You hear it all the time: “Exercise is good for you.” But what exactly does that mean? What constitutes “exercise” and what’s so good about it?
Let’s first distinguish between activity and exercise. Activity can take many forms from doing your laundry, biking to work or playing Frisbee outside. Staying active takes energy and burns calories, circulates blood, and helps to reduce stress. So staying active will give you many of the benefits of exercise, but just not to the same degree as actual exercise.
Exercise is an activity that is undertaken specifically for its own benefits (weightlifting, aerobics, Pilates), or to practice a sport (basketball, gymnastics). More benefits come from exercise.
So exercise is an activity that offers a lot of health benefits, but not all activities are exercise. You end up having to stay pretty active if you want to avoid doing actual exercise. In other words, the more vigorous or intense an exercise is, the less time you have to spend doing it, and vice versa. The younger you are, the easier it is to stay active: sports at school, biking or running around the neighborhood, P.E. class. There was no need to do pushups or head to Zumba class. But as you get older, you kind of get too cool for school, settling into more sedentary activities like hanging out with friends, watching T.V., going out to eat, and perhaps you even have a job. So while you’re busy, you are probably less active. So it becomes more and more necessary to make exercise part of your life.
It’s much easier to adopt great habits while you’re young than when you get older. Furthermore, adopting a healthier lifestyle when you are younger pays off in your later years. The benefits last longer.
Experts suggest that young adults get at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous exercise each week. Here’s are some reasons and motivations (with links to more info) to help you get started down the fitness path:
- You know you want it. “In a recent study on adolescent perceptions surrounding physical activity, James Gavin, professor in Concordia University’s Department of Applied Human Sciences, found that teens are just as aware of the mental benefits of exercise — such as increased confidence, self-esteem and autonomy — as they are of physical benefits.”
- Empowerment for lifelong benefits. The briefest Google search will provide plethora examples of using fitness programs for empowerment. Assuming responsibility for one’s own health and the subsequent commitment to a fitness program puts “tools in the toolbox” that unlock one’s fitness potential. If young adultsunderstand the elements of health and fitness, and learn how to implement them, they will have the keys to fitness for the rest of their lives. Exercise programs are an effective means of empowering teens and young adults and provide health benefits for their lives.
- Coordination and skill development. The young adult brain is still developing. Exercise that accentuates focus and concentration has been shown to develop a greater neural network. Essentially this is good old fashioned skill building, but it is believed that through this mechanism, overall cognitive function is improved. See “Enhanced Cognitive Function” below.
- Reduces depression. “Physical activity is being increasingly recognized as an effective tool to treat depression. New research has taken the connection one step further, finding that moderate exercise can actually prevent episodes of depression in the long term. This is the first review to focus exclusively on the role that exercise plays in maintaining good mental health and preventing the onset of depression later in life.” University of Toronto
- Optimal fitness and health. “Even with minimal moderate exercise, teens self-report improvements in perceived scholastic competence, social competence, and several markers of body image including appearance esteem and weight esteem.” Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute
- Prevention of chronic diseases. Getting regular, moderate-intensity exercise may be critically important for men and women who want to reduce their risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases, according to a study led by the Public Health Sciences Division’s Dr. Anne McTiernan.
- Enhanced cognitive function. While those benefits are more obvious later in life, it is believed that exercise programs, especially those started early, can provide lifelong cognitive benefits. (Read here, here, and here, ”The present review of research findings suggests that systematic exercise programs may actually enhance the development of specific types of mental processing known to be important for meeting challenges encountered both in academics and throughout the lifespan.”) “Physical activity has benefits beyond improved grades, too. Basch extrapolates current research and connects physical activity to absenteeism, drop-out rates, and social connectedness.” How Does Physical Activity Affect Academic
- A way of avoiding a potential pitfall of at-risk youths. Early-life adversity is directly associated with increased risk of metabolic disorder. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism concluded “These findings suggest that these adipomyokines may play a role in the pathogenesis of metabolic abnormality in a population with significant early life adversity.” Kyoung Eun Joung, et al. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2014; jc.2013-3669 DOI: 10.1210/jc.2013-3669. Exercise, however, improves metabolic function and may guard against metabolic abnormalities. “Irisin, a novel myokine, may be involved in the regulation of metabolic function.” Blüher, S., Panagiotou, et al. (2014), Effects of a 1-year exercise and lifestyle intervention on irisin, adipokines, and inflammatory markers in obese children. Obesity. doi: 10.1002/oby.20739
- Stress Reduction. The physical benefits of exercise—improving physical condition and fighting disease—have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active. Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate. Anxiety and Depression Association of America