For people looking to improve their health, losing weight is usually pretty high on the priority list. The most proven way to achieve that goal is combining a healthier diet with physical activity several times a week.
But what happens when all that time spent on the treadmill or at the gym doesn’t turn into results on the scale? Or when the first few pounds come off easy, but the next five seem to stay put no matter how hard you try?
“At times like this, it’s important to remember that a healthy weight isn’t the only measure of a healthy person,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Exercise leads to many physical and mental health benefits that can’t be seen on any scale.”
Here are just some of the hidden benefits of regular exercise:
1. Lower stress levels. Exercise floods the brain with mood-boosting chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. The chemicals are so good at improving our mood that exercise is often recommended as a treatment for depression and anxiety.
2. Improved cardiovascular health. Regular weekly exercise lessens your chances for heart disease and stroke and also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Your resting heart rate also decreases, lowering the strain on your heart.
Leading an Active Lifestyle
According to the CDC, people who are physically active for an hour a day have a 40 percent lower risk of early death than people who lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Even 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (where you can still hold a conversation, such as during a brisk walk, leisurely bike ride or yard work) is enough to drastically increase your chances for a longer, healthier life.
3. Less chronic pain. Just 15 minutes of high-intensity exercise floods the body with endorphins – chemicals that block pain receptors in your nervous system and also help reduce inflammation and swelling. This is the same way that opioids like morphine and oxycodone relieve pain, but endorphins don’t put you at risk for opioid addiction.
4. Better sleep. Studies show that getting 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous activity every week results in improved sleep quality in the form of longer, more restful sleep.
5. Improved brain function. Working out strengthens the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, helping you stay sharp as you age and enhancing cognitive abilities tied to problem solving and multitasking.
6. Lower cancer risk. People who are more active are less likely to get up to 13 different types of cancer, including cancers of the colon, liver, esophagus, lung and breast. The results are significant too, with reductions ranging from 10 percent for breast cancer to 42 percent for esophageal cancer.
7. Stronger immune system. Exercise increases the production of antibodies that help the body ward off infection from harmful viruses and bacteria. Evidence suggests regular exercise cuts your chances of getting sick in half and helps you get over colds twice as fast.
8. Improved bone density. Both cardio and strength training stimulate bone growth and help us fight osteoporosis as we age.
As public health expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff notes, “Exercise has indisputably proven itself to be the world’s best drug … sadly though, exercise is not a weight loss drug.” Exercise is often pushed as the primary avenue to weight loss, even though it’s actually only a small part of how we burn calories.
About 60-80 percent of the energy your body uses every day goes toward keeping your basic systems running – breathing, circulating blood, growing and repairing cells, etc. How much energy (calories) it takes to accomplish this is your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and that rate varies from person to person. In comparison, only about 10-30 percent of our daily calorie burn comes from physical activity.
BMR is why some people can lose more weight than others given the same amount of food and exercise. So even though it’s easy to compare your results to someone else’s, avoid that temptation. Instead, remember that combining a balanced, healthy diet with regular exercise results in a huge number of real health benefits that no scale can show.
The LHSFNA’s Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers series and Build a Better Body pamphlet focus on helping Laborers build healthy diet and exercise habits. For more information or to order, see the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue.