Several people believe hat weight loss is the main reason why exercise is important; They’re distracted by the minutiae instead of focusing on what matters.
“I’m thin – I don’t need to exercise.”
I was checking out workouts on Youtube the other day when I came upon the video of an overweight mother in her 30s. She said that when she first decided to lose weight, she joined a gym. She expected to find other people like her at the gym – overweight folks trying to lose weight.
Instead, she found thin people! She went into detail about how shocked she was. Why were those people there? Why did they exercise? They were already thin, so they obviously didn’t need to exercise. It didn’t make any sense!
This woman belongs to a shockingly abundant group that believes that the primary function of exercise is weight loss. In her eyes, the only reason to exercise is weight loss.
By thinking that exercise is only something you do to lose weight, we’re totally missing why we should be really exercising.
And the main reasons to start exercise have actually nothing to do with weight loss.
By only focusing on weight loss, we’re downplaying everything else.
By not realizing what exercise can do for us, we end up trying to get health benefits using all sorts of different things that often don’t work at all.
- Too many supplement claims are bogus. Some are even dangerous. Several people take supplements just because they think they’re good for them, not because their doctor suggested that they do. In these cases, you can’t make up for what you’re missing in health benefits by not exercising by arbitrarily taking supplements.
- Eating “organic” has absolutely no benefits at all – organic is not safer and it’s not more nutritional either. (Organic is actually worse for the environment…)
- Detox diets don’t actually help you detox (your liver and kidneys take care of that.) Please read this before you start a detox diet plan.
- We eliminate sugar because “we’re addicted to sugar” (we’re not)
- We cut out dairy because “dairy causes inflammation” (it doesn’t)
- We start following (arbitrary) “eat clean rules” (sorry, avoiding GMOs doesn’t mean you’re eating healthier)
- We focus on minutiae: we choose grass-fed beef over conventional because we think it’s healthier while in reality we pay more while getting no value.
All in the name of health. All while not exercising regularly.
Let’s stop here for a moment and imagine that neither weight loss nor toning up play a role in your decision to exercise. Setting those aside, why would you even do it?
Ok, some people do enjoy breaking a sweat. But many others would rather do other things than exercising.
With weight loss and looks getting out of the equation is exercise still worth your time? Is exercise worth the time you could be spending with your family? Or resting with a good book?
Sciences’s answer is hands down yes. “I have had a lot of patients who implemented exercise (without much diet change) only to barely lose weight,” said obesity and family physician Dr. Spencer Nadolsky when I asked him about his experience with patients who start to exercise but don’t lose weight, “but had tremendous improvements in their blood sugars, blood pressure, and overall functionality and even mood. From depression and anxiety to even COPD.”
Imagine if exercise was a supplement that you could buy from the store and take daily as pill.
How much would pay for a pill that can dramatically reduce your risk for the leading causes of death – I’m talking heart disease, cancer, and diabetes here. What if that pill also improves life for conditions like arthritis, while also improving your mood, sleep, brain function, and sex life?
And what if unlike the science behind other supplements, the science behind this pill was solid? Like it cannot be more solid that this pill actually does all these things?
How much would you pay to get that for yourself everyday? What about your children? How much would you pay to make sure your kids get that pill on a daily basis?
Now let’s examine (some of) the non-weight loss related benefits of exercise. Give yourself a pat on the back if you’re already regularly exercising! And if you’re not already exercising – but wish you did – don’t feel guilty! You can make exercise a habit by following this guide, or sign up for the Mini Habit Week that starts on Monday and start exercising at home next week!
12 Reasons Why Exercise Is Important, Regardless of Weight Loss.
Why exercise is important #1: Exercise reduces the risk of some cancers by up to 50%.
Really, how much would you pay for this magic pill that:
- Reduces risk of colon cancer by 40% to 50%
- Reduces risk of breast cancer by 30% to 40%
- May decrease the risk of uterine type by 38% to 46% (if you’re a woman)
- Lowers the risk of death from prostate cancer (if you’re a man?)
And when you take into account that a simple ultrasound exam costs upwards of $500 (at least in the US), I bet you’d be paying thousands to get your hands on that pill. 1, 2
Oh and the next time you talk about taking antioxidants to protect yourself from cancer – well, don’t, because antioxidants don’t work but exercise does. As Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK’s news and multimedia manager, says “The antioxidant myth is too easy to swallow.”
Don’t distract yourself by doing things that don’t work, and miss the opportunity to do the stuff that does actually make a difference.
Why exercise is important #2: It keeps your heart strong.
Exercise can significantly drop your risk of the #1 leading cause of death in the United States: heart disease. Heart disease is not just the #1 leading cause of death: It actually kills more people annually than all forms of cancer combined.
When exercise is prescribed and used correctly for heart disease treatment it can 3:
- Drop the risk of dying from heart disease by almost 50%
- Reduce disability and mortality due to coronary heart disease (CHD), diabetes, hypertension
- Reduce triglyceride levels
- Increase HDL, reduce LDL
- Reduce blood pressure (when moderate exercise (i.e., jogging 2 miles a day) high blood pressure is controlled so well that more than half the patients who had been taking drugs for the condition were able to discontinue their medication.)
There are few to no drugs that can make your heart stronger aside from exercise. A strong heart means a longer, good quality life.
Why exercise is important #3: It can also prevent Type II diabetes.
Diabetes; known for elevated glucose levels and the cause of disabilities that severely impact the quality of life. Like the risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), the risk of the onset of this disabling disease decreases significantly with regular exercise. For those already suffering from diabetes, exercise can also help prevent any future complications.
Although the preventive nature of exercise on diabetes is not completely clear, it is likely related to increased insulin sensitivity and improved blood sugar control – both of which can occur without the result of weight loss.3
For example, exercise helps build muscle and muscle absorbs more glucose from the blood without the need for additional insulin – a great way to control blood sugar.4
So, yet another disease that can be prevented by this pill. What else can it do?
Why exercise is important #4: It can make you happier.
Yes, there are drugs that have the ability to do this, like Zoloft. But exercise is found to work just as well as antidepressants when it comes to improving depressive symptoms.5
First of all, it’s ubiquitous and has little to no side effects. Secondly, the sense of accomplishment is like no other. A joyful moment in and of itself. But, it goes beyond this. Exercise releases chemicals in your brain that clear the fog and darkness that depression brings and puts the color back into the world.
Unfortunately, it appears that less than half of patients battling depression are counseled to try exercise in place of drug treatment at their physician visits. 6 This is unacceptable as a study in 2011 showed a 30% remission rate thanks to exercise; a better outcome than drugs alone. 5, 7
Aside from the comparison to drugs, research also suggests that active people are less likely to become depressed.6 Another major reason why exercise is important to our quality of life.
By now this pill is becoming more than a drug, but a weapon against multiple diseases. Can you believe there is more magic to be told?
Why exercise is important #5: It helps your brain function better.
It can even make you smarter? This pill IS magical.
You’ve heard about Omega 3’s and other supplements, typically referred to as “brain food.” Well, exercise is brain food, only it can be free and easily attainable.
Exercise can be used as your new secret weapon towards an A on your next exam or a promotion for good performance at work. It works by increasing the ability to retrieve important memories and making room to learn more.
Here’s the breakdown.
The brain needs to be constantly replenished with a healthy flow of blood. Blood flow significantly increases during exercise, activating nerve cells that release certain proteins like, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF contributes directly to improving cognitive function; specifically learning and memory. 8
Also, while you’re keeping your muscles strong, interconnections throughout the brain are staying strong and strong connections lead to strong mental function as we age.
So instead of cramming for your next exam or staying up until late hours for that work presentation, use your time wisely and exercise for better performance.
Not enough time? Bring your book with you to your workout. Professor Maren Schmidt-Kassow suggests content learned while exercising lightly is better retrieved than learned while sitting quietly. 9
Tell me more!
Why exercise is important #6: It’s a natural pain reliever.
Exercise activates miracle chemicals in our brain called endorphins: natural pain and stress relievers. To relieve the pain, endorphins interact with opioid receptors (the guys that don’t allow pain signals to the brain) to reduce our perception of pain 10.
That’s not all.
Endorphin secretion can also lead to increased euphoria, sex drive, and immune response. The action is comparable to that of Morphine and Codeine. Only this drug does not lead to addiction or dependence. 3
Sounds like a wonder drug to me.
Did you ever wonder why people love to run long distances?
The well-known “runner’s high” is one reason. Due to endorphins that are released continuously during prolonged exercise, a lasting moment of euphoria occurs and runners are quickly hooked.
Why exercise is important #7: It relieves painful symptoms of arthritis.
Exercise strengthens the muscles around joints and hence is especially helpful for those suffering from joint and back pain, particularly the one caused by arthritis.
For people suffering from arthritis in particular exercise may not be the most appealing activity of the day, but if they knew how much exercise could alleviate their pain by controlling inflammation in their joints, they may want to do more of those arthritis-approved water aerobics and strength training.11
Why exercise is important #8: It reduces inflammation.
First, don’t cut out dairy to reduce inflammation. Second, do start exercise if you care about inflammation.
Low-grade inflammation is also a side-effect or complication resulting from infection, hypertension, diabetes, or smoking. The inflammatory response causes arteries and vessels to thicken in order to continue transporting blood. This leads to the condition of atherosclerosis, the most common cause of a heart attack. 12, 13
In other words, exercise prevents injury and reduces blood pressure. Injury and high blood pressure lead to inflammation. Inflammation can cause hardening of the arteries, which commonly causes heart attacks, which ties back to point #2 about exercising decreasing your heart disease risk.
Why exercise is important #9: It improves digestion and gut health.
Some people follow “Ayurveda” to improve their digestion. Only Ayurveda has inconclusive or no scientific backing. Exercise, though, does.
Your digestive tract does a great deal of work to move food through your system. Exercise helps stimulate abdominal muscles that participate in digestion to help the process go smoothly 14. Exercises like running, walking, and biking are great choices to help “things” move along.
In addition to digestion, exercise keeps your gut healthy by preventing colon cancer (I touched on that earlier). Without exercise, intestinal transit time is lengthened, inflammation is increased and your immune system becomes weaker, allowing your body to become more vulnerable to this cancer. 15 Exercise keeps bowels moving regularly keeping your system healthy.
Also, according to Tamar Duker Freuman, RD, in most conditions, the stimulation of bowel muscles from exercise overrules the hype of taking digestive enzymes when it comes to uncomfortable bowels. 16
Now tell me, how much would you be paying for a pill that can do all this? How much would you pay to get this “pill” to your kids and family? But there’s still more this “pill” can do…
Why exercise is important #10: It leads to better sleep.
Let me be clear: exercise, esp. aerobic exercise, done a couple of hours before bedtime is not a good idea. It may give you so much energy it’ll be hard to calm down!
But exercising any other time of the day has been proven to be helpful by actually improving the quality of your sleep, reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, and helping you sleep more.
Research is still being conducted to find out just how exercise brings about this improvement in sleep. Most suggest vigorous exercise will not enhance sleep duration or the time it takes to fall asleep. But moderate exercise, mid-day, may lead to a faster and longer snooze by:
- Increasing body temperature during exercise leading to a drop in post-exercise, promoting sleepiness.17
- By adjusting our built-in body clock based on the time exercise is performed.18
Why exercise is important #11: It improves your sex life.
I can so totally imagine a Nigerian spammer promising great sex if you learn the 10 most amazing exercises for sex for the bargain price of 10,000! Just send the money and you’ll get all the answers!
We’ve discussed many health benefits of exercise already. A combination of a few of those benefits is known to improve your sexual arousal.
Take enhanced mood, add improved blood flow, more energy and additionally, increased hormones, and sprinkle with an erotic stimulus and it’s off to the bedroom.
Research suggests that this enhanced arousal happens 15-30 minutes after exercise. And with an erotic stimulus, blood rushes faster and stronger to the genital areas increasing arousal.19, 20
So you’re turned on and your libido is up. But the benefits are more than that; exercise increases endurance and flexibility which can help wow your partner.
Why exercise is important #12: It helps you live longer.
This benefit of exercise is self-evident; of course if exercise reduces your heart disease, cancer, and diabetes risk then that means you’ll live longer.
What you may not know, is that you may get longevity benefits even if you’re older and not very active already. It’s actually never too late to start exercising. Even with the onset of a cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, or cancer, exercise can increase the survival rate tremendously. All it takes is about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.21, 22
But how much longer can you live when you add exercise to your daily activities?
A study performed by the National Cancer Institute found that life expectancy can increase up to 4.5 years with moderate, leisure-time exercise. Wondering how much you should be doing to get those juicy health benefits? Go here to read how often should you exercise.
I’ve now reached a level where I’m exercising every day, 7 days a week.
Years ago I was not as active. My daily commitment to exercise has only happened after I realized that if I really wanted to live healthy, then I had to make exercise a regular part of my life, not something that happened on and off.
And despite my fear that I would never become like the people who exercise daily, well look at me now, proving my fear wrong. If you’re like I used to be and struggling with making exercise part of your life, then read this guide I wrote to make exercise a habit. Or sign up for the Mini Habit Week that starts this Monday and officially get started with it!
Now if you’re already exercising, then please leave a comment: How do you think your life would be different if you were not already exercising? I know I’d definitely have more weight on, I’d probably eat worse too, and I’d still feel guilty for not doing it…
- Shephard, Roy J., and Robin Futcher. “Physical activity and cancer: how may protection be maximized” Crit Rev Oncog Critical Reviews in Oncogenesis2-3 (1997).
- Pedersen, B. K., and B. Saltin. “Evidence for Prescribing Exercise as Therapy in Chronic Disease.” Scand J Med Sci Sports Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in SportsS1 (2006).
- Macera, Caroline A., Jennifer M. Hootman, and Joseph E. Sniezek. “Major Public Health Benefits of Physical Activity.” Arthritis & Rheumatism1 (2003).
- Colberg, S. R., R. J. Sigal, B. Fernhall, J. G. Regensteiner, B. J. Blissmer, R. R. Rubin, L. Chasan-Taber, A. L. Albright, and B. Braun. “Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes: The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: Joint Position Statement Executive Summary.” Diabetes Care12 (2010).
- Blumenthal J., Patrick J. Smith., and Benson M. Hoffman. “Is exercise a viable treatment for depression?” ACSMs Health Fit J. 16.4 (2012).
- Vanwormer, J. J., N. P. Pronk, and G. J. Kroeninger. “Clinical Counseling for Physical Activity: Translation of a Systematic Review Into Care Recommendations.” Diabetes Spectrum1 (2009).
- Trivedi, Madhukar H., Tracy L. Greer, Timothy S. Church, Thomas J. Carmody, Bruce D. Grannemann, Daniel I. Galper, Andrea L. Dunn, Conrad P. Earnest, Prabha Sunderajan, Steven S. Henley, and Steven N. Blair. “Exercise as an Augmentation Treatment for Nonremitted Major Depressive Disorder.” Clin. Psychiatry The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 72.05 (2011).
- Ballantyne, Coco. “Does Exercise Really Make You Healthier?” Scientific American. N.p., 2 Jan. 2009. Web. 02 July 2016.
- Schmidt-Kassow, Maren, Marie Deusser, Christian Thiel, Sascha Otterbein, Christian Montag, Martin Reuter, Winfried Banzer, and Jochen Kaiser. “Physical Exercise during Encoding Improves Vocabulary Learning in Young Female Adults: A Neuroendocrinological Study.” PLoS ONE5 (2013):
- Al-Hasani, Ream, and Michael R. Bruchas. “Molecular Mechanisms of Opioid Receptor-dependent Signaling and Behavior.” Anesthesiology (2011).
- Skerret, Parick J. “Exercise Is Good, Not Bad, for Arthritis – Harvard Health Blog.” Harvard Health Blog RSS. 2013.
- Pinto, A., D. Di Raimondo, A. Tuttolomondo, C. Butta, G. Milio, and G. Licata. “Effects of Physical Exercise on Inflammatory Markers of Atherosclerosis.” CPD Current Pharmaceutical Design28 (2012).
- Willerson, James T. “Inflammation as a Cardiovascular Risk Factor.” Circulation. (2004).
- Moses, Frank M. “The Effect of Exercise on the Gastrointestinal Tract.” Sports Medicine3 (1990): 159-72.
- Deuker Freuman, Tamara. “Digestive Enzymes: Help or Hype?” US News. U.S.News & World Report, (2013).
- Wolin, K. Y., Y. Yan, G. A. Colditz, and I-M Lee. “Physical Activity and Colon Cancer Prevention: A Meta-analysis.” Br J Cancer British Journal of Cancer4 (2009).
- Horne JA, Staff LH. Exercise and sleep: body-heating effects. 6(1):36-46. (1983).
- “How Does Exercise Help Those with Chronic Insomnia?” Exercise & Insomnia: Natural Remedy.
- Hamilton, Lisa Dawn, Emily A. Fogle, and Cindy M. Meston. “The Roles of Testosterone and Alpha-Amylase in Exercise-Induced Sexual Arousal in Women.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine4 (2008): 845-53.
- Meston, Cindy M., and Boris B. Gorzalka. “The Effects of Immediate, Delayed, and Residual Sympathetic Activation on Sexual Arousal in Women.” Behaviour Research and Therapy2 (1996): 143-48.
- O’Keefe, James H., Barry Franklin, and Carl J. Lavie. “Exercising for Health and Longevity vs Peak Performance: Different Regimens for Different Goals.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings9 (2014): 1171-175.
- Holmes, Michelle D. “Physical Activity and Survival After Breast Cancer Diagnosis.” Jama20 (2005): 2479.