Consider this a public service. Time Magazine (via Maggie’sFarm) recently offered a long article on the benefits of exercise. You knew all about it already, I am sure, but there’s no harm in looking at some of the most recent research. Whatever it takes to get you off the couch….
A couple of salient passages from Time:
Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise changes the structure and function of the brain for the better, but it’s an area of active research. So far, they’ve found that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, feeding the growth of new blood vessels and even new brain cells, courtesy of the protein BDNF, short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF triggers the growth of new neurons and helps repair and protect brain cells from degeneration. “I always tell people that exercise is regenerative medicine–restoring and repairing and basically fixing things that are broken,” Bamman says.
Repairs like this throughout the body may be the reason exercise has been shown to extend life span by as much as five years. A small new study suggests that moderate-intensity exercise may slow down the aging of cells. As humans get older and their cells divide over and over again, their telomeres–the protective caps on the end of chromosomes–get shorter. To see how exercise affects telomeres, researchers took a muscle biopsy and blood samples from 10 healthy people before and after a 45-minute ride on a stationary bicycle. They found that exercise increased levels of a molecule that protects telomeres, ultimately slowing how quickly they shorten over time. Exercise, then, appears to slow aging at the cellular level.
And also, reflecting advice that I like to give to everyone:
Dr. Robert Sallis, a family physician who runs a sports-medicine fellowship at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California, has prescribed exercise to his patients since the early 1990s in hopes of doling out less medication. “It really worked amazingly, particularly in my very sickest patients,” he says. “If I could get them to do it on a regular basis–even just walking, anything that got their heart rate up a bit–I would see dramatic improvements in their chronic disease, not to mention all of these other things like depression, anxiety, mood and energy levels.”
Older people, too, can benefit from strenuous exercise. Until now, all the recommendations for increasing bone density have included low-repetition, high-weight types of training, says Jinger Gottschall, associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State University. “But this just isn’t feasible for a lot of people. You can’t picture your grandma going in and doing that.” Luckily for Grandma, Gottschall’s team found that lifting lighter weights for more reps improves bone density in key parts of the body, making it a good alternative to heavy lifting.
It’s becoming evident that nearly everyone–young, old, pregnant, ill–benefits from exercise.