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9 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity
Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Physical activity has not only an absundance of physiological benefits, but also plenty of psychological benefits too!
1. Helps with Weight Management
Regular Physical Activity can not only help you manage your weight, but it can help you to maintain a healthy ratio of muscle to fat composition in the body. Healthy eating habits along with daily physical activity have been widely accepted as fundamentals in managing your weight.
The main reason that it works best is that when we eat the same amount of calories that we expend, we maintain our body weight. When we eat slightly fewer calories than we expend we lose weight - this is known as a caloric deficit. 
To visualise this concept, below is a summary of energy balance in the body:
- Calories in (e.g food) > calories out (e.g. movement) = weight gain;
- Calories out (e.g. movement) > calories in (e.g. food) = weight loss;
- Calories in = calories out = weight maintenance.
Reducing calories may cause a reduction in your body’s metabolic rate. In starting on a calorie deficit, your body may think it needs to preserve energy in this way. Your metabolism is monitored by hormones, such as those produced by the thyroid.
However, studies have shown that increasing levels of physical activity will enhance your metabolism, thus allowing your body to use or burn the calories it consumes, helping to prevent the storage of energy as fat. [2, 3, 4]
By increasing the amount of Physical Activity you do, your body is more likely to decrease the stores of energy in fat, and to use it to get your heart rate up, and to get your muscles moving. You can make this happen by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking your car further away, standing up and down from the chair at work a few times every couple of hours, or getting off the bus a stop earlier and walking the extra distance.
2. Reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases
One of the many benefits of Physical Activity is that it can significantly decrease your risk of developing a chronic disease. Chronic diseases are often triggered by a sedentary or low-activity lifestyle. Keeping your body active can allow you more freedom in exploring a longer and better quality of life. One study among many showed that those who participate in more physical activity are less likely to contract any chronic diseases, and similarly another study demonstrated the link between low physical activity levels and chronic diseases [5,6]
By participating in regular Physical Activity you can reduce your risk of developing long term complications such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, several cancers, and type 2 diabetes. It is the most accessible medicine you can take!
3. Helps to develop stronger muscles and bone density
Physical activity is great for muscle and bone development. For younger people, there is an abundance of sports to participate in that can create healthy habits for life. The World Health Organisation recommends that younger people spend at least 60 minutes a day being physically active, with encouragement to keep it engaging and challenging for both the musculoskeletal and aerobic systems.
As we age, our bodies tend to ‘slow down’ and we may not be as resilient or as agile as we once were. Muscle growth and recovery slows, and our bones reach peak strength in our late 20s or early 30s. Physical activity keeps our muscles strong and healthy, as the normal process of ageing continues. We can become fearful of ‘creaking joints’ and ‘wobbly knees’ but for the most part, our bodies are meant for movement.
There is a renowned image depicting the cross-sectional view of thigh muscles of a 70 year old triathlete compared to a 74 year old sedentary man. If searching it on the internet, keep in mind how much you need your thigh muscles for stair climbing, toilet use, and getting up from a chair - the muscle bulk retained in the physically active man is astounding.
4. Promotes Better Sleep
We’ve all had those nights where we’ve spent an hour or more trying to get to sleep, waking up in patches throughout the night, and then meeting the morning with a tired, grumpy mood. Spending 30 minutes of your day being physically active can contribute to a better night’s sleep overall 
Exercise can mitigate the effects of some sleep disorders, including insomnia. One study reported that daily moderate to vigorous physical activity significantly reduces the risks of developing a sleep disorder . On the other hand, ensuring that you don’t exercise within a couple of hours of normal bed time can allow for some wind-down time, and prevent the energising effects of exercise or physical activity impacting on your sleep behaviours.
5. Improves Cognitive Function
Cognitive function relates to your brain, and how it processes such things as thoughts, feelings, and experiences, while deciding on actions to take in different circumstances.
Physical activity has been widely emphasised as a useful tool in keeping your brain sharp, and ensuring that it is challenged to make new neural pathways or to strengthen existing pathways relating to your body and how it navigates the world around it.
Physical activity can also improve your focus and clarity, ensuring your brain and body have enough energy to make the most of each day, and to use it’s experiences as fuel for building a stronger sense of self.
For younger people, physical activity is especially important. Your brain is still developing and growing, and it needs movement and efficient energy usage to spend the time building on your knowledge, memory and thought centres.
You can’t go wrong getting strong!
1. Feeling More Energetic
Exercise and Physical Activity can help your body fight fatigue and make more efficient use of energy throughout your day. It does this by improving blood flow and circulation around the joints, muscles and organs.
By remaining physically active and taking part in regular exercise you can improve cardiovascular function, which will then allow you to feel more capable in completing your day-to-day tasks. It can also help to make more infrequent ‘days out’ or those sunny day hikes seem less daunting.
You are guiding your body toward the lifestyle you want - if that means getting up and down the stairs ten times a day without much effort, then you need to ‘train’ your body to cope with this kind of load through physical activity.
According to research, increasing physical activity from light (easy) to moderate (can talk but not sing during the activity) can reduce subjective feelings of fatigue by 65%. 
2. Releases the Feel-Good Hormone in Your Brain
You’ve heard it before: movement makes us feel good. Spending a few minutes every day getting slightly out of breath can help to boost your mood as well as increasing your energy levels. Leave the RedBull in the fridge and get out for a walk, move some weights, or get up and down from a chair a few times.
Dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ hormone, is released during and after engaging in some form of physical activity. Dopamine is closely linked with pleasurable activities, and activates the centre in our brain that manages motivation, reward and satisfaction.
After finishing a tough workout or a Physical Activity, endorphins are released, making the workout rewarding and satisfying. This can help increase your mood - you have moved your body, experienced at least a moderate level of physical activity, and set yourself up for a better day.
3. Can reduce the impact of Anxiety/Depression
Studies have shown that Physical Activity and exercise can help to reduce anxious and depressive feelings. Both anxiety and depression are multi-faceted, and everyone’s experience is different, but incorporating movement into your day can help manage the symptoms .
Stress, like anxiety, can present as physical discomfort and muscle tension. Physical Activity is rewarding and helps to manage or even reduce levels of stress. Chronic stress can be linked to heart disease, Asthma, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Depression, and Anxiety . Adding movement to your day is a pivotal step toward dealing with stress.
Cortisol, ‘the stress hormone’, causes an increase in feelings of stress and anxiety as the name suggests. Studies through the years have repeatedly shown that Physical Activity is linked with reducing levels of cortisol in the body. By reducing the level of cortisol secreted, it is much easier to manage our levels of perceived stress, thus reducing the risk of developing related diseases.
Yoga is a great form of physical activity that can help relieve anxiety or depression. Yoga promotes mindfulness - this can help us manage our perceived stress levels. By practicing mindfulness, we can bring our attention to the present moment. By being in the present moment, we are more attune to how our thoughts are being processed, and we can develop a better sense of awareness around our mood, concerns, fears and ideas. 
4. Promotes Better Health Conscious Decisions
Becoming Physically Active after being sedentary for a while can be effortful initially. However, with consistency and patience, it can become a habit just like brushing your teeth. It can build a more health-conscious mindset and a healthier body. Moving more can encourage you to consider your meal-time or snacking habits, and to sit less.
Small changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help to incorporate physical activity into your day, one step at a time. It’s the little things that can create a much healthier and happier lifestyle.
The Key Message is this: Physical Activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. You can read more about the Physical Activity guidelines for Ireland over on the HSE website. This is a great resource for educating yourself on the benefits and risks that come with being physically active. Begin by including short bouts of physical activity in your daily routine.
For readers with an ongoing chronic health condition, please consult your general practitioner before considering increasing levels of physical activity.
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