Activity Orthopedics May 8, 2019

The Invisible Benefits of Exercise at Every Age

Reviewed by: Anthony Johnson, MD
Written by: Abbi Havens

A young child squats on the ground in a runner's starting stance. Next to him, in the same position, is his father.

Anytime you head to your local gym, yoga studio, or track, you’re likely surrounded by people from all ages and walks of life who share a common goal: to look good. Weight loss and muscle toning are often healthy goals, and while there’s nothing wrong with caring for your body to help you feel confident in your own skin, the benefits of exercise far exceed your physical appearance. At every age, regular physical activity is key to health, wellness, and happiness. And, no matter what stage of life you find yourself in, you benefit from the invisible effects of a healthy routine.

Although your five-year-old probably won’t be interested in attending your spin class with you, regular exercise for children is critical to their development. Whether it’s riding a bike, playing pretend pirates outside with friends, or being enrolled in an activity such as soccer or dance, regular exercise decreases a child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, helps children develops strong muscles and bones, controls body fat, and encourages a positive outlook on life from a young age.

As young adults, it’s easy to skip out on exercise, especially when you’re busy with friends, relationships, and your career. And hey, you probably look good naturally anyway! But exercise is not just about physicality. For young adults, exercise helps to manage feelings of anxiety and depression, improves self-esteem, continues development of healthy bones and muscles, and creates healthy habits that will keep you active later in life.

For older adults, regular exercise may mitigate some of the less desirable effects of aging. Exercise can maintain and even improve balance, increase mobility, reduce the chance of disease, and increase flexibility (gardening, anyone?). Studies show that exercise leads to an increase in brain volume for people over the age of 60, and exercise keeps your mind sharp and active as well as provides an opportunity to break from routine.

Participating in Exercise:

  • Improves memory and brainpower: Exercise includes both short- and long-term benefits for your brain. In the hours following a workout, you may notice a heightened sense of concentration due to the increased flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. This increased flow can have positive effects on your long-term memory and cognition in as little as four months.
  • Gives your body a dose of natural happy pills: Contrary to what the ever sought-after “runner’s high” would lead you to believe, the effects of mood enhancing chemicals released in your brain as a result of exercise can last for up to 12 hours after your workout. Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine flood your brain, bringing you that happy-go-lucky feeling for hours.
  • Lessens the symptoms of PMS: Studies show that regular exercise and adequate rest relieves symptoms of PMS, including bloating and irritability. Yes, please!
  • Boosts immunity and decreases risk of disease: Exercise increases your body’s white blood cell production, making it a lot more beneficial to your immunity than your daily glass of orange juice. Regular exercise also decreases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, including colon, breast, endometrial, esophageal, and stomach cancers.
  • Gets you in the mood: It’s true! In addition to improved mental stimulation, regular exercise can lower the risk of erectile dysfunction in men and increase libido for both men and women.
  • Increases bone density: Certain types of exercise are known to increase bone density, encourage bone growth, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and improve overall bone health. The ability of any exercise to improve bone health depends on the amount of muscle strain caused by the exercise, the rate of muscle strain, and the frequency that it occurs. Weightlifting and high-impact exercises, such as tennis, gymnastics, running, or sprinting, are excellent ways to improve bone health.
  • Elevates body image and self-esteem: We are fortunate to live in an age that is becoming more inclusive of all shapes and sizes. However, that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to build self-esteem and learn to love the skin you’re in. Studies show that regular exercise improves the way you feel about yourself and your body regardless of visible physical change.
  • Relieves anxiety and improves sleep: It’s proven that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of “slow-wave sleep” your body gets, meaning sleep that allows the brain and body to restore itself. However, the time of day you exercise might matter. Exercising right before trying to fall asleep may be detrimental because your body releases endorphins during exercise, and increased blood flow to the brain can keep your mind running a mile per minute. When it comes to the best time of day to squeeze in your workout to optimize sleep, there is no one right answer. Test it out to see what works for you.
  • Raises life expectancy: Regular physical activity is linked to longer life expectancy regardless of weight, age, or existing health conditions. While a causal relationship between exercise and life expectancy is yet to be confirmed, regular exercise does help people maintain physical function as they age. Regular exercise also improves cardiorespiratory health, lowers cholesterol, and prevents many diseases, all of which contribute to longevity.

It’s not always easy to incorporate regular exercise into your busy routine, but trust us, the benefits to your health are astronomical. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Look for a form of exercise that feels fun. Search for new ways to continue to participate in exercise to keep it exciting and stay motivated. Now, get out there and get moving! If you’re new to exercise or haven’t been active in some time, you may want to visit with your primary care provider before beginning a new exercise regimen.

Are you looking for a gym to work out in that offers a variety of classes and personalized fitness support? Check out membership options at UT RecSports, welcome to anyone! Find more information here.

To make an appointment with UT Health Austin’s Sports and Injury Clinic, call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.