During the pandemic, Fitness was labelled as non essential. Here's why it is.

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Throughout the past year or so, things in the world have been shutting down due to the pandemic. Restaurants, movie theaters, concerts and sporting events were some of the businesses affected by the lockdowns. However, in many Countries gyms were closed as well.

Many people noted that not being able to exercise was actually worse for their mental health, and in some countries, doctors were calling on gyms to be viewed as essential instead of recreational due to the many health benefits exercise has.

The majority of us know that going to the gym can add muscle mass, make us faster, stronger, look better and helps us destress.

Whether you agree with gyms being closed or not, let’s take a look at some of the lesser known health benefits that physical activity and exercise provides.

· Mental Health: Studies have shown that exercising regularly can help improve mental health and reduce anxiety and depression. In particular, doing aerobic exercise (such as swimming, running, cycling, dancing) assists the body in increasing blood circulation to the brain, which has an impact on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (or a fancy way of saying the system of your body that causes interaction between the hypothalamus of the brain, pituitary gland and adrenal gland) which in turn helps control mood, assists with memory, helps the body interact with stress and may be a factor in motivation levels. In addition, exercising can help increase your levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which increase your feeling of well-being.

· Cardiovascular health: Frequent exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (which accounts for approximately 25% of all deaths in the United States per year), helps lower blood pressure, increases insulin sensitivity (resistance to insulin sensitivity promotes heart disease, and causes the liver to release more triglycerides into your body) and decreasing your resting heart rate (which means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood and oxygen into your body).

· Bone Density: Various studies have been conducted and concluded that exercise- both weight baring aerobic (such as jogging, stairs, climbing, tennis, etc) and strength/resistance exercises have preserved bone mass and helped stimulate bone growth in the aging population. In addition, exercise improves bone strength in people who have osteoporosis.

· Healthy Aging: Sedentary individuals typically have a higher resting heart rate, higher body fat percentage, and less muscle mass (which equals less strength). According to WHO (World Health Organization), one in every five adults is physically inactive. Due to the aforementioned consequences of inactivity, those that are sedentary have a higher risk of developing chronic conditions and diseases. However, those who take up exercise reduce their risk of developing heart disease by 39%, stroke by 24-45% (dependent on the intensity of activity), and certain types of cancer such as colon cancer by 47%. In addition, older adults who part take in physical activity and exercise increase their body’s physical ability to function and thus, reduce their chances of having falls.

· Immunity: During moderate exercise, research studies found that there is enhanced recirculation of the cells that make up your immune system (anti-inflammatory cytokines, NK cells, T cells, B cells). All of these cells and their activity are crucial to immune defence and metabolic health. Basically, while exercising your body is induced to a small amount of stress, which is good for your and helps your body build up its defence systems (unlike having chronic stress, which would do the opposite). In addition, exercise has been shown to help diversify your gut microbiome, which plays a huge part in our immune system. The more diverse your microbiome is, the better your health is.

· Life Expectancy: As touched on above, due to the various benefits physical activity has on heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and other factors, all-cause mortality decreases by approximately 30-35% in physically active persons. However, to add to that, there have been several studies that concluded that those who are physically active may increase their life expectancy between 0.4-6.9 years. The majority of these benefits come from aerobic exercise, however getting in any kind of exercise, such as weight lifting or anaerobic exercise can still increase your life expectancy by a few years.

The above mentioned benefits are just some of the few of ways in which physical activity and fitness are imperative to health.

Humans are made to move and the more we move, the better we feel physically and mentally. So whether you enjoy a hard session in the gym, a brisk walk on your favorite trail, or playing sports, you’ll improve a whole lot more than just your mood or appearance.


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