Two benefits of exercise and why you should care

2 Benefits of exercise and why you should care

We all know exercise is healthy and there is a ton of benefits which are listed on countless sites. However there are still a lot of people that find it diffiuclt if not impossible to make exercise a habit. I get it. Exercise is an uphill battle. Exercises can be difficult, even stretching can seem like an impossible task. Always trying to lift more, run faster, push your limits in each session. 

There are two benefits though, that you simply can’t ignore. And that is independent of your age. The younger you are the more important exercise is.

1. Exercise is the best way to increase Bone Density

exercise for your health and bones
Why is this important

Healthy bones and bone density is currently considered to be one of the key longevity markers. Bone density helps

  • To keep mineral balance
  • To avoid ostepenia and osteporosis
  • To avoid weakening of muscles referred to as sarcopenia 
  • To protect against memory and cognitive problems
Some intersting facts on bones

Bone is an amazing tissue.  Bones have the same strength as cast iron, but achieves this while remaining as light as wood. 

Adult bone actually continues to expand, although very slowly. Bones also continually undergoes remodeling, replacing old bone with new bone. Ordinary activity causes microscopic cracks in the bone, and these are dissolved and replaced with new bone. Remodeling also allows bone to respond to changes in mechanical forces. Thus, bones are a totally living thing in our body!

  • 10% of adult bone mass is collagen which provides flexibility.
  • 65% of adult bone mass is composed from calcium and phosphorus. (Bones also contain small amounts of magnesium, sodium, and bicarbonate).
  • 25% of adult bone mass comprises from water.
  • Bones produce molecules  that communicate with other cells. 
  • Bones produce hormones such as osteocalcin and which support other growth hormones (like IGF-1) .
  •  They also produce cytokines such asInterleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
We lose bone density as we age

It should be pretty apparent by know of how important it is keep our bones healthy and dense. But unfortunately we are fighting against time. Already from our 30s the bone density starts declining. The decline is even more rapid for female as you can see below from Fig1. 

Bone Density per group
Fig1. Bone density per group
exercise for your health and bones
Fig 2. Bone density over time

This is bad news. Imagine, as calcium leaves the bones in the process of osteoporosis, it builds up instead in blood vessel walls, leading to dangerous calcified plaque deposits. Those deposits can rupture, causing an immediate arterial blockage and producing a sudden heart attack or catastrophic stroke. It is this close interrelationship between bone health and total body health that is ground breaking!

Additionally, osteocalcin acts in muscle to increase the ability to produce ATP, the fuel that allows us to exercise. While in the brain, it regulates the secretion of most neurotransmitters that are needed to have memory. The circulating levels of osteocalcin declines in humans around mid-life, which is roughly the time when these physiological functions, such as memory and the ability to exercise, begin to decline.Osteocalcin seems to be able to reverse manifestations of ageing in the brain and in muscle. 

Exercise to the rescue

But is it not all bad news. Exercise is the best way to stimulate your bones.

Performing weight-bearing and resistance training exercises can increase bone formation during bone growth and protect bone health in older adults, including those with low bone density

Athletes, that engage in high-impact sports, have significantly higher total Bone Density and there is a close correlation on the type of sport activity in achieving a high peak bone mass and reducing osteoporosis risk.

Physical activity, particularly weight-bearing exercise, is thought to provide the mechanical stimuli or “loading” important for the maintenance and improvement of bone health, whereas physical inactivity has been implicated in bone loss and its associated health costs. 

Both aerobic and resistance training exercise can provide weight-bearing stimulus to bone, yet research indicates that resistance training may have a more profound site specific effect than aerobic exercise. 

Fig 3. Bone density per activity
Fig 4. Fractures vs. Bone density

What is important to consider

  • The magnitude of muscle strain an exercise exerts:  When muscles contract they pull on the bones to which they are connected. These forces provide the stimulus for bones to grow both thicker and denser. Maximal strength training and impact forces are the best way to provide this stimulus to your bones. A bone needs to experience a tenth of the amount of force needed to break it in order to be stimulated enough to create increased bone density. 
  • The rate of muscle strain an exercise exerts: This indicates the speed by which repetitive, high-impact exercises, such as tennis or plyometrics, are performed.
  • The frequency by which muscle strains occurs: Running is a prime example of this as the impact on muscles is not only repetitive but continues for a long period of time.

According to research published in 2015 by researchers from Brigham Young University, some exercises offer greater benefits than others: for example jumping. 

  • A study found that jumping 10 to 20 times a day with 30 seconds of breaks in between jumps significantly improved hip bone mass density (BMD) in women age 25 to 50 after 16 weeks. Bone density increases directly coincided with the amount of exercise performed. Jumping 20 times twice daily resulted in 75 percent greater BMD than doing 10 jumps twice daily. 
  • While running also offered significant improvement in BMD, it was far less than that seen with jumping. This suggests that jumping should be incorporated into any exercise program, including low-impact activities like cycling, swimming, and running. 
  • In fact, elite-level cyclists appear to have a greater propensity for bone loss compared to their running counterparts. 
  • Exercises that will promote bone health and bone density include weightlifting and gymnastics because the amount of force placed on muscles and bones.

Strength training and putting stress on your bones is the number one thing you can do to promote bone health and bone density.

2. Exerise keeps your brain healthy

exercise for your health and brain
Why is this important
  • Learning is the driving force of life. A healthy brain is a learning brain
One purpose of the brain is to coordinate movement

The brain has many different functions, but most of us connect the brain mostly with the act of thinking.

Most of us take many of our bodies functions for granted. Let’s take coordination for example. We think that walking or balancing on one leg is an act of muscle recruitment.  However we don’t often think that every action in our body works in coordinated manner. 90% of the body’s coordination activities is around movement. The whole body works together to make you walk and every movement is ultemetely controlled by our brain. We tend to forget that since certain simple movements are now habits which which we perform on a daily basis, are engraved in our brain and are considered low-impact. 

Have you trying to balance on your hands? Handstands is a very fancy exercise which is a very high-impact activity and one that seems impossible to some and requires constant repetition. This repetition is only not required in order to train the muscles but mostly to build the right neuro-muscular connections. Nerves have cells called neurons. Neurons carry messages from the brain via the spinal cord. The neurons that carry these messages to the muscles are called motor neurons. Each motor neuron ending sits very close to a muscle fibre. Where they sit together is called a neuromuscular junction. The motor neurons can release a chemical, which is picked up by the muscle fibre. This tells the muscle fibre to contract, which makes the muscles move. It all starts from the brain!

The brain will atrophy without enough stimulus

We all know that a muscle injury can lead to that muscle to atrophy when it is immobilized. What you might not know is that the same muscle injury will cause your brain to atrophy as well. The lack of signalling, due to lack of movement, will cause certain areas in your brain to start de-generating.

Any time you move there signals that communicate back to the brain to help it know what is going-on. There are so many signals back and forth all the time. Touch, Pressuse, skin stretching, joint motion, tension, change in muscle length.

Muscle-brain connection is all! So either Use it or Lose it!
Creating new brain cells

You now know that signalling is keeping our brain healthy. But did you know that with enough stimulus we can create new brain cells?!

There are certain hormones like BDNF and HGH that help to create new cells, create new synapses, make new brain cell connections and learn new things. There is a whole science behind how hormones like BDNF help with neuroplasticity. 

And the key here, is that you make these hormones, in proportion of the intensity of the exercise.  So walking, hiking for example are not intense enough to provoke your body to get better, to learn new things and create new brain cells. You always need to challenge your body and brain, so it has a reason to get better.  Efficient training depends on an efficient neuromuscular communication, a good brain-muscle connection. In other words, you need to focus and concentrate on your training with your whole body; mentally and physically. It is important to make sure that your brain is able to activate your targeted muscle movements. Then, you need to focus your mind on contracting your target muscles rather than for example just thinking about the weight you want to lift. Doing weight lifting, HIIT, sprinting are the type of activities which carry such an internsity that require from your mind to be also focused, create new connection and help your body to get better. 

Strength training and movement promote brain health.

Key Takeaways

From the above it should be already clear how important is exercise for our longevity and health. Another important to takeaway is that the journey of health starts before one begins having issues and even in our 20s. Building the right foundation when still young is critical. As we age it gets more difficult to increase bone density for example, and if we don’t take care of ourselves our body will find it very difficult to keep up.

Start exercising today even if you don’t have issues, even if you are in your 20s. Build the right foundation for your health and longevity!

  • Incoporate high impact training in your routine such as weight-lifting, HIIT, running, jumping
  • Exercise is the best remedy to keep you bones strong, avoid injuries and keep the bone mass as you age.
  • Bone density is key for health and longevity.
  • One of the brains key activities is to coordinate movement and with enough stimilus the brain keeps learning and can create new connections and cells.

Further Reading