Exercise. Whether you do it to lose weight, to build and maintain strong muscles and bones, or simply just for fun, exercise changes you. There are many types of physical activity, including swimming, running, jogging, walking and dancing, to name a few. We all know that staying physically active is vital to a healthy and productive life but we don’t often understand what happens to our bodies when we exercise.
Let’s take a look at what science has to say.
You will start producing tiny tears in your muscle fibres when you exercise. In other words, the muscles undergo micro-trauma, which can lead to “delayed-onset muscle soreness” or “DOMS” for short. Experiencing muscle soreness after a session of exercise is common and luckily it’s not something that happens after each session. Once your body becomes accustomed to that type of exercise, the delayed soreness is often minimal.
Muscles need energy in order to exercise, and your body burns calories from the food we eat in a series of chemical reactions that produce heat hence the reason why your body temperature rises when you exercise. As you exercise, the large muscles in your arms and legs squeeze the veins running through them, pumping blood back to your heart.
Just as exercise strengthens other muscles in your body, it makes the heart muscle become more powerful and better able to pump blood all over the body. This ensures that with each beat, the heart pumps out more blood, allowing it to pump more steadily and keep the blood pressure under control. This eventually lowers resting heart rate in people who are fit.
When you exercise regularly, your body’s tissue (including the heart) does a better job of pulling oxygen from your blood. This allows your heart to work better under stress and keeps you from getting winded during high-intensity activities.
Physical exercise also increases the distribution of blood in the narrow blood vessels around the heart. Clogs in those arteries can result in heart attacks.
There is also evidence that exercise helps your body to develop more links between these blood vessels because if the normal path is blocked by narrow arteries or fatty deposits, there are alternative routes for your blood to move.
Increasing your heart rate promotes blood flow to the brain, which will help the brain to function better, particularly when it comes to preventing memory loss. One Harvard study showed that exercise often increases the capacity of the hippocampus, the portion of the brain associated with memory and learning, and that performing just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day was adequate to help avoid the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or even stroke and ward off age-related decline.
Exercise also causes a rush in the brain of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, including endorphins, sometimes cited as the cause of the legendary “runner’s high”. The brain also produces dopamine and glutamate to promote movements in the arms and legs, as well as gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a prohibitive neurotransmitter that slows things down in order to keep you going smoothly and regulated.
You will also likely feel better thanks to the boost in serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter well known for its role in elevating mood and reducing depression. The pituitary gland acts as a control centre in the brain and it will alert the adrenal glands to pump out the hormones necessary for movement it is also responsible for growth hormones. When the body looks for more fuel to burn after using the glycogen supplies, it transforms into muscle or fat and human growth hormone acts as a muscle protection guard.
Two of the body’s important organs get into action during exercise: the heart and the lungs. The lungs bring oxygen into the body to supply energy and remove carbon dioxide, the waste product that is produced when you make energy. The heart pumps the oxygen to the muscles that are doing the exercise.
When you’re exercising, the ribcage muscles help the diaphragm take in up to 15 times more oxygen than at rest so you start breathing faster and heavier. Your breathing rate will rise until the muscles that surround the lungs simply cannot move any faster. The full oxygen use capability is called VO max. The higher the VO max, the fitter a person will be.
When your lungs are healthy, you maintain a large reserve for breathing. After exercise, you can feel ‘out of breath,’ but you won’t be ‘short of breath.’ You can be using a significant portion of your breathing capacity when you have decreased lung function. This can cause you to feel ‘out of breath,’ which may be an uncomfortable feeling, but usually, it is not harmful.
The benefits of regular exercise are so profound and often personal that all of the effects would be impossible to identify. People should expect changes in their physical, mental, social and financial health. Exercise has been shown to increase productivity, minimize sick days and minimize health expenses for those already dealing with medical conditions. Essentially, you will be happier, and healthier and have a new lease on life.