It can be especially hard to start exercising, but it was only 10,000 years ago that humans were on the move 10 to 14 miles every day. Evolution can bring all kinds of beautiful things: we don’t have to travel 10 to 14 miles by foot every day now just to survive. Unfortunately, it’s also brought about a lot of problems, including our expanding waistlines and with them, increasing risks for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more.
Nagging ourselves to exercise doesn’t usually work, but maybe the science behind its importance will make a little more sense in terms of why it’s so essential that we move.
Exercise Makes Us Smarter
Literally hundreds of studies exist that show the importance of exercise in terms of increasing brainpower, but a few are especially significant. One study, of over 2.4 million students in Texas, showed conclusively that kids who exercise more perform better academically. At the top rated schools for academic performance, about 80% of the kids had excellent cardiovascular fitness levels.
The kids in this study proved what we already know: that moving around does improve our brainpower. Even standing up for just a few minutes every hour can be helpful, so if you’re looking for some motivation, take a quick walk around your office. Maybe grab another cup of coffee. Build a few brain cells while you’re at it.
Exercise Makes Us Happier
Many psychologists view exercise as the most underprescribed solution to issues with depression and anxiety. We know exercise makes us feel better, but can it really make us happier? As it turns out, it can. According to one study conducted by Duke University, exercise is as helpful for treating depression as commonly-prescribed antidepressants such as Zoloft. And the studies to back this just keep pouring in.
Exercise affects our neurotransmitters in much the same way as anti-depressants, stimulating the feel-good neurotransmitters in our brains. That fabled “runner’s high”? As it turns out, it’s really a thing. And it works.
“Exercise does the same kind of thing that many of our medicines do. A bout of exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin,” explains Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, noting that, like drugs such as Zoloft, exercise increases the amount of neurotransmitters in our brains.
Exercise Reduces Stress
Exercise also affects our brains by inducing neurogenesis, or the creation of new brain cells. Other factors also come into play to create positive conditions for neurogenesis, such as laughter, meditation and learning, but exercise is functionally the best.
The amazing thing that happens as a result of new cells being created is that this actually works to reduce stress levels. “The fitter you are, the more stress it takes to get you stressed,” reports Ratey. And the Anxiety and Depression Association of America is quick to point to studies that have shown the effects of exercise on patients with high stress levels, stating that even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
Too Old, Too Out Of Shape?
Worried that you are too old or unfit to start an exercise program and see its benefits? Check out 104-year old runner Fauja Singh, who in January completed the Mumbai Marathon. He started his long-distance running career at 81, and in 2012 completed the London Marathon for the first time.
Need some inspiration to get started? Here’s a cool index of activities recommended to get up and get going anytime, anywhere.