New science reveals how it affects cells in the body

Many Americans start each new year with a resolution to lose weight, and gym memberships often spike in January. But by March, the resolutions have often been scrapped. The pounds didn’t melt off as expected, and the gym shoes were kicked to the back of the closet.

While exercise can help people lose weight and keep it off, fitness experts say, people may overestimate the number of calories they burn when they exercise, or they may simply not do enough to tip the scales . That 30-minute cardio workout that left you sweaty and out of breath may have been like a grueling marathon, but it may have only burned 200 to 300 calories.

“That can be completely undone by consuming a donut in about 60 seconds,” said Glenn Gaesser, a professor of exercise physiology in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University in Phoenix. “So we can undo eating in a matter of minutes what it took us to burn so many calories over the course of many, many minutes, sometimes hours.”

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Regular exercise offers many benefits beyond burning calories, so there’s every reason to keep moving in the new year. “Research shows that exercise affects virtually every cell in the body, not just our heart, not just our muscles, but it affects every other organ,” Gaesser said. “Exercise is vital to good health.”

We have found that exercise basically improves health outcomes to a great extent regardless of weight loss.

Glenn Gaesser, Arizona State University, Phoenix

Among the benefits listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are sharper thinking, less depression and anxiety, better sleep, help with weight control, stronger bones and muscles, and lower risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer of the breast, colon, and other organs.

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To obtain “substantial health benefits”, federal health guidelines advise adults to get at least 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity, or an equivalent combination.

Nina McCollum, 52, of Cleveland, said she started gaining weight after having a baby in her 40s. Weight gain has accelerated further in recent years, said McCollum, who blamed menopause primarily.

McCollum, who has been physically active her entire life, didn’t find that exercise helped keep the pounds off. She now considers herself 40 pounds overweight, but she is as enthusiastic about exercise as she ever was. She works out at home, doing calisthenics, weight training, and climbing stairs. She also walks her dog and on weekends she goes for walks outside.

“I don’t care anymore that I’m not like a stick figure,” he said. Instead, he focuses on staying fit, strong and flexible as he ages, staying healthy and trying to avoid heart disease, which runs in families.

Exercise to live longer

Gaesser said research shows that people who are overweight but exercise regularly, like McCollum, still reap many health benefits. “We found that exercise basically improves health outcomes by a large amount independent of weight loss,” she said.

Physical activity works on multiple mechanisms within the body, and this is how it could help prevent chronic diseases and therefore also prevent premature deaths.

Amanda Paluch, University of Massachusetts Amherst

He co-wrote an article published in iScience in October that reviewed multiple studies and compared weight loss to exercise in promoting longevity and improving people’s overall health.

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While most of the data was based on observational studies and can’t be used to establish cause and effect, Gaesser said, the research suggests that intentional weight loss is associated with a 10 to 15 percent reduction in mortality risk. hundred. By comparison, studies suggest that increasing physical activity or improving fitness is associated with a reduced risk of mortality in the range of 15 to 60 percent.

“The main take-home message is that simply being physically active and trying to improve your fitness seems to provide better prospects for longevity than simply trying to lose weight,” he said.

Another study published last year also found that exercise promotes longevity, including walking significantly fewer than the often recommended 10,000 steps. Middle-aged people who walked at least 7,000 steps a day on average were 50 percent to 70 percent less likely to die of cancer, heart disease or other causes over the next decade than those who walked less, according to the results. from JAMA Open Network. .

“Physical activity works on multiple mechanisms within the body, and this is how it might help prevent chronic disease and therefore also prevent premature death,” said study author Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Dr. Robert Sallis has long considered exercise to be a fundamental part of a healthy lifestyle. As president of the American College of Sports Medicine from 2007 to 2008, he inspired the “exercise is medicine”, which encourages doctors to talk to patients about their physical activity, even to “prescribe” it.

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Sedentary people who get moving can start feeling better right away, said Sallis, clinical professor of family medicine at the University of California, Riverside, School of Medicine and director of the sports medicine fellowship at Kaiser Permanente in Fontana. .

“The first thing is mental health. That’s almost the first thing people notice: I feel better, I have more energy, I sleep better,” she said. “But then you could just go down the list of chronic diseases. I couldn’t tell you a disease that isn’t relieved by it, from diabetes to heart disease to blood pressure to cholesterol to cancer and so on.”

Sallis encourages patients who don’t exercise to start small and try to stay within federal guidelines.

“The curve is very steep in terms of benefits,” he said. “There are huge benefits to doing just a little bit. So I try to focus on those smaller pieces instead of feeling like you have to join a gym and you have to do all of this. Just get out there and walk.”

It also encourages patients to keep going even if they are not losing weight. Too often, there’s “this singular focus on their weight and thinking that, you know, if I don’t lose weight, exercise didn’t help me, and a lot of them use that as a reason to stop doing it,” she said. saying. “But weight has very little to do with benefits. If you can get overweight patients to be active, they will get the same health benefits.”

And being skinny doesn’t mean you don’t need to exercise.

“In fact, if you’re a normal weight and not physically active, you’re putting yourself at risk for a lot of conditions,” Sallis said.