Regular physical activity is essential for achieving and maintaining good health and preventing and treating conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. In addition to being physically active, participating in exercise is the best way to improve strength, endurance, and flexibility as well as promoting health and well-being to an even greater extent. These health and fitness benefits of exercise often take weeks or months to achieve, and requires a commitment to being active most, preferably, all days of the week.
While most of the biggest health benefits come from chronic adaptations to years of regular activity or exercise, there are some acute physiological changes that occur after a single bout. These changes tend to be short-lived, lasting only a few hours, and depend on the intensity and duration of the exercise. But, when exercise is repeated every day, these changes can have important positive effects on your health. Here are a few of the immediate benefits of exercise that can improve your health right now.
This is topic the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.
Regular exercise has a beneficial effect on your blood lipids. Specifically, over time, exercise can lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raise your HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. A single bout of exercise can also lower another lipid in the blood, triglycerides, a big part of the reason that daily exercise leads to lower blood lipids.
A big meal, especially one that is high in fat, can cause high levels of blood lipids, including triglycerides. This is called postprandial lipemia, which has been linked to the development of heart disease and may even increase the risk of having a heart attack. Importantly, exercising before you eat can blunt the effect of a meal on blood lipids.
The process that leads to most heart attacks and strokes, called atherosclerosis, involves excessive inflammation and abnormal blood clotting inside your blood vessels. Even a single bout of exercise can have a significant impact on reducing inflammation and preventing abnormal clot formation. This effect can last several hours, so daily exercise gives lasting protection to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Regular exercise is known to lower blood pressure. Much of this long-term benefit is due to the additive effects of each exercise session. While blood pressure goes up during exercise, it is lower in recovery because the blood vessels dilate, reducing the pressure inside. This is due to beneficial changes in the lining of blood vessels, called the endothelium. Improved endothelial function is also related to slower progression of atherosclerosis, further reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Exercise can have an immediate positive effect on your immune system. Research shows that exercise increases the activity of immune cells in your blood. This makes the immune system response to viruses, like the cold, flu, and (presumably) coronavirus more robust. The strongest evidence is seen when the exercise is moderate in intensity and duration, such as a 30 to 60 minute walk or jog. Very long, intense exercise is actually associated with a decrease in immune function, so more exercise isn’t necessarily better
Sometimes it seems that improved fitness, increased muscle mass, and decreased body fat take a long time to achieve through exercise. Keep in mind that health benefits of daily physical activity are adding up along the way to seeing these fitness and body composition changes. Hopefully, knowing that there specific benefits that occur after exercise will help you realize that every workout is worth it!