The Real Impact of Exercise < Return to News

Cognitive, Physical, Metabolic, & Psychological Effects


As a physician, I’ve always felt that it’s vital to know the specific benefits of an intervention to make it a regular part of your lifestyle. It’s not just in relation to exercise. I like to educate my patients about a neat concept: literally titled “NEAT” for easy recollection. It’s an abbreviation for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, the energy expended for everything we do that isn’t sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended in walking to work, to vacuuming or household chores, to doing yard work. Our ancestors used to have a relatively high NEAT, but household wealth and post-industrialization work schedules have decreased our modern NEAT. To counter this damaging trend, keep moving—every activity counts!

Just as I advocate a variety of colors on the dinner plate, I also advocate a variety of exercises. Varied exercises can help avoid injuries caused by repetitive stress. Have a goal of 7,000 daily steps (10,000 for more fit individuals) or 150 minutes per week of cardio: brisk walking, biking, hiking, or swimming. To provide even greater benefits and to assist with weight loss, at least 300 minutes a week is recommended. Add strength training twice a week. Remember—it doesn’t have to be weights! Resistance can come from bands, cords, exercise machines, or simply your own body weight (like planks or squats).

We’ve covered the broader goals of exercise, and even a few guidelines for your personal exercise journey. Now let’s delve into the specific benefits of this practice.

1. Exercise affects the brain at the molecular, cellular, and behavioral levels. It increases levels of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins (the feel-good hormones). It reduces stress, anxiety and depression.

2. Exercise improves cognitive function. Research has shown that exercise improves angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels) and neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) in certain areas of the brain, namely the hippocampus. This leads to better learning and memory retention, which delays cognitive decline in the elderly, prevents dementia, and improves the attention span.

3. Exercise improves metabolism at cellular and molecular level. It improves insulin sensitivity at the tissue level leading to improved glycemic control. It also impacts the lipid metabolism favorably–increases HDL Cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and lowers Triglycerides. It can help prevent diseases like metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, and colon or breast cancer.

4. Exercise improves one’s lifespan. Exercise turns on (or “upregulates”) longevity genes. Researchers who studied the DNA of nearly 6,000 adults found that the telomeres, the end caps on chromosomes that shorten with age, were longer in people who were active compared to those who were sedentary (Tucker et al. 2017). This correlated to an approximate 9-year difference in cell aging between those who were active versus those who were inactive.

5. Exercise controls weight. Exercise can help prevent excess weight gain and maintain weight loss. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. Consistency in exercise is necessary for consistency in weight.

6. Exercise improves sleep. Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster, get better sleep, and deepen your sleep. Remember, just don't exercise too close to bedtime, or you may be too energized to fall asleep. A two-hour gap between working out and sleeping should be enough.

7. Exercise may improve your sex life. Regular physical activity can improve energy levels and increase your confidence about your physical appearance, which may boost your sex life. There's more to it than that, however. Regular physical activity can enhance arousal in women. Men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than are men who don't exercise.

8. Exercise improves the immune system. Physical activity during aging promotes the activity of the immune system, including T and B lymphocytes. An example would be the release of interleukin-15 in muscle fibers after exercise, a crucial protein for the activation of T and natural killer (NK) cells. Exercise stimulates autophagy, the recycling of old, worn-out cellular components. It also stimulates the degradation of dysfunctional proteins, restoring cellular health.

9. Exercise improves digestive health. A lack of physical activity is a major contributing factor to constipation. Exercise speeds up the movement of food through the digestive system, which prevents water loss from stool. This prevents the hard, dry stool characteristic of constipation. Exercise also increases your heart rate, which helps to stimulate peristalsis— the intestinal contractions that move waste out of the body. Any kind of physical activity is beneficial for preventing and relieving constipation. Simply walking for 10 to 15 minutes at a time can speed up digestion, too. Moderate endurance exercise reduces inflammation, improves body composition, and impacts gut microbial diversity and its metabolic contribution to health.

10. Exercise improves balance. It prevents falls and fractures, which is a major cause of morbidity in the elderly.  Core strengthening exercises (planks and squats), balance exercises (heel-to-toe walk, toe stand, side steps) and stretching on a regular basis can improve your balance. Yoga and Pilate sessions can also be very helpful.

Phone (602) 494 7700
Map & Directions

Monday - Wednesday
9:00 am - 6:00 pm

Thursday & Friday
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Saturday & Sunday

Now offering Telemed visits.
Call to schedule your virtual appointment.