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Body

8 ways exercise can act as medicine for your body and mind

Regular exercise has a host of benefits including the ability to help reduce and prevent a range of health issues and conditions.

By Debbie Duncan
Regular exercise can help you live longer, keep blood pressure under control, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, counteract obesity, improve lung function, and help alleviate depression.
Hear we explore 8 ways exercise can act as a medicine.

1. It can help prevent osteoporosis

To protect bones the ultimate goal is to keep muscles strong.
Weight-bearing exercise is one of the best ways to do that, and it can also help to maintain bone density in people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia.
Strength training will add to the benefits, by preventing falls and making it easier to perform everyday tasks.
To protect your bones, the ultimate goal is to keep your muscles strong. (Image: Getty)

2. It'll give your liver a workout

A sedentary lifestyle is a common cause of liver disease.
Exercise can help boost your immune system and support a healthy liver. Because the liver stores and processes your blood, good circulation is important for it to work efficiently.
Exercise increases circulation by making your heart pump more blood so the liver can send it to your brain, organs, tendons, joints and muscles.

3. It can protect your heart

Any exercise is better than none but not being active - meaning you're not getting the recommended amount of exercise - is one of the risk factors for heart disease.
Exercise regularly and you're less likely to develop the disease, largely because exercise works to control other factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and weight gain.

4. It can give your mental health a workout

Research has consistently shown that regular exercise is associated with a lower incidence of depression, thanks to the release of feel-good neurotransmitters, but the social aspect also plays a part.
Heading to the park, the gym, or taking a group workout class gets you out of the house and interacting with others, which can ease isolation, a factor in mental wellbeing.
If you prefer lower-intensity exercise like yoga, you'll be happy to learn that it also has mood-boosting benefits.
Even low-intensity exercise like yoga can have mood-boosting benefits. (Image: Getty)

5. It can help do away with inflammation

Not regularly moving your body can create inflammation, but as little as 20 minutes daily of moderate exercise could be all that's needed for an anti-inflammatory effect.
It doesn't have to be intense to have a beneficial effect either. Almost any type of workout that raises your heart rate will do the trick, such as brisk walking, playing tennis, or even mowing the lawn.

6. It can help beat pain

You might feel anxious about exercising if you suffer from pain, but regular stretching and physical activity help decrease pain and discomfort.
Even if you have a medical condition like arthritis or have had surgery for back pain, movement and exercise form a key component of your recovery.
Just remember to pace yourself, start slowly and gradually build up the duration and intensity of your activity. Always consult your doctor before starting.

7. It can help as a stress reliever

Exercise can help stop the build-up of stress.
Take a brisk walk when you're feeling stressed, and you'll experience deeper breathing and reduced muscle tension, both of which induce a sense of calm.
Believe it or not, exercising can actually help to beat pain in the form of stretching exercises. (Image: Getty)

8. It can drop your diabetes risk

Insulin resistance often stars with inactivity.
If you don't use your muscles enough, fat builds inside the muscle fibres over time and insulin resistance develops.
The best way to reverse it is to get active. You can reduce your risk of diabetes by 40 per cent if your exercise at a moderate pace for an hour each day.

Just make sure you take care

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or have previously broken a bone, check with your doctor before doing any high-impact, weight-bearing activities.
In many cases it's safer to stick to low-impact, weight-bearing activities instead, such as:
  • Walking
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Standing up and sitting down in a chair
  • Tai chi
  • Using an elliptical trainer
  • Using a stair climber
  • Leg raises, squats and toe stands while holding onto a sturdy object
And remember, slowly does it:
  • Only exercise within comfortable limits. Avoid physical activity if you feel unwell, tired, or sore from your last workout.
  • Start slowly and at a low intensity. Try a gentle walk around the house or garden, or along a level footpath and build up gradually to walking further distances at a faster face.
  • If you want to do more intense activity, check with your doctor first, and build up slowly over a number of weeks.
  • Slow down or stop if you feel short of breath. You should be able to talk normally while you're doing the activity.

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