Evidence shows that moving your body can positively impact metabolic health. Metabolic health is defined by having optimal levels of five markers: blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. But it doesn’t stop there. The benefits of physical activity can also influence the other pillars of lifestyle medicine. All six pillars of lifestyle medicine include: physical activity, nutrition, sleep, stress, risky behavior reduction, and social connection.
If you think of these pillars as interconnected gears, just moving the gear of physical activity can move all the others! Improving your physical activity can positively impact many aspects of your health. Read on to find out more about the health benefits of moving more, and how physical activity moves you forward in your lifestyle medicine journey.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes (about 2 and a half hours) of exercise per week. If timing is a challenge for you, it may be reassuring to know that this timing breaks down to a little over 20 minutes per day. Regular exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, which means helping the body utilize sugars from the blood more effectively. As a result, this can improve blood sugar levels. Since insulin stimulates lipoprotein lipase activity, it will degrade triglycerides and thereby decrease triglyceride levels. Improved insulin sensitivity can also regulate blood pressure because insulin stimulates nitric oxide, which reduces vascular pressure. Data also supports that exercise improves “good” HDL cholesterol and waist circumference measurements.
Exercise is linked with healthier eating habits, and evidence shows that can be seen with 30 minutes of daily physical activity for 15 weeks. It has been shown that physical activity is associated with less preference for foods that are sweet, salty, and high in fat. These findings may be linked because they are both seen as behavioral adaptations to help maintain optimal lifestyle habits.
Evidence shows that physical activity can improve sleep quality. Engaging in 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, resistance training, or yoga, has been shown to improve sleep quality during that same day. Be sure to exercise at least 1-2 hours before turning in for the day.
Exercise can help you sleep because physical activity can enhance your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS regulates your ability to “rest and digest”. Moving your body stimulates your PNS, which improves heart rate variability. This phenomenon is referred to as vagal modulation. As a result, your heart rate slows down, which is called bradycardia. All this activity is shown to ultimately improve your sleep quality.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, as little as five minutes of aerobic activity can help to alleviate stress. It is well known that exercise releases hormones called endorphins, which relieve feelings of stress. Endorphins fit like puzzle pieces into a special receiving area of your PNS called mu-opioid receptors. When this happens, signals are sent to block pain and produce a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine will help you experience feelings of pleasure.
Risky Behavior Reduction
Physical activity is linked with reducing the risky behavior of smoking cigarettes. This is because aerobic exercise (such as walking, swimming, running, dancing, cycling, and boxing) may assist in lessening symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and cravings both during physical activity and up to 50 minutes post-workout. Studies have shown that the areas of the brain that are stimulated by the idea smoking are less active after a workout.
Exercise can improve physical health along with social connectedness. Evidence supports the idea that group fitness activities improve trustworthiness and promote cooperation. Empathy among the group becomes more powerful when the group experiences the same physical challenges during the workout. In other words, physical activity can strengthen the social bond of the group.
As you can see, physical activity can benefit your metabolic health in many ways. The beauty of lifestyle medicine is that when your pillar of physical activity is strong, it can influence a multitude of other means to optimize your health. As a result, a cascade of benefits is at your fingertips to support your holistic well-being.