From a young age, many of us are taught the basics about how our bodies and minds benefit from regular exercise. We know a good workout can control weight, strengthen muscles and bones, and improve overall stamina, as well as ease stress and anxiety and promote better sleep and relaxation.
But how much do we really know about what changes occur inside our bodies when we exercise? Our clinical Exercise Physiologists are university qualified health professionals who have studied how the body works, including the mechanical, physical and chemical processes that take place.
They use this knowledge to prescribe supervised exercise programs for our NDIS participants to improve their management of chronic disease, injury and disability. Below, they outline five of the ways our bodies react to exercise, showing why being physically active every day is one of the most important things we can do for our health, no matter our ability.
As you exercise, blood is diverted from your liver and digestive system to your skeletal muscles. Your body converts glycogen to glucose for the energy needed to contract muscles and prompt movement. The large muscles in your arms and legs squeeze the veins running through them, pumping blood back to your heart. Small tears form in the muscles that help them grow bigger and stronger as they heal. Improved muscle strength can be a great help with some forms of disability.
Muscles generate lactic acid as a by-product of rigorous exercise, which eventually prevents the muscles contracting further. Rest is needed to allow the lactic acid to be metabolised.
When we exercise, adrenaline levels rise, stimulating the heart to beat faster. This circulates more oxygen more quickly. Capillaries in the muscles open wider, increasing blood flow there by up to 20 times. The more you exercise, the more efficient the heart becomes at this process, so you can work out for longer and more vigorously. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new blood vessels, causing blood pressure, or the pressure of the blood in the arteries as it is pumped around the body by the heart, to decrease in fit people.
Increased blood flow benefits the brain, which makes serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. An increase in these ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters will boost your feelings of wellbeing and happiness, ease anxiety, and reduce pain. Gamma-aminobutyric acid, also a neurotransmitter, slows things down to keep you moving in a controlled manner, and also regulates mental health.
Your brain cells will start functioning at a higher level, making you feel more alert and awake during exercise and more focused afterward. When you exercise regularly, the brain gets used to this frequent surge of blood and adapts by turning certain genes on or off. Many of these changes boost brain cell function and protect from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or even stroke, and ward off age-related deterioration. As your body heats up, the hypothalamus in the brain tells the skin to produce sweat to keep you cool.
The diaphragm is the dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs that helps you breathe. When you exercise, your breaths per minute increase from about 15 when you’re at rest, to between 40 and 50. Your breathing rate will increase until the muscles surrounding the lungs can’t move any faster. Exercise makes your lungs stronger and, as your physical fitness improves, your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to the muscles.
During exercise your body produces heat and needs to cool off. Your blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin. The heat then disperses through the skin into the air. Your sweat glands also get to work, producing perspiration, a mix of water, salt and other electrolytes, directly onto the skin’s surface. When this sweat evaporates into the air, your body temperature drops. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to the skin which keeps it healthy by promoting collagen production, and new skin cell growth.
An Exercise Physiologist specialises in prescribing exercise and movement for the prevention and management of chronic diseases and injuries, and their support can be life-changing for people living with disability. They can help you improve your ability to move, increase your strength and general fitness, manage pain, improve your balance and walking gait, improve your mood, maintain your independence, and maximise your quality of life.
For information about our Exercise Physiology service, call our concierge team on 1800 238 958.