3 min read Explore how physical activity can improve your sleep, stress, nutrition and more.
You’re probably aware that regularly moving your body can positively impact your health. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week or a little over 20 minutes per day. Meeting this target can help:
- Decrease blood sugar
- Lower triglycerides (blood fats)
- Increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol
- Reduce blood pressure
- Shrink waist circumference or inches around the waist
Physical activity is one of the six pillars of lifestyle medicine, which also includes:
- Risky behavior reduction
- Social connections
Think of these pillars as interconnected gears. Simply moving the physical activity gear can shift all of the others in ways that protect your health. Read on to learn about why a focus on physical activity can propel your overall lifestyle medicine journey.
Exercise is linked with healthier eating habits. Research shows that 30 minutes of physical activity per day for 15 weeks can help reduce a preference for sweet, salty, and fatty foods.
Engaging in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, resistance training, or yoga has been shown to improve sleep quality. For optimal sleep just be sure to exercise at least one to two hours before bedtime.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, as little as 5 minutes of aerobic activity per day can help to alleviate stress. Exercise releases hormones called endorphins, which help block pain and trigger the production of the “feel good” chemical dopamine.
Risky Behavior Reduction
Physical activity has been shown to reduce cigarette smoking. This is because aerobic exercise (such as walking, swimming, running, dancing, cycling, and boxing) helps curb nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms during and up to 50 minutes after a workout.
Bottom line: If you feel overwhelmed about how to change your lifestyle, simply start with regular physical activity. The beauty of lifestyle medicine is that a change in one pilar can have a domino effect on every aspect of your health!
Exercise may keep you looking strong on the outside, but it also benefits your body in many ways you can’t see. Physical activity helps you prevent disease, live longer, and can improve your quality of life. Read on to learn how much exercise you need, how exercise affects your lifespan, and ways to increase your physical activity level.
How Much Exercise is Enough?
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend achieving 150 minutes (about two and a half hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly plus two days per week of muscle strengthening activity. Meeting these guidelines can result in many benefits to your health and well-being, including extending your longevity.
Physical Activity Impacts Health
Regular physical activity protects against the leading causes of death in the U.S. and improves your quality of life. A consistent exercise routine can protect you from the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Colon cancer
- Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass, strength, and function)
- Cognitive impairment (difficulty remembering or learning new things or making decisions)
Why Exercise Helps
Exercise can change your body at the cellular level by protecting something called telomeres. Telomeres are a coating on the ends of your chromosomes. Telomere shortening is associated with aging and increased disease risk. Research shows that exercise extends telomere length, which protects against aging. Exercise also helps counter a process called oxidative stress, which also contributes to cellular damage and aging. In short, the act of exercise improves your body’s ability to defend cells, keep them healthy, and fend off the aging process.
Four Ways to Reach Your Fitness Goals
- Move in ways you enjoy. If you like it, you’re more likely to do it and stick with it. Consider joining a yoga studio, runner’s club, dance class, or a pickup basketball game. Or walk with a coworker or friend during your lunch break. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes (about two and a half hours) of physical activity per week.
- Schedule your physical activity. If it’s in your calendar, you’re more likely to do it. Block off time in your personal schedule, set alerts and reminders, and follow through on your commitment to meet your physical activity goals. When you book this time in advance, you’ll likely find that there is enough time in your day to fit in physical activity.
- Find your community. Taking group fitness classes or exercising with a buddy are great ways to help you stay accountable. Your fitness community can also help keep you motivated. Sharing positive experiences with workout buddies is a great way to bond with like-minded people and keep up with your personal goals.
- Consult with your Love.Life doctor before starting a new exercise regimen to ensure that it’s safe to carry out. Our team of healthcare professionals is here to help you to be the healthiest version of you possible.
Nutrition’s “3 Rs” for Post-workout Recovery
Your workout routine isn’t over when you leave the gym. A focus on post-workout recovery nutrition will help you maximize your training benefits and improve your overall fitness level. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, there are 3 Rs to address after each exercise session: replenish, rebuild, and rehydrate. Read on to learn about how these principles help you replete energy and nutrient stores, repair damaged tissue, and keep your body in balance.
Glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate found in your liver and muscles) is one of the energy sources you access during exercise. Vigorous or intense workouts can deplete glycogen reserves, so one post-exercise goal is to replenish your stores. To do so, nourish yourself with nutrient-rich, high carbohydrate foods within two hours after your workout. Good choices include whole grains (barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa), pulses (beans, chickpeas, lentils), and fruit (apples, bananas, berries, kiwi, mango, oranges).
Exercise creates microtears in muscle fibers, which can contribute to feeling sore for a day or two after training. This phenomenon is called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. To repair the damage, your body needs protein. In fact, even if you don’t experience DOMS your muscles still need protein to properly recover.
In addition to healing, adequate protein can also help build muscle mass. Research shows that taking in about 20 grams of high-quality protein within an hour after your workout supports muscle repair and growth.
Protein can come from either plant or animal sources. In addition to animal proteins, like salmon, chicken, and cottage cheese, you’ll find protein in plant foods, like tofu, quinoa, seeds, and nuts. You can also blend protein powder into a post-workout recovery smoothie.
Rehydrate: Fluid (and possibly electrolytes)
Sweating during exercise helps maintain your body temperature, but it’s important to replace the fluid – and possibly electrolytes – lost in sweat within two hours after a workout.
If your workout lasted less than an hour and you didn’t break much of a sweat, plain water is likely fine. But if your training session was vigorous, lasted for over one hour, or if you heavily perspired, plain water is not adequate because it doesn’t contain electrolytes.
Electrolytes are minerals (sodium, potassium, and chloride) lost in sweat. They help maintain fluid balance in the body and regulate heart and muscle functions, so replenishing them is vital for health and recovery. When needed, add an electrolyte tablet or powder to your water post-exercise to replace these mineral losses and prevent electrolyte imbalances.