The Health Service Executive (HSE, 2019) initiated a ‘Get active’ programme aimed at promoting the benefits of physical activity which includes; research to show that exercise reduces the feelings of depression and anxiety, increases mood and overall well-being, improves sleep, and enhances energy and productivity levels. Exercise also reduces the feelings of stress felt in the everyday life of a working human.
While we exercise, the body’s adrenaline and cortisol levels are at a peak, playing on the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’ hormones). Because this is a physical stress, once the body stops exercising (stops using the ‘fight or flight’ response), the body then utilises the parasympathetic nervous system which is our ‘rest and digest’ system. In this era, due to work, careers and family stressors, our body is constantly in a sympathetic response which is never peaked or elevated making it constant. By using exercise, we peak this response in order for our bodies to ‘rest and digest’ and enable the body to relax.
As well as the mental and physiological attributes of exercise, research also shows weight training can aid in reversing the onset of osteoporosis (osteopenia) which is prevalent mostly in women aged 50+ in Ireland(HSE,2019). In Ireland, due to our geographical location, we lack sources of vitamin D due to scarce amount of sunlight, and also due to the increase in processed and inorganic food in our diet.
By making simple amendments to our diet and including 30 minutes of exercise a day as per the HSE (2019), we can help reverse these issues along with improving our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Bone density is also increased which in turn makes our bone cells stronger and less likely to break due to medical conditions such as osteoporosis. Other conditions such as hypertension, type-II diabetes mellitus, and obesity can also be reversed through diet and exercise, with the aid of medications in some cases (MAYO clinic, 2019).
In addition to the medical and emotional benefits of exercise, regular physical activity plays a pivotal role in our circadian rhythm which is your body’s ‘internal clock’. This sends signals from the brain to the body as to when it needs to be alert or asleep which some people find difficult to regulate due to the stressors and pressures of everyday life.
By exercising, and which I have also discussed before about putting the body into a ‘fight or flight’ response, the body then gets physically fatigued which then brings on the resting phase post exercise. This then encourages and induces sleep at a quicker pace. By using exercise to regulate your body clock, the productivity of that individual is then increased the following day due to more energy levels (Journal of Circadian rhythm, 2018). This again illustrates the importance of regular exercise along with a balanced diet.