Exercise: Your Pathway to a Stronger, Healthier You.

Imagine a life where you wake up each day with immense energy, a resilient body, and a vibrant spirit. Exercise holds the key to unlocking your full potential and paving the way to a stronger, healthier you. When it comes to nurturing a healthy and fulfilling life, exercise takes center stage. Its significance reaches far beyond mere physical fitness, encompassing a myriad of benefits that enhance every aspect of our well-being.

From boosting mental clarity and reducing stress to promoting better sleep and improving overall mood, exercise becomes a catalyst for holistic wellness. It strengthens not only our muscles but also our cardiovascular system, enhancing longevity and reducing the risk of various diseases. Additionally, exercise fosters self-discipline, instilling a sense of accomplishment and empowerment as we witness our progress and surpass our own expectations.

There are very few people who don’t know that exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy weight. Engaging in physical activity helps to burn calories and control body weight. Regular exercise, combined with a healthy balanced diet, can contribute to weight loss or weight maintenance, reducing the risk of obesity-related health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

By incorporating exercise into our daily routine, we unlock a world of possibilities and embrace the opportunity to live life to its fullest. So, lace up your sneakers, embrace the power of movement, and embark on a journey that will transform your body, mind, and spirit.

What’s more, exercise plays a vital role in maintaining cardiovascular health. Engaging in aerobic activities like running, swimming, or cycling has a profound impact on your heart and overall cardiovascular system. These activities increase your heart rate, effectively working out your cardiovascular system. Over time, this leads to strengthened heart muscles, improved blood circulation, and reduced blood pressure. Regular participation in cardiovascular exercises significantly lowers the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions.

Exercise also plays a crucial role in improving muscle strength and endurance. Resistance training, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, helps build and maintain muscle mass, which is essential for daily activities and overall functionality. Strong muscles support good posture, balance, and stability, reducing the risk of falls and injuries. Regular exercise can also help prevent age-related muscle loss, known as sarcopenia.

In addition to physical benefits, exercise positively affects mental health. Engaging in physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, which can elevate mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise is often prescribed as part of therapy for individuals dealing with mental health conditions. It promotes relaxation, reduces stress levels, and enhances cognitive function, including memory and focus.

Regular exercise also plays a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Physical activity has been linked to a lower incidence of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer (e.g., colon and breast cancer), osteoporosis, and metabolic syndrome. Exercise helps regulate blood sugar levels, improves insulin sensitivity, and boosts the immune system, thus supporting overall health and disease prevention.

Moreover, exercise contributes to better sleep quality. Physical activity during the day can promote better sleep patterns, helping individuals fall asleep faster and experience deeper, more restful sleep. A good night’s sleep is essential for physical recovery, hormone regulation, and overall well-being.

Lastly, exercise strengthens social connections and promotes a sense of community. Participating in group activities, team sports, or fitness classes provides opportunities for social interaction, which can have a positive impact on mental health and overall life satisfaction. Additionally, exercising with others can provide motivation, support, and accountability, making it easier to maintain a consistent exercise routine.

In conclusion, exercise is vital for good health due to its multifaceted benefits. It helps maintain a healthy weight, improves cardiovascular health, enhances muscle strength and endurance, boosts mental well-being, reduces the risk of chronic diseases, promotes better sleep, and fosters social connections. By incorporating regular physical activity into your life, you can significantly improve your overall health and enjoy a higher quality of life.

If you want to embrace an active lifestyle but hesitation is holding you back, there’s a simple solution: consult your trusted healthcare provider or pay a visit to your local health center, or a local gym. By connecting with knowledgeable professionals, you can pave the way toward crafting a personalized fitness plan that propels you toward your goals.

Good luck!!!

Four health benefits of hugs – and why they feel so good

For many people, the thing they’ve missed most during the pandemic is being able to hug loved ones. Indeed, it wasn’t until we lost our ability to hug friends and family did many realise just how important touch is for many aspects of our health – including our mental health.

But now that vaccine programmes are being rolled out and restrictions are beginning to ease in much of the UK, many people will be keen to hug again. And the good news is that not only do hugs feel good – they also have many health benefits.

The reason hugs feel so good has to do with our sense of touch. It’s an extremely important sense which allows us not only to physically explore the world around us, but also to communicate with others by creating and maintaining social bonds.

Touch consists of two distinct systems. The first is “fast-touch”, a system of nerves which allows us to rapidly detect contact (for example, if a fly landed on your nose, or you touched something hot). The second system is “slow-touch”. This is a population of recently discovered nerves, called c-tactile afferents, which process the emotional meaning of touch.

 

These c-tactile afferents have essentially evolved to be “cuddle nerves” and are typically activated by a very specific kind of stimulation: a gentle, skin-temperature touch, the kind typical of a hug or caress. We see c-tactile afferents as the neural input stage in signalling the rewarding, pleasurable aspects of social tactile interactions such as hugging and touching.

Touch is the first sense to start working in the womb (around 14 weeks). From the moment we’re born, the gentle caress of a mother has multiple health benefits, such as lowering heart rate and promoting the growth of brain cell connections.

When someone hugs us, the stimulation of c-tactile afferents in our skin sends signals, via the spinal cord, to the brain’s emotion processing networks. This induces a cascade of neurochemical signals, which have proven health benefits. Some of the neurochemicals include the hormone oxytocin, which plays an important role in social bonding, slows down heart rate and reduces stress and anxiety levels. The release of endorphins in the brain’s reward pathways supports the immediate feelings of pleasure and wellbeing derived from a hug or caress.

Hugging has such a relaxing and calming effect that it also benefits our health in other ways.

It improves our sleep: From the benefits of co-sleeping with infants to cuddling your partner, gentle touch is known to regulate our sleep, as it lowers levels of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a key regulator of our sleep-wake cycle but also increases when we’re stressed. So it’s no wonder high levels of stress can delay sleep and cause fragmented sleep patterns or insomnia.

It reduces reactivity to stress: Beyond the immediate soothing and pleasurable feelings provided by a hug, social touch also has longer-term benefits to our health, making us less reactive to stress and building resilience.

Nurturing touch, during early developmental periods, produces higher levels of oxytocin receptors and lower levels of cortisol in brain regions that are vital for regulating emotions. Infants that receive high levels of nurturing contact grow up to be less reactive to stressors and show lower levels of anxiety.

Increases wellbeing and pleasure: Across our lifespan, social touch bonds us together and helps maintain our relationships. As noted, this is because it releases endorphins, which makes us see hugs and touch as rewarding. Touch provides the “glue” that holds us together, underpinning our physical and emotional wellbeing.

And when touch is desired, the benefits are shared by both people in the exchange. In fact, even stroking your pet can have benefits on health and wellbeing – with oxytocin levels increasing in both the pet and the owner.

It could help us fight off infections: Through regulation of our hormones – including oxytocin and cortisol – touching and hugging can also affect our body’s immune response. Whereas high levels of stress and anxiety can suppress our ability to fight infections, close, supportive relationships benefit health and well-being.

Research even suggests that cuddling in bed could protect us against the common cold. By monitoring hugging frequency among just over 400 adults who were then exposed to a common cold virus, researchers found the “huggers” won hands-down in being less likely to get a cold. And even if they did, they had less severe symptoms.

Hug it out

While it’s important we continue to keep ourselves safe, it’s equally as important that we don’t give up hugs forever. Social isolation and loneliness are known to increase our chances of premature death – and perhaps future research should investigate whether it’s a lack of hugs or social touch that may be driving this. Touch is an instinct that is all-around beneficial for our mental and physical health – so we should celebrate its return.

Of course, not everyone craves a hug. So for those that don’t, there’s no reason to worry about missing out on the benefits of hugs – as giving yourself a hug has also been shown to regulate emotional processes and reduce stress.

Authors: Francis McGlone

Professor in Neuroscience, Liverpool John Moores University.

Susannah Walker

Senior Lecturer, Natural Sciences & Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University

Disclosure statement:

Francis McGlone has received funding from The Leverhulme Trust, BIAL,

Susannah Walker receives funding from The Leverhulme Trust and BIAL.

This article is republished from www.theconversation.com under a Creative Commons license.

 

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