exercise also boost your immune system and assist in the battle against disease and cancer cells. Regular workouts also increase the circulation of interleukin-1, which in turn increases lymphocyte activity. As the primary cells responsible for your immune system's responses, lymphocytes protect your body against infection and disease. Aerobic workouts add to the immune-strengthening mix by increasing the production of interferons. This team of naturally occurring proteins come armed with antiviral properties.

Bone Density

  • Physically active people have higher bone density and experience lower age-related bone loss.Your bones respond to activity -- or lack thereof -- by increasing or decreasing tissue. The process involves bone-forming osteoblasts and bone-reabsorbing osteoclasts. When you perform weight-bearing resistance training exercises, your osteoblastic activity exceeds your osteoclastic activity. Increased osteoblasts translates into increased bone density. If you allow your body to succumb to sedentary quiescence, the process reverses itself, because you've let the osteoclasts win.

Heart Health

  • During your aerobic workout, your faster breathing pace maximizes the amount of oxygen in your blood. The hastening of your heart rate increases blood flow to your muscles and back to your lungs, while your capillaries expand to bring more oxygen to your muscles and carry away waste products. This activity strengthens your heart and increases its efficiency during your daily activities. Cardiovascular workouts also boost your high-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol levels, which in turn lowers your low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol levels and reduces plaque buildup in your arteries.

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