Alzheimers. Type 2 Diabetes. Breast Cancer. Colorectal Cancer. Prostate Cancer. Heart Disease. Depression. What do these major health conditions all have in common? Exercise can prevent, lower the risk of, or in some cases even reverse the effects of the condition.
We all know that this is what researchers say but how does exercise actually change us on a cellular level?
Aside from preventing disease I’ve long been an advocate of using exercise as medicine or at the very least to complement it.
Following on from the talk I gave a few weeks ago aimed at Breast Cancer survivors (evidence now points strongly towards using exercise to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back), I’ve collated some of the coolest science snippets about how exercise actually changes us, beyond our skin and bones.
Prepare yourself for some serious dinner party human biology titbits!
- When we exercise our mitochondrial production increases. Mitochondria are the body’s battery cells, they are what give us energy. So exercise literally gives us more energy. [KELLY et al, 2006].
- When we exercise we increase our body’s ability to synthesise protein. This means our body can convert protein much more readily. [HANDS, 2009].
- When we exercise we increase our lean tissue (muscle mass) or sustain what we already have. Lean tissue naturally decreases with age so we can halt the ageing process [HANDS, 2009].
- When we exercise we increase our body’s ability to regulate glucose [Adams, 2013]. This is an important factor in managing diabetes, or reversing type 2 diabetes.
- Exercise helps activate muscle fibres which would otherwise be reduced due to lack of use and age related atrophy (sarcopenia). The best treatment for sarcopenia is exercise. With the right programme, you could see a difference in as little as two weeks.
- Pre-habiliation, so getting strong or being fit before surgery can help operation recovery. This could also be true for some injuries or illnesses.
- When we exercise our body’s natural anti-oxidant levels up-regulate. This helps us to fight off disease. It’s like boosting our natural defence mechanisms.
- Gentle exercise, like yoga or walking can help manage stress. This is measurable through heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is an excellent way of measuring the early signs of stress.
- Any exercise which increases our heart rate for 20 minutes increases blood flow to the heart and the strength of the heart wall.
- Learning a skill helps with myelination. Myelin is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system. Our ability to learn a skill stays with us (although it gets harder as we age). Kids are programmed to myelinate more so they can learn how to survive. They have specific windows of opportunity for doing this such as learning to eat, crawl or walk. Myelin never unwraps (although there are rare diseases like Guillard Barre Syndrome or conditions like Multiple Sclerosis which may cause this). We can enhance myelination by learning a challenging new skill and also by eating foods rich in Omega 3 and B vitamins (think brain food).
- Exercise which is fun produces dopamine, a happy hormone. Some intense exercise also produces endorphins which make you feel good. This can improve emotional health.
- When we exercise we use more oxygen. Oxygen is the natural way to alkalise the body.
- Any movement or simply standing is good for us. Non Exercise Activity Thormogenesis (NEAT) refers to the way our metabolism increases through any activity, not necessarily a specific type of exercise. So our metabolic rate increases just by standing rather than sitting. Brushing your teeth standing up is better for you than performing the same task seated.
And here’s one more thought to leave you with … our cells are constantly regenerating. It’s estimated that human cells are completely regenerated every 7-10 years. All of the above, plus what you eat, drink or expose your body too will affect cell regeneration. Does that motivate you to get moving? It does me.
So there you have it. Human biology to amaze your friends with and proof that what you choose to do with or to your body on a daily basis affects your health.
If you’d like to take disease prevention a stage further, Fit School offer DNA testing. DNA testing can give you a better idea of what foods or exercise are optimum for you (the individual) and how to tailor your programme in line with these results. Tests are currently available at the discounted rate of £190 (usually £270) and Chris is one of a handful of trainers in the UK who offer this type of testing.