In a recent post, we discussed the best endurance events New Zealand has to offer. But why do an endurance event in the first place? Indeed, why even exercise?

It’s easy to think of reasons NOT to challenge yourself physically. “It’s too hard”. “Takes too much time”. “Puts strain on your joints” and so on. Indeed, why should we run around expending precious energy when we could be getting other stuff done or enjoying ourselves – there are better ways things to do, one might think. One might be wrong, however! Here are some of the most profound effects that science says exercise has on the human mind and body.

Swimming in sunset/sunrise tropical colors.

Cognitive Function

The relationship between exercise and cognitive function has been thoroughly studied, and the results indicate overwhelmingly that the former dramatically improves the latter. Consistent aerobic exercise (say, 30 minutes a day) will induce healthy alterations in gene expression in the brain, increased brain plasticity (associated with ability to learn) and increased neuron growth and neurological activity. Not impressed? 30 minutes of exercise will also improve your memory and preserve cognitive function into old age – preventing or postponing neurological disorders like dementia.


Mood Enhancement

Exercise has a close relationship with mental wellbeing. Just five minutes of moderate exertion will find you feeling noticeably better – puffed, perhaps, but positive. In addition to reporting a general sense of wellbeing, people surveyed frequently note a tangible decrease in their levels of anxiety. These effects become even more pronounced in the long term, with scientists and doctors concluding that regular exercise is an effective treatment for depression. Exercise combats depression and fosters wellbeing in several different ways – by increasing serotonin levels (the neurotransmitter targeted by antidepressants), normalising sleep (which is known to have protective effects on the brain), and bolstering one’s outlook by providing a sense of accomplishment. You can run your way to happiness! Sweat your way to salvation!


Physical Health

According to the Mayo Clinic, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Exercise also reduces the instance of a wide range of other health problems and concerns, including, strokes, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Swimming in sunset/sunrise tropical colors.Energy and Productivity

For those of us concerned about the ‘lost’ time spent exercising, the Mayo Clinic goes on to state that “regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance… delivering oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helping your cardiovascular system work more efficiently.” The consequence of these physiological changes is a tangible increase in energy.


Use it or lose it!

Put simply (and for the billionth time, no doubt) exercise is GOOD for you. Great for you!

If, however, you are still not convinced that exercise should be a part of your life, it’s also worth having a think about what our bodies are designed to do, and whether or not modern life is doing them justice.

Our home sapien ancestors lived in the wild as part of nomadic communities roaming vast, uncharted lands. Life was a physical enterprise and required that we exercise our bodies almost constantly. After all, hunting and gathering is a lot of work!

Over history, however, there has been an ongoing trend towards the sedentary life. We left behind the natural world and erected enormous cities, teeming with technology designed to take the effort out of day-to-day life. Vehicles get us from A to B. Elevators get us from G to 3. For regular folk, putting food on the table is a simple matter of pushing a shopping trolley around a supermarket.

These technological innovations are not necessarily bad but, cumulatively, they are robbing us of our bodies. Obesity and diabetes rates are soaring to unprecedented levels, strenuous activity is more optional than ever before, and we spend more and more of our time indoors, peering at screens. The issues are well documented, and the answer is a simple one – conscious changes in lifestyle and diet, essentially, exercising more and eating better.

Don’t participate in our species’ hapless physical decline! Recall your distinctly physical human roots. Know that we are as much our bodies as our minds, and tap into the ancient and vaunted tradition of athletic endeavour: testing the human body’s capacity for speed, strength, and stamina – a tradition stretching back to the Olympics of Ancient Greece.

Put simply, bodies are a thing of beauty – endowed with intricate and astonishingly complex muscular systems that ache to be used! We are lucky to have them, so treat yours to a run or two every now and then, and it’ll keep you running better, for longer.

What benefits have you experienced from exercising? Let us know in the comments what you have found works best for you.

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