Humans are creatures of instant gratification. We do something, and want to see results right away. Exercise fits perfectly into this viewpoint, as it provides immediate benefits from the very first session. And these benefits keep on coming throughout your entire life.
When one exercises, this stresses the body causing it to change to become stronger and more efficient. Likewise, if all one does is sit with little movement, fitness declines, muscles shrink and bones become weaker. We’re also become more susceptible to sickness, disease and early death.
Whether you’re just starting out, mixing up your exercise routine, or increasing how much you workout, these are some of the changes and benefits your body and mind undergo to stay healthy.
When you start exercising, the first thing you probably notice is your heart and breathing rates increase. But that’s not all. Your blood vessels expand and blood pressure rises allowing blood to speed to your working muscles. At the same time, blood is shunted away from other areas that aren’t needed, notably the gut and intestines. Sugar and fat are also mobilized for energy, and various hormones are released.
Immediately after, your heart and breathing slows down. Your blood pressure decreases and is commonly lower than what it was before you exercised. The hormones that were released work to suppress pain and make you feel better. You have more energy, better memory and attention. There’s also a short-term increase in immune cells.
Blood sugar also goes down, but the amount depends on your exercise intensity. Moderate, continuous activity results in a greater reduction than short bursts of high intensity activity. These reductions usually persist for a few hours after. If you have diabetes, it’s a good idea to measure your sugars before and after you exercise.
Within a Week
If you’re new to exercise or exercising different muscles than you’re used to, you may experience some muscle soreness the next day. This is common and usually goes away in a day or two. Being active helps you recover from this. And as you continue to exercise throughout the week, your body becomes faster at adapting and you’ll no longer experience this soreness.
During that first week you’ll notice it’s easier to fall asleep, plus the length and quality of your sleep improves. That feeling of happiness you felt after the first workout will continue and keep happening as you continue to exercise. You’ll also be better able to handle stress.
By the end of the first week, you’ll notice your workouts have become easier and you may feel stronger. This is due to your nervous system becoming more effective at engaging the working muscles. You may also notice improvements in coordination.
Within a Month
Within a month your fitness will increase. Sedentary women who did sprint intervals twice per week for four weeks were able to exercise longer, were faster and achieved greater power. But you don’t need to do sprint intervals, as both continuous exercise for 30 minutes, and pick-up sports games four times per week can improve fitness
With a higher fitness level, the same workouts you did just three weeks ago will seem easier so you may decide to increase the length or intensity of your sessions. Even everyday tasks, such as carrying groceries and walking up stairs, will get easier. You’ll notice you recover faster and returning to your resting heart rate takes less time. In addition, your arteries become more compliant and are better at delivering blood to working muscles.
Within Three Months
As the weeks and months go by, your body undergoes further changes. The energy powerhouse cells in your muscles, the mitochondria, increase. This makes your working muscles more efficient at using oxygen to supply your energy needs. Your blood volume also increases delivering more oxygen, fats and sugars to your muscles. These changes reduce the work needed by your heart. As your body becomes more efficient, your resting heart rate will go down.
Various risk factors for heart and other diseases improve as well. HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) increases, while triglycerides (fats in the blood) decrease. Blood sugar metabolism also improves resulting in lower insulin and blood sugar levels. Resting blood pressure levels decrease as well. And these improvements tend to be greater in people who are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
You’ll also find your less likely to get sick as your immune system function improves. An eight-week exercise programs resulted in fewer respiratory infections. And this benefit persisted for four months after the sessions stopped.
It’s also during these initial months when people are most susceptible to quitting. The newness of your program has faded and your new habit may not be firmly established. You may find outside events challenging your motivation and discipline. That’s common, but you can recharge your motivation and take efforts to build your new habit into your routine.
Within a Year and Beyond
First off, congratulate yourself. At this point, you’ve made exercise a key part of you life. Situations may still arise that challenge your routine but you’ll likely have the resolve to see your program through in the long run.
The benefits of exercise to your health continue to add up. Your bones get stronger and your heart gets larger. This allows for more blood to be pumped out. You’ve lowered your risk for depression, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia, among other conditions. For those with heart disease, exercise may even slow or reverse the progression of atherosclerosis. And exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation has been proven to reduce the chances of early death by 25% in one year.
You’ve also begun to add years to your life. Some of this is due to your lower chances of getting chronic diseases, but also to the beneficial effects of exercise on your DNA. Six months of exercise was enough to lengthen telomeres (protective caps at the end of our packaged DNA). Essentially reversing the age-associated shortening that happens, which can lead to DNA damage. Indeed, regular exercisers have less DNA damage than non-exercisers. And the longer you continue to exercise, the greater the benefits. Moderate exercise of an hour per day (such as brisk walking) for ten years can add 4.5 years to your life. Easily giving you back more time than you put in.
From immediately feeling good, to the long-lasting effect of adding years to your life, the benefits of exercise begin with your first session and continue throughout your life.
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