Christina Carreau BA, ND

Exercise is a real ‘miracle cure’ when it comes to overall wellness and prevention of chronic disease. Research indicates that exercise can reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, osteoarthritis, hip fractures, dementia and depression. While the health benefits of exercise are well-documented, statistics show that less than 50 % of Canadians live an active lifestyle. So where is the disconnect?

With obesity and diabetes on the rise and the number of chronic diseases that are overwhelming our health care system why are only 50% of us getting on our exercise gear and getting sweaty? While it is easy to be overwhelmed by exercise in terms of how much to do? And for how long? How to properly fuel yourself pre, during and post exercise? What kinds of exercise are best? What intensity should you be aiming for? Don’t let these questions get in the way of you getting fit. Build this into your routine and then you can worry about all of the details as you go.

The benefits of physical activity are plentiful but if you need further convincing here are 5 more reasons to get your sweat on.

1) Detoxification. Sweating is a great way to eliminate toxins via your skin, which can reduce the detoxification burden on a number of your other organs of elimination including both the liver and kidneys. In the increasingly toxic world that we live in, enhanced elimination is a beneficial process for maintaining overall wellness. Try and find some time to sweat a few times/week. Sweating means you are losing water and electrolytes so be sure to replace both of those post exercise.

2) Mood Enhancement. We know exercise is good for our physical health but it is also very beneficial for our mental health. Studies show that exercise can be protective against both depression and anxiety. Running, biking and aerobics have been shown to increase serotonin levels, which in turn can have a positive impact on depression. Yoga has been shown to increase GABA levels, which is protective against anxiety. Simply put: exercise promotes happiness, and mood stability. Yet another great reason to lace up and get your body moving.

3) Boosts Metabolism. For many of us, this alone is a powerful motivator to go to the gym. We tend to be quite focused on burning calories and speeding up metabolism with the hopes of losing weight. Muscle does burn more calories than fat does, both while you are working out but even when you are sitting idle. So if you want to boost your metabolic rate, exercise can be a great way to do that.

4) Hormone Balancing. Exercise supports a number of different hormone functions such as, reduced insulin levels; which in turn helps decrease food cravings and supports fat loss. It has also been shown to boost DHEA levels, which enhances our ability to build muscle. It can also support healthy cortisol levels, enhance thyroid function and increase leptin sensitivity, which enhances both fat burning and appetite control. Hormone balance and exercise (when done properly and consistently) really compliment one another.

5) Promotes Better Sleep Patterns. As we discussed earlier, exercise can upregulate neurotransmitter activity that has a calming effect on the nervous system. This has the potential to help us fall asleep more easily but also to enjoy restful and deeper sleeps. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin and melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for controlling our sleep/wake cycle. So by exercising we help support serotonin production, which can promote better sleep patterns.

So, if you are part of the 50% of the population that is not exercising, hopefully I have convinced you that the benefits of exercise really do make this a worthwhile investment of your time. Exercise doesn’t have to mean running a marathon or spending an hour at pump class, just start out by going for a brisk walk. This weather is perfect for outdoor activity, so carve out some time in your busy schedule and take advantage of this ‘miracle cure’. Who knew getting sweaty was such a good thing?!