How Exercise Affects The Body

If regular exercise was a medication, it would be the most widely prescribed drug in the world. Exercise has what is known as a ‘dose-response’ relationship; which means that the more you do, the more rewards that you reap...

Very different to pharmaceutical medicines!

The benefits of being active are numerous...

But when and how can you expect to see changes in your body?

Let's look now at what happens to the body as a result of exercise...

10 minutes after the start of exercise

  • Heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate increase to deliver more oxygen to the working muscles
  • The digestive system slows down and moves blood to working muscles, away from the internal organs (so it’s advised not to have a heavy meal right before exercise!)
  • Increased blood flow makes its way to the brain, increasing alertness and reducing pain signals
  • The body takes up extra sugar from the blood stream and uses it for energy to contract your muscles; perfect for someone with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes

Immediately after exercise

  • Blood pressure comes down, because the blood vessels are relaxed and open
  • The cells of the body are more sensitive to insulin, able to move glucose out of the blood stream
  • Calories are burned for hours afterwards (although the exact amount depends on the type and duration of training – strength training is particularly good for this!)
  • You will experience an increased quality of sleep that evening as you recover and repair

2 days later

  • The body activates a low level of inflammation – so you might feel a bit stiff and sore, but the body will regenerate and repair muscles to better than before (this is known as DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness)
  • Your body is still benefiting from the rise in metabolic rate, meaning that you use up more calories for up to 72 hours afterwards.

1 week later

  • Your cell’s ‘powerhouses’ – the mitochondria – start to multiply, and your body produces more energy
  • By this stage, regular exercise is starting to improve self-confidence and can even reduce some of the symptoms of depression

2-4 weeks later

  • Marked improvements in strength and fitness are evident by this point
  • Your nervous system has increased its ability to contract your muscles
  • Muscle fibres are starting to get bigger, synthesising protein, and burning more energy at rest
  • Day to day living becomes easier; such as climbing stairs, or getting in and out of the car
  • You will feel less fatigued and sore after exercise as your body begins to adapt.

8 weeks later

  • There is a noticeable difference in body composition (less fat, more muscle), and your clothes will be fitting differently!
  • Brain BDNF levels will have increased – this handy little guy acts like fertiliser for the brain, strengthening connections between neurons and improving your memory.

12 weeks later

  • This is the point in your program where you need to introduce variety in your training, otherwise the body might get used to it and begin to plateau.
  • By this stage, sleep patterns will have started to noticeably normalise and improve.

6 months later

  • Muscles will be visibly bigger and more efficient, leading to an increase in strength and endurance
  • Heart muscle tissue has also increased in size and strength, resulting in a significant increase in fitness
  • Resting heart rate is lower – more blood gets pumped by the heart with each beat
  • Overall, there is a lower risk of heart attack, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.

1 year on

  • Being physically active has become a habit by this stage, and ideally it will feel strange when you don’t participate in exercise!
  • Exercising consistently for a year also results in less reported depressive symptoms, overall feeling healthy and well.

How exactly do we administer the wonder drug that is exercise? Take what you’re currently doing and add an hour each week, gradually building up to 2.5 hours per week which are the National Physical Activity Guidelines.

If you are already meeting that target, see if you can step it up to 5 hours per week, and see how good it feels! If you are currently not completing any exercise, start with walking – it’s free and easy! The best kind of exercise is something that you enjoy, and will go back to again and again.

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