January 24th, 2021

Training Matters: The many positive effects of exercise

By Medicine Hat News on December 26, 2020.

I have penned many articles for this paper over the past 25 years, continually espousing the vast benefits of exercise; improved function, joint health, fat loss, muscular strength, bone density, injury and disease prevention, speed, power… the list truly could fill this entire article.

What has only been addressed a few times over the years but seems more appropriate than ever is how exercise positively affects our resiliency, cognitive function and overall mental health.

Resiliency refers to mankind’s capacity to recover from difficult times. It speaks to adaptability in the face of adversity, bouncing back in times of stress, and moving forward in life despite struggle and heartache.

This past year has brought its share of tough times for many in our community and around the world. Many of the stressors are very much beyond our control. However, one thing that is very much within our control is the amount of movement and physical activity we fit into the day. Research abounds regarding the far-reaching benefits of exercise in making us more resilient and improving our mental health.

Regular Exercisers (REs) have improved thinking skills, memory and focus. Studies also show a slowing of age-related brain shrinkage, and significant reductions in the likelihood of developing dementia.

REs have increased neurogenesis (increased neuron and dendrite formation) and neuroplasticity (increased neural connections and pathways). They produce more Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is directly related to neuroplasticity with lower levels of BDNF linked to mood and anxiety disorders.

REs experience increased Serotonin production, affecting mood, anxiety, happiness and sleep. Reduced levels are associated with anxiety and depression.

REs have a higher heart rate variability (HRV). A high HRV demonstrates a balance between stress and recovery. High HRV means we are not constantly in stress mode which translates to decreased cortisol production and improved resilience.

REs sleep deeper and longer. Sleep deprivation is firmly associated with, and driven by anxiety, depression and chronic stress.

Hopefully you are now fully convinced that in addition to helping you move better, feel better and function better, exercise also plays a role in your resilience, mood and mental health.

So? We all have many choices in our day-to-day lives. Our bodies and our brains require the choice to fit exercise into our day – 30-60 minutes, five days a week. It can be broken up into smaller bits, it can involve high intensity or low intensity, it can be a stretch or yoga session, strength or cardio… prioritize exercise today and you will adapt, recover, and bounce back from the year that was. Prioritize it moving forward and you will forge ahead happier, smarter, and more resilient.

I sincerely wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the holidays and the coming year!

Ed Stiles BPE Clinical Exercise Physiologist is a member of the Alberta Sport Development Centre’s Performance Enhancement Team and is the Fitness Coordinator at the Family Leisure Centre, he can be reached via email at asdc@mhc.ab.ca or ed1sti@medicinehat.ca.

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