photo by mikebaird
There’s a saying, “Use it or lose it.” That’s pretty much why exercise is good for you. But that’s just the short answer. The details of what actually happens in your body are truly amazing and, I think, super motivating. Here’s the the rest of the story you won’t want to miss!
[This article is going to motivate you to exercise more. So here's the obligatory, but important, cautionary note. If you are going to start an exercise program, you should have the OK from your doctor first to make sure that you don't have any potential heart or other health issues.]
How Exercise Makes You Stronger and Healthier
The very first day that you start your exercise program, you will be healthier than you were yesterday. Why? Because your body immediately responds to the exercise by building new cells and tissues to support that exercise. It gets ready to better handle the exercise you will do tomorrow. Isn’t that amazing!?
There are several marvelous ways that your body changes when you begin a consistent aerobic exercise program. All of the improvements your body makes increases your VO2 Max, which is a measurement of of your fitness level. Specifically, VO2 Max measures the volume of oxygen a person can consume in one minute exercising at maximum exertion.
Here are the incredible changes you’ll see in your body:
When you train over a period of time your heart will grow in size, allowing it to pump a larger volume of blood with each stroke (or pump). This allows more oxygen to be delivered to all the cells in your body. At the same time, your heart also becomes stronger and more efficient at pumping blood.
In response to your muscles needing more oxygen, your body will grow more capillaries to deliver more oxygen faster going forward. Isn’t that cool?! In addition, over time, regular exercise will make your blood vessels become more flexible allowing them to deliver more oxygen rich blood more efficiently. And if that wasn’t enough, the increased blood flow in your blood vessels serves to clean out excess cholesterol, keeping you free of clogs which can cause strokes and heart attacks.
Red Blood Cells
As you exercise each day, your body says, “OK, I get it. You need more oxygen. Alright, turn up the red blood cell production!” As your red blood cell count increases so does your ability to receive more oxygen more efficiently.
This improvement is very cool too. In each of the cells in your body there are these little power machines called mitochondria. What they do is produce energy by combining oxygen and glucose (or other fuel molecules). This combination produces ATP which is the molecule that gives your cells the energy they need to do their cellular work. When you exercise regularly, guess what happens? Yup, your body creates more and stronger mitochondria in each of your cells, making you more powerful and giving you more endurance for everything in your life! Wow! How exciting is that!?
When you use your muscles beyond what they can handle, either through aerobic exercise or weight bearing exercise, it causes your body to build new muscle tissue. Tiny tears can occur with weight lifting, and when these tears are repaired, this is what causes the muscle to become larger and more defined. Larger, stronger muscles will raise your metabolism making weight management easier.
Your VO2 Max
If you want to test your VO2 max, a simple way to do this is to perform the Rockport Walking Fitness Test. It is well regarded as an accurate way to measure your VO2 max. If you can’t get your heart rate above 120 with fast walking, here is a similar jogging test. (Again these tests should only be done with your doctor’s approval.)
What Kind of Exercise is Best?
The best kind of exercise is the kind you do everyday for 30 minutes, whether consecutive minutes or broken up throughout the day. You should aim for a target heart rate of 55-85% of your max heart rate. Here’s the formula to calculate your maximum heart rate:
Maximum heart rate = 208 – (0.7 X your age in years)
Example: If you are 40 years old, then your maximum heart rate = 208 -(0.7 X 40)= 180.
Moderate activity level would be between 99 – 126 beats per minute.
Strenuous activity level would be between 126 – 153 beats per minute.
So it doesn’t matter if you walk or run, bike or swim, play tennis or rake the yard. As long as you do it everyday and get your heart pumping you will make yourself healthier every day. The only advantage that running has over walking is that you can burn more calories in a shorter period of time. But, the advantage of brisk walking is that it is easier on your joints than running. So just choose whichever activity you like better, and go for it!
Another thing to keep in mind is that you have to stop in the middle of your exercise, don’t fret. As long as you finish it later, it’s fine. You can do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. Everyone has time for that right?
My soon to be released book on healthy living will have more information on healthy exercise. In the meantime, all you need is a pair of sneakers and you’re good to go. Vary your exercise every so often for a new muscular challenge and also for fun. Here are some other aerobic activities you can try:
- cross country skiing
- strenuous yoga
- jumping (jump-rope or mini-trampoline)
Additional Exercise Resources
For more information on how exercise improves your fitness level visit Nova/Marathon Challenge.
For more information on how to incorporate exercise into your life without breaking your schedule or too much sweat, check out this excellent book by Harvey B. Simon M.D., associate professor of medicine, Havard Medical School:
- The No Sweat Exercise Plan: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, and Live Longer Gives you the science behind which exercise plan is best for health and weight loss, with sensible ways to incorporate it into your life.
What say you? Any exercise testimonials out there? All comments big and small are very welcomed!
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