Our bodies were made to move. Specifically, to move in a way that challenges us enough to increase our heart rate to at least 50% our maximum heart rate (>100 bpm for most of us). As Physical Therapist’s we are passionate about moving well in ways that limit current pain and risk for future pain. We’re also passionate about moving and exercising enough that we reduce risk for cardiovascular disease as well as other health issues. We do know that if the other five pillars of health are not being well taken care of, that we won’t get as much benefit from our movement and exercise and have more risk for injury while doing it. However, exercise tends to facilitate our other 5 Pillars of Health. It can improve our mood to lean into our spirituality, we can grow relationships exercising with people privately or with a club or gym, it helps us sleep, reduces our stress, and allows us to eat more calories, providing our body with more nutrients, and ability to utilize them better. For more details on why exercise is so important, check out our Fitness Forward blog.
Key Recommendation: Perform moderate intensity exercise (50-70% max HR) for 150 minutes total per week (30 minutes, 5 days per week) or perform vigorous intensity exercise (70-85% max HR) for 90 minutes total per week (30 minutes, 3 days per week). Ideally combine aerobic/cardiovascular and strength training for maximum benefits (1).
It’s also important to recognize that some is better than none. A lot of us see the necessary exertion and length of time to exercise, are intimidated by it, and rather than doing what we can, we do nothing. (1).
Ironically, the benefits of exercise can be so overwhelming, it can be hard to grasp them, so we have simplified the benefits into the following 4 categories. You will see that the benefits in these areas ultimately help improve your quality of life and longevity of life, essentially all of our life goals!
The Benefits of Exercise
- Cardiovascular Health
- Reduced Musculoskeletal Injury and Pain
- Mental Health
- Overall Quality and Longevity of Life
1. Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world. In 2021, the US had 693,021 cardiovascular related deaths. Far more than Cancer and the peak year of COVID-19 at 604,533, and 415,399 respectively. (2). We know that 80% of these deaths are preventable with exercise and our other pillars of health. Also, the same health factors that contributed to cardiovascular disease deaths also result in common diseases that also limit quality of life, including, but not limited to, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lung diseases, type 2 diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, obesity, and more. All of these tend to require meds with side effects, and in general, reduce our energy and overall feeling of wellness, and thus our quality of life. Not to mention, all of these stack up to billions of dollars of healthcare costs we can reduce. Of note, absolutely, genetics can pre-dispose you to have some of these. 20% ARE NOT preventable, but even then, exercise still reduces your risk and the effect they have on your quality of life. The best medicine for all of them? Exercise and the other 5 pillars of health.
2. Reduced Musculoskeletal Injury and Pain
“If you think lifting weights is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous.”
– Bret Contreras, PhD, lifter, trainer, researcher, more, via Twitter
There is a ton of research demonstrating both aerobic exercise and strength training reducing risk for injury and pain. (3, 4). In general, it makes sense. The more you load your body, the more it responds to that load to be able to tolerate it. Think about flossing. At first, you bleed. After a few times, you don’t. Your gums get stronger. Stop for a few months, you bleed again.
Another way to think about it is like building a financial savings account. The more money you have in savings, the more you are able to handle bigger expenses, planned or unplanned. The stronger and more conditioned you are, the more you can tolerate life’s stresses with less difficulty and strain to your body. If one is able to successfully fight cancer, one of the main complaints of the process is how weak you get. The stronger you are going in, the less weak you will become. In general, stronger people are able to do more of the things they want to do and more resilient when things go wrong.
A final metaphor is the story of Milo of Croton. See below. The legend is that big Milo could carry a bull into town as an adult. Well, that didn’t happen over night. As a child, Milo had a calf and would carry it into town. As the calf grew, Milo grew, and voila, a man carrying a bull. Milo was better prepared to do more with less pain, and you can too!
If you really want a ton of information, check out Strength Training for Pain and Injury Rehab from painscience.com
3. Mental Health
There is a large body of evidence demonstrating the benefits of exercise in reducing anxiety and depression, as well as improving sleep and stress. Smith and Merwin, do an excellent job going into the weeds on a lot of this. (5). While there are many scientific explanations, the easiest simplification is that when we exercise we release:
- Endorphins: “feel good” and pain relief hormones
- Opioids: natural pain killers
- Serotonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, GABA
- “feel good” anti-depressant/anxiety neurotransmitter that improves mood, memory, learning and more
We spend billions of dollars on drugs to treat mental health, and then to treat the side effects of those drugs. We have all of those “drugs” naturally in us. The only side effects are your time, effort, and maybe some soreness.
*Note: some of our genetics and past experiences do create enough of a deficit of these we do still need medication in addition to exercise, but the more we exercise, the less meds we need.
4. Quality and Longevity of Life
The above 3 points definitely drive home the point of how exercise can improve quality of life. Zhao, et al shows that proper combination of strength training and aerobic training reduce your risk for all cause mortality and cancer by 40%, cardiovascular disease by 50%, and lung disease by 70%! We’re not sure why there’s still a search for the magic pill, exercise is it! (7).
In summary, exercise is a powerful drug for maximizing your health! It improves your cardiovascular and mental health, reduces your risk for pain and future injuries, and overall maximizes your quality and longevity of life! Remember too that it tends to facilitate our other 5 Pillars of Health.
We do understand their can be many barriers to exercise including knowing where to start without it hurting and time. We have a ton of resources on our website to help with that in our Educational Resources.
We hope this leaves you inspired to help us grow that 25% of the population to a much higher number of people getting their recommended exercise and the magic pill effects from it!
– Healing Motion Team
1. Bull FC, Al-Ansari SS, Biddle S, et al. World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:1451-1462.
2. Ahmad FB, Cisewski JA, Anderson RN. Provisional Mortality Data — United States, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:597-600. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7117e1external icon. Date Accessed 09/28/2022.
3. Tan, L., Cicuttini, F.M., Fairley, J. et al. Does aerobic exercise effect pain sensitisation in individuals with musculoskeletal pain? A systematic review. BMC Musculoskelet Disord23, 113 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-022-05047-9
4. Knutzen KM, Pendergrast BA, Lindsey B, Brilla LR. The effect of high resistance weight training on reported pain in older adults. J Sports Sci Med. 2007 Dec 1;6(4):455-60. PMID: 24149478; PMCID: PMC3794485.
5. Smith PJ, Merwin RM. The Role of Exercise in Management of Mental Health Disorders: An Integrative Review. Annu Rev Med. 2021 Jan 27;72:45-62. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-060619-022943. Epub 2020 Nov 30. PMID: 33256493; PMCID: PMC8020774.
6. A report of the surgeon general: physical activity and health – the link between physical activity and morbidity and mortality. US Department of Health and Human Services.
7. Zhao M, Veeranki SP, Magnussen SG, Xi B. Recommended physical activity and all cause and cause specific mortality in US adults: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2020;370:m2031. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2031.