While many associate the idea of health and exercise with the typical fit man or woman portrayed in advertisements, real health doesn’t always look picture-perfect. This misconception is discouraging to those that don’t look like a model, despite taking all the right steps to be healthy.
Though health might not look the same in everyone, it is still worth the effort. Focusing on the countless health benefits that exercise offers rather than on body image leads to a greater sense of fulfillment. Truth be told, a healthy diet and exercise routine naturally results in looking and feeling better. So focus on health, not self-image!
Regular physical activity lowers overall risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and osteoporosis. This is especially relevant to previously sedentary individuals with a poor history of physical activity.
Chronic diseases, also known as ‘non-communicable’ or ‘lifestyle’ diseases, are responsible for the majority of premature death and poor quality of life in modern society. Luckily, exercise has a massive range of health benefits that target lifestyle disease prevention. If you exercise regularly you will have a longer life, reduced chance of disease, and a greater sense of happiness.
Health Benefits of Exercise
Heart Health: Aerobic (or ‘endurance’) exercise is known to lower resting heart rate which is associated with longer life. This may be due to a connection between heart rate and blood pressure; a lower heart rate typically means lower blood pressure and vice-versa.
Since blood pressure is a major factor in vascular disease, having a lower resting heart rate reduces the risk of developing heart problems.
Brain Health: Exercise leads to increased oxygen delivery to the brain and promotes healthy blood vessels. This boosts cognitive function and memory while lowering overall risk for cerebrovascular disease (CBVD) and stroke.
Many of the “feel-good” molecules released during exercises, such as endorphins and endocannabinoids, have long-lasting positive effects on mood. Exercise is also known to help cope with stress and promote better sleep at night.
Bone Health: Muscle contraction from exercise stimulates calcium deposition into bones which keeps them strong and healthy. Bone density is especially important for preventing fractures and maintaining mobility at an older age. Calcium stored in bones can be extracted and released into the blood when needed. A proper warm-up and stretching routine before exercise will ensure joint health and may reduce pain symptoms of arthritis.
Focusing on Health
By focusing on the health benefits of exercise rather than our physical appearance we are more likely to maintain a lifelong exercise-focused lifestyle. We all want to look good, but making sure that we are healthy is first and foremost. Focusing too much on body image can lead to obsession, eating disorders, the use of diet pills and other unhealthy practices.
Take your time, get informed and seek help when possible. There are many people out there with awesome bodies and success stories, but what works for them may not work for you. Rather, seek the help of a professional that can help you navigate through endless health advice and create a plan just for you.
- Warburton, Darren E R, et al. “Health Benefits of Physical Activity: the Evidence.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal De L’Association Medicale Canadienne, Canadian Medical Association, 14 Mar. 2006, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1402378/.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Slower Heart Rate May Translate into Longer Life, Reports the Harvard Heart Letter.” Harvard Health, https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/slower-heart-rate-may-translate-into-longer-life.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “4 Ways Exercise Helps Arthritis.” Harvard Health, https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/4-ways-exercise-helps-arthritis.