A growing body of research indicates that even very vigorous exercise in short term --like the interval workouts Martin Gibala is studying is, in fact, appropriate for people with various different chronic conditions, from Type 2 diabetes to heart failure. That's new thinking, because for decades, people with certain diseases and even pregnant women were advised not to do vigorous exercise. Now scientists know that far more people can and should exercise to varying degrees. A recent analysis of more than 300 clinical trials discovered that for people recovering from a stroke, for instance, exercise was even more effective at helping them rehabilitate.
1. Exercise is great for your brain.
Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise changes the structure and function of the brain, but it’s an area of active research. So far, they’ve found that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, feeding the growth of new blood vessels and even new brain cells, thanks to the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF triggers the growth of new neurons and helps repair and protect brain cells from degeneration. It's linked to less depression, better memory and quicker learning. Studies also suggest that exercise is, as of now, the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, a major fear for many Americans.
2. Happier in health.
Countless studies show that many types of exercise, from walking to cycling, make people feel better and can even relieve symptoms of depression. Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine—that dull pain, lighten mood and relieve stress. “For years we focused almost exclusively on the physical benefits of exercise and really have ignored the psychological and emotional benefits of being regularly active,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.
3. Slow your aging.
Exercise has been shown to lengthen lifespan by as much as five years. A small new study suggests that moderate-intensity exercise may slow down the aging of cells. As humans get older and their cells divide over and over again, their telomeres—the protective caps on the end of chromosomes—get shorter. To see how exercise affects telomeres, researchers took a muscle biopsy and blood samples from 10 healthy people before and after a 45-minute ride on a stationary bicycle. They found that exercise increased levels of a molecule that protects telomeres, ultimately slowing how quickly they shorten over time. Exercise, then, appears to slow aging at the cellular level.
7. Shrink Fat cells.
The body uses energy sources, however after consistent aerobic exercise training, the body gets better at burning fat, which requires a lot of oxygen to convert it into energy. “ a key benefit consistent exercise is that our metabolic system gets more efficient, so we are able to metabolize more fat as an energy source,” Gerry says. As a result, your fat cells—which produce the substances responsible for chronic low-grade inflammation—shrink, and so does inflammation.
Older people, too, can benefit from even strenuous exercise. Until now, all the recommendations for increasing bone density have included low-repetition, high-weight types of training, says Jinger Gottschall, associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State University. "But this just isn't feasible for a lot of people. You can't picture your grandma going in and doing that." Luckily for Grandma, Gottschall's team found that lifting lighter weights for more reps improves bone density in key parts of the body, making it a good alternative to heavy lifting.
It's becoming evident that nearly everyone--young, old, pregnant, ill- all benefit from exercise. And as scientists learn more about why that is, they're hoping that those early 20th century missteps--the move away from our being bodies in motion--will be reversed. They're also hoping that the messaging around exercise gets simpler. In fact, some of the best exercise, research is showing, doesn't require a gym membership at all.