Benefits of physical exercising for the mind and body
There were numerous studies that have proved that physical activity has a positive impact not only on our physical body but also on our minds. Anxiety, stress, depression - exercise seems to help with all of it.
Illustration by Ellis Brown
WHAT HAPPENS IN YOUR BODY WHEN YOU PERFORM A PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?
Whether you are doing cardio or focusing more on strength training, the first thing you will notice while exercising is that your heart rate goes up. Your body increases physical demands as it exercises, forcing the cardiovascular system to work more quickly and efficiently to fulfil bodily needs. The cardiac muscle of the heart will grow stronger over time, as the heart becomes adapted to working harder during exercise. The second important physiological change experienced by the cardiovascular system due to exercise is the reduction of blood pressure, which we know is a key to reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
When you exercise, your lungs and heart are hard at work. Together, they bring oxygen into the body and deliver it to the muscles used. This improves circulation and strengthens the tissue around your lungs, helping them function.
Muscle development, musculoskeletal health, bone density
The most noticeable effect of the exercise is how your body changes its appearance as it builds muscle and reduces the amount of fat stored. The process of building muscle tissue is nothing but regular training that results in your muscle tissue being microdamaged, and then damaged parts replaced with chemicals and nutrients that get sent to the damaged tissue when you recover. This adds to the size of the muscle and its strength. Another reason people start exercising is the effect it has on your musculoskeletal system. Strength training (lifting weights, resistance training) is known to increase bone density in the body, which in turn prevents you from getting fractured or developing musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoporosis. In addition to that, regular mobility exercises reduce the risk of joint problems in old age, as well as improve your range of motion, so you could finally touch your toes easily without bending your knees.
WHAT ABOUT THE MIND? HOW DOES EXERCISE AFFECT IT?
It has been known that not all people go to the gym to get the perfect beach body, some of them just want to feel mentally better. And here is why.
Feeling stronger and having more physical capacity may indirectly benefit your sense of self-worth and overall wellbeing.
Exercise helps promote the growth of new neurons in key areas of the brain, including the hippocampus. Some research suggests that this may play a role in relieving symptoms of some psychiatric conditions including depression and anxiety.
The levels of chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, stress hormones and endorphins, increase when and after you exercise.
Being in the process of exercising, your attention shifts from your thoughts and worries to the activity you are performing, which just like meditation can give you a new perspective on your life.
Exercise increases your energy levels.
And it helps you to sleep better (mind the time of the day you are exercising).
Exercising is an effective way to break the cycle of stress. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
SO, HOW MUCH EXERCISE DO YOU NEED?
According to the NHS, adults should do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week, which includes your time in the gym, outdoor activities, team sports, and any other physical activity that makes your heart race and works your muscles.
If you have never tried exercising before, it would be a good idea to find a trainer, or a buddy to start with. And as you build your confidence and make exercise a part of your routine, you will find it easier to commit to the exercise and receive the benefits it will bring.
Always, before you start working out, consult with your GP to make sure you will not harm yourself with certain types of activities.
If the gym is not really your thing, consider other types of physical activity:
Riding a bike
Martial arts training
Etc., etc., etc.
I know what most of you are thinking, it’s crazy, I could never do that, it is dangerous.
First, it is not all crazy. When your body is exposed to the cold stimulus, it releases epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), as well as dopamine, which has a long-lasting effect on the body. Imagine if every morning you got out of bed and felt amazing and ready to conquer the world. How would your life change then? If you want to try, cold swimming in the early morning could be your tool to experiencing that. The levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline will stay elevated in your body for some time after the cold exposure, which will increase your energy and focus. A good morning boost to start the busy day!
Cold exposure also causes the prolonged release of dopamine, which is a powerful molecule capable of elevating mood, enhancing focus, attention, etc.
Second, everyone can do it. It’s been proved by the Iceman Hofman himself, who created the training programme for everyone to expose their body to extreme cold. Read more about it here. If you are the type of person that only goes to hot showers, dresses in warm clothes all year long and can’t put their hot water bottle down for a minute, cold swimming could be extremely beneficial for your thermoregulation. The more your body gets exposed to the cold, which is a big stressor to the body, the better it learns to adapt to the temperature in your environment, so you don’t feel too hot in the sauna, and won’t freeze in an ice bath.
Third, it is all in your mind. How you set your mind is how you come out of the cold. Set it to illness and fear, and there is a big chance you will have a sore throat and cold-like symptoms after the swim. Set it to the health and mental benefits of cold water, and each time you come out stronger, healthier and ready to live your life to the fullest!
Learn more about the physiology of body under the cold exposure from a neuroscientist Dr Andrew Huberman, who talks about protocols and gives practical tips on how to start this type of activity without the risk to your health.
And remember, if you can handle the cold, you can handle the stress.
Find an activity that works for you, and that makes you feel better about yourself. Talk a friend into starting exercising with you. Try different activities, and spread them out evenly throughout the week to get the most benefits. Set your life to feel better, look better, and get the most out of it.
Physiology of Exercise by World of Sports Science https://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/sports-fitness-recreation-and-leisure-magazines/physiology-exercise
Exercise to Build Healthy Lungs https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/ss20181019-build-healthy-lungs
The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise by Katharina Star, PhD https://www.verywellmind.com/physical-exercise-for-panic-disorder-and-anxiety-2584094
Physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64 https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-guidelines/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults-aged-19-to-64/
8 Benefits of Cold Water Swimming by Andrew Wilson https://www.iprshealth.com/news/8-benefits-of-cold-water-swimming/
The Science & Use of Cold Exposure for Health & Performance by Dr Andrew Huberman https://hubermanlab.com/the-science-and-use-of-cold-exposure-for-health-and-performance/