Exercise is not the most important thing when it comes to losing weight.
People who want to lose weight tend to think the more they move the more weight they will lose. This falls under the myth that our weight is controlled through the amount of calories we consume vs. the amount of calories we burn.
You can’t simply outwork a bad diet. The fact is if you want to truly lose weight, paying attention to the quality of your nutrition is essential. But that is the topic for a future post.
Exercise, while not the most effective weight loss tool, plays a vital role in living a happy and healthy life. Below we will take a look at the positive impact exercise brings to the table.
- Increased Strength
- Increase Mobility/flexibility
- Injury prevention
- Increased bone density
- Improves Cardio-vascular function
- Improves Coordination
- Metabolic effect
- Mental health
It is necessary for us to exert forces onto objects in this world. We require to generate force when we walk or try to lift a 300 lbs barbell. Hell we need to generate force just to keep our spine erect and stable.
Our muscles are what allow us to generate force. It is through exercise that we are able to develop the muscle strength so we can exert force to manipulate objects and be able to move.
Athletes require the most force production. Things like speed and power require athletes to be able to manipulate the ball, ground, their opponent etc. in a variety of ways. This requires a lot of strength and force production from their muscles.
I am not saying everyone needs to be on the level of an athlete, but we should have enough strength to perform everyday tasks like carry groceries or put dishes away in the cupboard.
Technically this could fall under strength as well. Strength is not just about how fast our muscles can contract and relax to generate force, but also the distance the muscle/joint can move.
When we talk about flexibility we talk about lengthening our actual muscles. When we talk about mobility we talk about taking a joint through a full range of motion.
If flexibility and mobility are limited so is our strength. Tight muscles prevent us from efficiently generating force.
Exercise is like the oil which helps us move. Proper exercise should take our muscles and joints through their full range of motion which in turn stretch and strengthen muscles.
Keep in mind, like strength, changes in mobility and flexibility are gradual and you should see results over a period of time.
Exercise helps our body learn how to move properly. Our bodies use groups of individual muscles to perform movement.
Muscle groups are activated by our central nervous system (brain and nerves) to perform movements. These are called motor patterns. The more a motor pattern is trained (muscle activation) the easier it becomes for us to do.
Many times I find that my clients have developed poor motor patterns from years of using wrong muscle groups. This often occurs for two reasons. One being muscle tightness that restricts movement. And two smaller muscle groups take over the workload of bigger muscle groups because the bigger muscle groups are not being activated or are weak.
This is most evident in the hip hinge (or dead lift) movement where people use their low back muscles instead of their powerful posterior leg muscles (hamstring and glutes) which are deactivated or tight from things like prolonged sitting.
Injuries can also effect motor patterns as we tend to compensate by using other muscle groups to perform a task that the injured area usually performs (i.e limping). This is why therapy is important after an injury to strengthen and relearn motor patterns.
Exercise is a way for us to create a controlled environment to re-develop good motor patterns and to relearn proper movement.
Increased bone density
Loading the body with heavy weight helps our bones become denser. Dense bones mean less breaks, and also helps prevent conditions such as osteoporosis.
The combination of strength, flexibility/mobility, increased bone density, and coordination goes a long way to helping us prevent injuries.
Increased cardio-respiratory function
Excuse me as I get sciency for a second.
Exercise helps keep our cardio-respiratory function running efficiently.
Our cardio-respiratory system provides us with two functions.
- Deliver oxygen throughout the body
- Expel the body of acid (carbon dioxide)
Our muscles require oxygen to produce energy so they can exert force onto objects. Blood carries oxygen throughout the body
During exercise we place our body under stress. In a stressed state we need to get oxygen to the muscles quickly. This is why our heart rate increases, because we need oxygen rich blood to keep creating energy to complete our task.
The by product of using energy is acid. Our body doesn’t like being in an acidic state and therefore needs to get rid of the waste quickly through exhalation.
The stressed conditions work to help our heart and lungs work efficiently to get oxygen rich blood into the body, and acidic carbon dioxide out of the body improving the health of our cardio-respiratory system.
Exercise is also great at lowering blood pressure as it requires the muscles to absorb sugar out of the blood to create energy.
Improves metabolic efficiency
More science on the way.
As I already mentioned our muscles require energy to generate force. Oxygen is one way we create energy. Another way is through a natural sugar called glucose.
Glucose is the simplest way for us to make energy. We get glucose from breaking down carbohydrates. Glucose from carbohydrates are found in our blood, but get absorbed and stored in muscles and liver. If all those stores are full that is when they get stored as lipids (fat) in the body to be broken down when our glucose stores run dry.
After an intense workout our muscles need to refill their energy stores so we are ready to perform any task that might come our way.
Glucose can either come from breaking down carbohydrates that we consume, or from lipid stores.
The hormone insulin helps the muscles absorb glucose out of the blood.
Now I can already here you saying “but Steve if our muscles break down fat won’t that mean exercise causes us to lose weight?”
Yes exercise does help us lose weight. But nutrition plays a more important role.
While exercise increases our efficiency to absorb glucose, you can’t continue to overfill the glucose stores in the muscles because then they get stored as lipids. Controlling sugar intake is vital to keeping this in check and no matter how much you exercise you can’t escape this.
Exercise improves mood
Exercise not only helps us physically but mentally as well. Exercise is a great way to deal with stress.
When we exercise it offers us an escape. For a brief amount of time we are able to take our mind off of what is going on in our lives, and are forced to be in tune with our body to hit a PR lift or just get through an intense workout. It’s like a daily mini vacation.
On top of the mini vacation it offers a release. Exercise, especially of the intense variety, requires us to generate force. Exerting our force onto something does wonders to help us relieve stress.
This is why people love to hit the heavy bag after work or scream into pillows. These actions are forceful and help us to relieve pent up stress.
Exercise also helps us release endorphin hormones. Endorphins give us a euphoric feel. Some people call this a “runner high.” These endorphins are natural anti-depressants that allow us to develop more self-esteem and happiness.
Exercise is a great self-esteem builder by itself as well. Seeing ourselves progress by lifting more weight, or performing new movements (or movements we never thought we could do again) plays a major role in improving our mood and feeling happier.
Although exercise might not be the weight loss tool we all thought it was, it plays a vital role in keeping us healthy and happy.