Proactive founder, CEO and one of New Zealand’s leading exercise physiologists Brendon Tod explains why physical activity is important to human wellbeing beyond just losing weight, improving strength, improving your health or even as a means of rehabilitation following injury. The benefits of physical activity on our health, wellbeing and performance at work and play are immense and multifactorial.
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Movement. It is a fundamental of life. And physical activity is one of the most important cornerstones of our health and wellbeing. As an exercise physiologist with more than 15 years of experience working with high level athletes and individuals with complex rehabilitation needs, I am often dismayed when people only talk about physical activity and exercise as a way to lose weight, improve strength, improve fitness, your health or even as a means of rehabilitation following injury. Because it is so much more than that. In this short article I want to highlight my top three less-considered benefits of regular and varied physical activity, and what you can do to reap the rewards of those benefits.
Regular and varied physical activity can improve your intelligence. It’s true. Physical activity promotes an increase in neural the connections within our brain and the rest of our nervous system. Many studies point to improved mental performance and even IQ in people who exercise regularly, and exercise can help re-establish neural connections that have been damaged following head injury or even mental health conditions such as depression.
Reduce stress and improve mood. Intense bouts of exercise will encourage the body to release endorphins – giving you a “natural high”. The more we encourage the body to release these “happy chemicals”, the better our body will become at releasing them, and the happier we will become. This leads to long term improvements in mood. In addition, immediately after intense exercise our body will switch into relaxation mode, helping to reduce any stress or anxieties that may be haunting us. This again leads to a much improved quality of sleep following participation in intense physical activity.
Promote a healthy hormone balance: Intense exercise encourages your body to produce hormones that are responsible for tissue growth and repair. This can help you to recover from injury or illness, feel vital and full of energy, and will even prevent the “symptoms” of aging. In fact, some research suggest that reductions in levels of physical activity account for more of the issues faced when we age, than the aging process itself.
In summary, the benefits of physical activity on our health and wellbeing are immense and multifactorial. From improving mood, to strengthening bones, from helping you to become smarter to getting you physically ready for the unexpected; to be at our best we must undertake regular physical activity.
To get the most out of our exercise routine, make sure you vary your routine with new movements that challenge your coordination, balance and flexibility. Make sure that the exercise you are participating in replicates real life movements, and try to incorporate 4 – 12 minutes of high intensity exercise (exercise that gets your heart and breathing rate up) into your routine most days. Don’t be afraid to get out there and push yourself or to try something new!