reasons to move

Good Reasons to Move, Don’t Miss Out On Them!

April 5, 2021

I first wrote about this topic years ago for my patients in Maine. Since then, I have heard the same questions about the role of exercise time and time again from patients, coworkers, and friends. It is thus the time to revisit our good reasons to move!

For many, the first answer to “why exercise?” is: “It burns calories, so it burns fat”!

If this is the only benefit you have in mind, you are missing a lot! It may also cause big discouragement when the screen on your exercise machine, your watch, or digital wrist band shows only a double-digit number for calories burnt after you are all sweaty and out of breath! The good news is that there is so much more to exercise than the numbers on the screen!

Pick your own reason to go for that morning jog or that evening walk, drag that Kayak out of the garage into the river, or that elliptical right into your living room! There are so many reasons to pick from!

Good Reasons to Move!

  • Exercise improves mood: The mood-exercise connection has been explored through many experimental studies. Some studies have found exercise to be as effective as cognitive therapy or the use of some antidepressants in the treatment of patients with major depression! Other studies showed that continued exercise seems to prevent relapse of depression.

Remember: You should not stop or decrease your antidepressants without consulting your prescribing physician! Just add the exercise as a big bonus and double the effects.

  • Exercise improves pain: Exercise can increase endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals produced in our brains, spinal cord, and many other parts of our bodies. They act like Morphine, reducing pain and making us feel “high” or, in more scientific terms, “euphoric.”

How about it? Exercise, and you will produce your own “drug” without paying a cent, getting in trouble with the law, or becoming addicted!

  • Exercise improves and regulates sleep: Now, this is good news for the insomniacs among us! It is a no-brainer. Of course, you will sleep better when you are physically tired (not over-tired!).

But there is more to it: If depression is the reason for your insomnia, we have established that exercise can be a big help. If chronic pain makes you toss and turn and not find the comfortable position to rest, exercise may help.  

Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime. You may be too energized and too “high” to go to sleep!

  • Exercise can improve muscle mass: As we age, decreased muscle mass could result in a decreased metabolic rate. It could also be one of the reasons that women generally have a slower metabolism than men. We cannot stop the time and fight aging, and we may really like being a woman despite the slower metabolism! The good news is that we can improve our metabolism by adding some muscle. Exercise, particularly resistance exercises, can increase our muscle mass, regardless of our age and gender. There is hope for everyone!
  • Exercise improves bone health: Like muscle, bone is a living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Children and adolescents who exercise regularly can achieve greater bone density and strength, than those who do not. After 20, both women and men can help prevent bone loss, osteoporosis, and fractures with regular exercise.
  • Exercise improves balance and flexibility: With improved bone density and increased muscle strength around the joints, exercise improves joint function. It prevents tendons and ligaments from contracting due to immobility and keeps them flexible. Healthy joints and strong muscles are essential elements in balance. This is particularly important as we age. We all like to remain independent and be able to take care of ourselves and others as long as we live. Aging does not need to mean a lack of balance and rigid joints. We all know elderly who are even more agile than their next-generation; look at their lifestyle. Those are people who never stop moving.
  • Exercise can improve brain function: Here is something to get everyone excited! There is evidence that exercise can slow mental decline and decrease the occurrence of dementia. Some studies have shown that exercise may increase the length and complexity of the brain cell extensions, therefore improving brain function.
  • Exercise can increase the “beige fat: You have to admit this one is intriguing! Unlike white fat, beige fat can actually burn calories! Obviously, the more calorie burned, the fewer calories are stored.
  • Exercise can help with weight loss: At this point, you know that regular exercise can help with weight loss via several different mechanisms.

So, although you may see only a double-digit number on the exercise machine, adding muscle and beige fat, in the long run, exercise helps us burn more calories even at rest!

Exercise regularly for half an hour a day and continue to burn more calories all day long! Is this a win, or what?

Furthermore, if you have weight problems because of your depression, pain, insomnia, genetically low metabolic rate, age, or gender, exercise can help.

  • Exercise improves our general health. People with diabetes see improvement in their A1C with regular exercise, and people with hyperlipidemia see improvement in their cholesterol and triglycerides.

If exercise is good for treating diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and obesity, it is sure good for our hearts. Did you know that per American Heart Association, for every hour of a brisk walk, you may increase your life expectancy by two hours?  Now, that’s what I call a double bonus!

Here is a valid question:

If exercise is so good for you, why sometimes it is so hard to convince our bodies to move? Why it can be so hard to get ourselves off that couch?

A simple answer is “Inertia”! It is a law in physics that applies to all objects, even our bodies. For instance, have you ever tried to push a truck that is not moving? How about trying to stop it when it is already in motion? As a rule, objects tend to resist any change in their motion, or as a TV drug commercial said: “A body in motion tends to remain in motion…” and vice versa.

However, we are much more complex than any other machine. We have “habits,” or what I call “mental inertia,” which is even harder to beat than physical “inertia”!

If you have developed a habit of a sedentary lifestyle, it will take work to break both the mental and physical “inertia”! Pretty much the same as pushing that parked truck! But once it starts moving, try to stop it!

Now read the previous paragraphs, and can you say it is not worth pushing this parked truck into motion!

There is some type of exercise for everyone:

  • If you have a limiting cardiac or respiratory condition, a cardiac or pulmonary rehab program may have something for you.
  • If you suffer from fibromyalgia, there are whole-body physical therapies that can help you start off the physical activity.
  • If you have knee pain, back pain, or hip pain, there are upper body exercises that do not bother those painful parts. In addition, targeted physical therapy can improve those joints.
  • If the excess weight is what keeps you from even standing independently, you may start with low-impact movements, such as raising your arms or legs as you are sitting comfortably and safely in your favorite chair. 
  • If you have access to a pool, swimming and water exercises work for most conditions.

Not everyone has the same exercise tolerance.  You may need to talk with your doctors about the type and intensity of exercise that is safe for you.

Start slow and in short sessions; start with even 5 minutes a day. Add 5 minutes to your daily exercise, every week or two, and aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise daily; it does not have to be in a row. Listen to your body.

As to exercise, over time, you will develop a habit, just like brushing your teeth. You will develop more endurance and strength than you could ever imagine possible!


References:

  1. Exercise for depression - Gary M Cooney et al
  2. Strength Exercise Improves Muscle Mass and Hepatic Insulin Sensitivity in Obese Youth - Gert-Jan van der Heijden et al
  3. Aging, exercise, and muscle protein metabolism - René Koopman et al
  4. Influence of physical activity on bone strength in children and adolescents: a systematic review and narrative synthesis - Vina P S Tanet al
  5. Exercise and bone mineral density in premenopausal women: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials - George A Kelley et al
reasons to move

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fariba Dayhim, MD was one of the first bariatric surgeons in the country to get an ABOM certification. Dr. Dayhim completed a minimally invasive/bariatric surgery fellowship at Texas Medical Center/The Methodist Hospital in Houston. As a bariatric surgeon, obesity medicine physician and the Medical Director of a Comprehensive Bariatric Program, she has extensive knowledge of every aspect of Bariatic Medicine. You can connect with her at DrDayhim.com.