It seems like there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. If you’re like me, when life gets busy, one of the first things you tend to let go of is exercise. I have all the excuses: my full-time job, my children and their various activities, wanting to make sure I give time to my marriage. But the simple, annoyingly certain truth is that I just feel better on so many levels when I exercise. There’s no getting around it. So following the holiday season, with all its parties, platters and pies, I signed up for the Shamrock Half Marathon as a means of keeping myself accountable.
By signing up for a run in March, I knew I would have to train in the months leading up to the run to get my body ready. Even if you don’t want to run a half marathon this spring, there are many benefits to making the time for exercise. Here are the top 10 — from me to you not just as a provider, but as a person who never has enough time to exercise, but always comes back to it because it’s just that important (dang it):
1. It makes you less likely to die.
Seriously. Research demonstrates clearly that regular exercise reduces the risk of mortality from all causes for most individuals, regardless of age. The beneficial effects are dose-dependent, meaning that the more you exercise, the less likely you are to die. The effects of exercise alone have been independently studied and exceed the effects other lifestyle changes to improve health (for instance, exercising has a bigger impact on duration of life than quitting smoking). Vigorous exercise (at least 20 minutes three times a week) combined with regular exercise (at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week) cuts the risk of death in HALF.
2. It reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Regular exercise decreases the likelihood of heart attacks and death related to heart problems. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. Not only does it make it less likely that heart disease would develop in the first place, but it reduces the likelihood that heart disease, if already present, will cause illness, impairment or death. It also significantly decreases the risk of stroke. Both of these findings are thought to be related to the decrease in blood pressure that results from regular exercise, as well as decreased overall inflammation for people who exercise regularly. For both things, exercise makes it less likely that you will get them in the first place, and, if you are unlucky enough to get them, exercise will make the consequences less severe.
3. It reduces the likelihood that you will become diabetic.
As with heart disease, regular aerobic exercise improves blood sugar levels and increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, both of which reduce the likelihood that existing diabetes will progress and decrease the chances of developing diabetes over one’s lifetime.
4. It decreases your chances of developing cancer.
Exercise protects against the development of breast, intestinal, prostate, endometrial (uterine), colorectal and pancreatic cancer. And not by a little: you are 1/3 less likely to develop these kinds of cancer if you exercise regularly.
5. It shrinks you.
Even if you are not dieting, regular aerobic exercise and resistance training leads to a reduction in body fat and, potentially, weight loss. Especially for women, regular exercise is associated with less weight gain in middle age, regardless of diet. If you are dieting, adding in exercise greatly reduces body fat and results in greater retention of lean mass when compared to diet alone. Beyond fitting into a particular size of skinny jeans or looking good for the beach this summer, preventing or treating obesity results in tremendous health benefits throughout your lifetime.
6. It is good for your bones.
Weight-bearing exercise (activities that involve standing, squatting, lifting, running, jumping, posing or planking) results in significant increases in bone mineral density, making it less likely that your bones will break now or as you age.
7. It makes you smarter.
Dementia occurs much less frequently among individuals who have exercised regularly throughout their lives. Even among younger individuals not at risk for dementia, regular exercise results in significant improvements in cognitive function.
8. It boosts your mood.
Yes, really. Running in the rain will make you more likely to smile later. People who exercise regularly are less likely to have depression than those who don’t. And, people who are depressed report dramatic improvements in their moods and decreased depressive symptoms when they start exercising. Higher energy expenditures also result in less overall stress, and people report less anxiety when they have been exercising than when they have not made space for exercise in their lives.
9. It improves your function.
Not only does regular exercise make it more likely that you will remain healthy and require fewer sick days from work, it also makes it more likely that you will be able to take the stairs without panting; lift heavier objects; and engage in work, play and life with greater ability and ease. Individuals who regularly exercise are less likely to require assistance with their activities of daily living and are less likely to become disabled in general. For disabled individuals, exercise improves overall function and enhances independent ability to perform most tasks.
10. It provides new opportunities to connect.
Hiking with friends, biking with your significant other, or signing up for an organized event like a softball competition or the Shamrock Run with a group of co-workers are just a few examples of how to integrate exercise into your life. You’ll be exposing yourself to new experiences, creating a sense of accomplishment and fostering a deeper connections with others. Some activities, like the Portland Shamrock Run, have the additional benefit of providing a greater sense of purpose when they also benefit a charitable cause. Have you always wanted to learn to dance? Bend your body like the master yogis? Ski the slopes of Mount Hood with grace? Bike on behalf of children with muscular dystrophy? The possibilities are endless.
As you undertake your commitment to lacing up your shoes, rolling out your yoga mat, or buckling your helmet, know that much more than the satisfying fulfillment of your New Year’s Resolution is in store: the more you exercise, the better you will feel. Period. The more you exercise, the easier it will get. Period. The more you exercise, the better you will be. Period. It is worth it, and you are worth it.
If you’re having trouble making time for exercise in your life or just getting started, talk to your WHA provider. He or she may recommend you see one of our behavioral health specialists who can help you develop the attitudes and adjustments required to make exercise a lifelong habit.
Morghan Milagrosa is a Certified Nurse-Midwife in the Tualatin office of Women’s Healthcare Associates, LLC near Portland, Oregon. She attended Swarthmore College for her bachelor's degree and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing for her master's in nurse-midwifery. Morghan describes her three children as her "life’s greatest teachers," and motherhood as "an incredibly beautiful mess of unexpected tears and surprising delights." Read more about her and schedule an appointment >