It can be easy to become a couch potato and pass up your regular exercise routine while social distancing at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it can be tempting to binge watch your favorite shows for hours, there can be negative health consequences to a lack of physical activity. These include increasing your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and depression, as well as decreasing your overall immune system functioning. Now more than ever, it’s important that we work to improve our overall health.
So, how much should we be exercising? Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week to lower your risk of heart disease. Weight loss experts recommend at least 200 minutes of exercise per week to maintain a healthy weight.
If these numbers seem out of your reach right now, that’s OK. The research is clear: even adding a small amount of exercise can have a positive impact on your health. Although gyms are closed, we can still make the choice to get or stay active. We may need to change how we do things, but we can still reap the benefits of exercising during these challenging times.
If you make the decision to get moving now, look for these nine surprising benefits of regular exercise. Increasing your activity can help you:
- Maintain a stable weight: Exercising burns calories. The harder and longer you work, the more calories you will burn. Burning calories will help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Regulate your appetite. Exercise can decrease your appetite post-workout as well as decrease food cravings.
- Boost brain power. As we age, our brains start to lose tissue. Exercise has been shown to slow that loss over time.
- Enhance heart health. Regular exercise helps to decrease blood pressure and improve circulation.
- Improve immune functioning. Regular exercise has been shown to increase immunoglobulins, which help us to fight infection. Regular exercise also decreases our overall health risk. The healthier we are, the more likely we will overcome an illness quickly.
- Boost metabolism. Exercising regularly can increase lean muscle mass. Having this increased muscle mass increases your basal metabolic rate. This means you’ll burn more calories at rest—even when binge watching your favorite shows!
- Prevent injury. Regular exercise leads to stronger muscles. Stronger muscles make you less susceptible to common injuries that occur as we age, such as “pulling your back out.”
- Decrease cortisol levels. Research shows that regular exercise can decrease cortisol levels, which can promote healthier sleep as well as decreased stress levels.
- Improve bone health. Regular weight-bearing exercise is proven to keep our bones stronger as we age. This can help to prevent osteoporosis and decrease age-related fractures.
So, where to begin? A good plan is to make a plan. Start where you are and push yourself a little each week. I recommend patients make their goal as specific as possible. For example, “I will walk after breakfast for 10 minutes at least three days this week.” Write down your goal and re-evaluate it each week. This can help you remember where you’ve been and navigate where to go next.
There are many circumstances that are presently out of our control. While we may not be able to control what is happening around us, we can choose how we use our time. Wouldn’t it be a great feeling to come out of this time feeling healthier and stronger? The choice is yours. Get active today and enjoy the nine surprising benefits of regular exercise.
If you would like more information on how exercise can help improve your health or how to develop an exercise program related to your specific health goals, please call our office to schedule an appointment.
About the author: Megan Zakarewicz, DO, is a primary care physician with certification in obesity medicine. She leads the Grand View Health Medical Weight Loss program. She is accepting new patients via telemedicine appointments. For more information, call Grand View Health at 215-453-4100 to schedule an appointment.