The Many Benefits of Exercise

It’s not new information that exercise and physical activity are important for health and wellness, but we may not know why or what exercise can do for us. Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. Did you know that physical activity not only impacts our physical health, but can have a profound positive impact on our sleep, mood, mental clarity and focus? With all the different types of physical activities out there, it can be overwhelming knowing which exercises to choose and how much to perform.

Exercise and Sleep

It is well known that exercise improves both sleep quality and sleep duration. Exercise affects sleep by raising your body temperature a few degrees, which allows your body to drop back to its normal range later in the day. This drop in temperature triggers feelings of drowsiness and sleep. Physical activity also increases the duration of sleep, particularly deep sleep. Deep sleep supports immune function, promotes cardiac health and helps reduce anxiety and stress. You’ll gain additional benefits if you exercise outdoors as exposure to sunlight helps your body establish a good sleep-wake cycle, dress appropriately to exercise outdoors in our varying Canadian climate.

Exercise and Mood

Exercise stimulates your brain to produces hormones and neurotransmitters which can have a positive impact on your mental health. Regular exercise can improve your mood, energy levels, and create a sense of well-being through the release of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. For even greater benefits, try exercising outdoors (there is a trend here)! Research has found that exercising outdoors boosts both self-esteem and mood, even more so than exercising indoors (although both are beneficial). 

  • Spotlight: Exercise and Depression
    • Exercise is known to help chronic depression by increasing serotonin (a neurotransmitter which helps your brain regulate mood, sleep and appetite).  
    • One study found that after a single bout of exercise, people reported a better mood with reductions in tension, depression, and anger.  
    • Another study found that replacing 1 hour of sedentary time with 1 hour of walking or a 15-minute run reduced the risk of major depression by 26%. 

Exercise and Mental Clarity 

Exercise helps your memory and thinking in both direct and indirect ways. The benefits come from the ability of exercise to reduce inflammation and improve the health, growth and survival of new brain cells. Furthermore, research from the University of British Columbia has shown that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. The indirect effects stem from the fact that exercise effectively reduces tiredness, which in turn increases mental alertness. Those same endorphins that make you feel good also help increase your concentration and make you feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. If you’re feeling foggy – try moving! 

Choosing a Type of Exercise

The best type of exercise is the one you enjoy! If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick with it. There is no one-size-fits-all model; often the best exercise is a mixture of activities.

Common types of physical activity include: 

  • Aerobic Training
    • Aerobic exercises are those that increase your heart rate → running, swimming, cycling, brisk walking, etc.
      • Cardiovascular exercises are what give you the biggest rush of those mood-raising endorphins in your body. 
    • A note on HIIT (high intensity exercise training):
      • Studies have found that short and intense bouts of exercise can be equally as effective as longer endurance type exercise
      • What this means → if you only have 20 minutes to spare, you can still make a big impact! 
  • Strength Training
    • Strength training includes any activities that involve lifting weights (including your own body weight) or using a resistance band
    • This type of exercise targets your muscle mass and has positive impacts on your bone health. Additionally, strength training has been shown to have positive effects on mood! 
    • Strength training, especially in the form of circuits can have an impact by increasing your heart rate
  • Yoga
    • Yoga is a mind and body practice which focuses on physical postures, meditation, and breathing exercises 
    • Studies have shown that yoga can help ease anxiety and improve mood
      • A 2016 study found that regular yoga was beneficial for reducing depression, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

How much Exercise? 

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. 

  • Moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, biking, gardening, etc.
  • Vigorous-intensity activities include jogging, cross-country skiing, etc. 

Being active for these 150+ minutes per week can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. The guidelines also recommend adding at least 2 strength training sessions using major muscle groups to help strengthen your muscles and bones. For you, the 150 minutes could look like 30 minutes of physical activity for 5 days a week, or a couple 10-minute bursts interspersed throughout each day. Find what works best for you and remember that consistency counts! 

If you have any questions about exercise or are looking for more guidance, reach out to the team at Bloom! We are happy to help you get moving.

Camille Poulin Physiotherapist Resident

Written by Camille Poulin, Physiotherapy Resident. Camille’s mission is to empower and support all of her clients to help them get back to doing what they love, and she draws from her education and athletic background, both of which underlie the principles behind her practice and her focus on mindful movement. 

Disclaimer – Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.