Most important benefits of aerobic exercise according to science

If we ask different people at random if exercise is beneficial, surely most or all of them would answer yes.

However, if we ask them in what way physical practice contributes these positive aspects or their details, we will surely obtain fewer answers.

It happens that there are benefits that we all know (such as improvement in physical condition or weight loss), but there are many others that science has shown and that we are not so clear about.

Therefore, today I will tell you in detail what positive aspects aerobic exercise (and exercise in general) can offer you.

What is aerobic exercise?

Although all types of exercise offer health benefits, today I will focus on aerobic or cardio exercise , that is, in those activities in which you maintain a sustained work rhythm over time such as running, walking or cycling.

Due to exercise, more oxygen goes to our lungs, passing to the heart and oxygenating the blood that it sends to the whole body, especially to the muscles. This oxygen is essential for these fibers to burn the fats and carbohydrates they need to provide energy.

Therefore, and here we have already begun to talk about benefits, the more efficient the Volume of Oxygen Consumed (VO2), the more energy it will burn and that means a better physical condition and greater capacity for exercise.

Benefits of exercise for the health of the body

Just going for a walk in the sun is proof enough to know that one feels much better moving and training than in a sedentary life.

Exercising the body helps us prevent and improve symptoms of various diseases in children, adults and the elderly. A comprehensive research review conducted in Sweden in 2019 proves this.

Next, we will highlight the main contributions of physical activity to the health of the body.

Strengthens the bone and muscle system. Increases strength and physical capacity

  • Aerobic exercise has proven to be an excellent tool for building bone mass, even in children and the elderly (study).
  • The same research shows us that muscle strength can be improved at any stage of life by doing physical activity.
  • The effect of this activity on the bone system is effective, even in patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis (study). 

Improves the cardiovascular system

  • Exercise improves aerobic capacity by making oxygenation of the body and blood more efficient, allowing a better functioning of the heart. This reduces the risk of heart disease and death from this cause (study).
  • Increases good cholesterol or HDL and lowers triglycerides (study). A study carried out in runners indicated that the greater the distance obtained the higher the HDL values. Contributes to reducing arterial stiffness due to increased VO2max (study).
  • More flexible arteries, more cholesterol-free and more oxygenated blood help lower blood pressure, being as efficient as drugs (study).
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Allows better management of blood sugar and contributes to improvements in diabetes

  • Both endurance and aerobic exercise help patients with type 2 diabetes achieve better control of blood sugar and therefore insulin (study).
  • Similar results were seen in healthy people (studies).

Other physical benefits of exercise

  • Offers improvements to patients with asthma (study).
  • Strengthens the immune system by increasing the production of immunoglobulins (study).
  • Contributes to weight loss and, therefore, associated health improvement (study). In addition, it reduces fat mass and body fat (study) and may be more effective than resistance exercise.
  • It prolongs life expectancy in active people compared to sedentary people (study).

Benefits of exercise for the brain and psyche

Aerobic exercise in addition to improving physical health, allows you to obtain greater tranquility, happiness and offers functional improvements at the brain level that I will detail below.

Prevents and reduces the effects of stress and depression. Improves mood.

  • Certain neurotransmitters have been shown to decrease during stress or depression. Science teaches us that exercise in general, and aerobic exercise in particular, stimulate these neurotransmitters such as serotonin (study), dopamine (study), and norepinephrine (study). 
  • It helps in insomnia problems, offering better rest and quality of life (study).
  • Provides a feeling of well-being thanks to the release of endorphins, the “hormones of happiness” (study),

Other benefits at the brain level

  • Exercise reduces tissue loss that progresses with age (study).
  • It increases the balance, strength and physical level of people with Parkinson’s disease, as well as enables modest improvements in memory, attention and some other aspects in patients with Alzheimer’s. It also offers benefits in terms of neuronal rehabilitation (study).
  • Improves children’s cognitive function (study).
  • Higher levels of physical activity can lower the risk of dementia and cognitive decline (study).
  • It helps regulate stress hormones in addition to increasing the size and functionality of the hippocampus and reducing oxidative stress. (study).

What physical activity and in what quantity is necessary to obtain these benefits?

Research already cited in 2019 offers some suggestions regarding sports or healthy physical activity. Its main points are:

  • Perform aerobic activity three times a week and strength exercises two or three times a week.
  • Plan for the long term.
  • Establish a comprehensive activity plan that also includes the medical, physiological, mental and psychosocial level.
  • Be very vigilant for signs of overtraining.
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The Study also suggests monitoring physical and mental health over time.

Conclusions

Exercise in general and aerobic exercise in particular, help to keep the body and mind healthy, preventing diseases and providing improvements in patients who already have pathologies.

The key to achieving these benefits is to sustain the activity over time and accompany it with other healthy habits such as good nutrition and physical, mental and psychosocial medical care.

My advice to get started is to get moving, even if you only exercise for ten minutes a day. When you start to move, the well-being and physical and mental improvements will motivate you to exercise more and this will help you create a good habit.

Resources and further reading

  • Effects of aerobic and / or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. Leslie H. Willis, Cris A. Slentz, Lori A. Bateman, A. Tamlyn Shields, Lucy W. Piner, Connie W. Bales, Joseph A. Houmard, and William E. Kraus. Journal of Applied Physiology (2012).
  • The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients. Maria Grazia Benedetti, Giulia Furlini, Alessandro Zati and Giulia Letizia Mauro. Biomed Res Int. (2018)
  • The effects of exercise on bone. Basic concepts and implications for the prevention of fractures. Cosimo Roberto Russo, MD. Clin Cases Miner Bone Metab. (2009). Physical Activity and Sports — Real Health Benefits: A Review with Insight into the Public Health of Sweden. Christer Malm, Johan Jakobsson, and Andreas Isaksson. Sports (Basel). 2019.
  • High-density lipoprotein cholesterol and other risk factors for coronary heart disease in female runners. Williams PT. N Engl J Med. (1996).
  • Aerobic exercise and lipids and lipoproteins in patients with cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Kelley GA, Kelley KS, Franklin BJ Cardiopulm Rehabil. (2006).
  • Effects of age and aerobic capacity on arterial stiffness in healthy adults. Vaitkevicius PV, Fleg JL, Engel JH, O’Connor FC, Wright JG, Lakatta LE, Yin FC, Lakatta EG. (1993).
  • Endorphins and Exercise. Victoria J. Harber & John R. Sutton. Sports Medicine (1984).
  • Resistance Exercise Versus Aerobic Exercise for Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Zuyao Yang, Catherine A. Scott, Chen Mao, Jinling Tang & Andrew J. Farmer. Sports Medicine (2014).
  • An examination of serotonin and psychological variables in the relationship between exercise and mental health. B. Wipfli D. Landers C. Nagoshi S. Ringenbach. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports (2011)
  • Systematic review: How does exercise treatment compare with antihypertensive medications? A network meta-analysis of 391 randomized controlled trials assessing exercise and medication effects on systolic blood pressure. Huseyin Naci, Maximilian Salcher-Konrad, Sofia Dias, Manuel R Blum, Samali Anova Sahoo, David Nunan, John PA Ioannidis. British Journal of Sports Medicine (2019).
  • Exercise and asthma: an overview. Stefano R. Del Giacco, Davide Firinu, Leif Bjermer, and Kai-Håkon Carlsen. Eur Clin Respir J. (2015).
  • Demonstration of a Relationship Between Level of Physical Training and Insulin-stimulated Glucose Utilization in Normal Humans. Mark Rosenthal, WL Haskell, Robert Solomon, Anders Widstrom and Gerald M Reaven. American Diabetes Association (1983). The effect of intensive endurance exercise training on body fat distribution in young and older men. Schwartz RS, Shuman WP, Larson V, Cain KC, Fellingham GW, Beard JC, Kahn SE, Stratton JR, Cerqueira MD, Abrass IB. Metabolism. (1991).
  • The effects of exercise on the immune system and stress hormones in sportswomen. Kursat Karacabey, Ozca Saygin, Recep Ozmerdivenli, Erdal Zorba, Ahmet Godekmerdan & Vedat Bulut. Neuroendocrinology Letters (2005)
  • Exercise elevates dopamine D2 receptor in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. Marta G. Vučcković MSc, Quanzheng Li PhD, Beth Fisher PT PhD, Angelo Nacca PhD, Richard M. Leahy PhD, John P. Walsh PhD, Jogesh Mukherjee PhD, Celia Williams BSc, Michael W. Jakowec PhD, Giselle M. Petzinger MD . Movement Disorders (2010).
  • Aerobic exercise alone results in clinically significant weight loss for men and women: Midwest exercise trial 2. Joseph E. Donnelly Jeffery J. Honas Bryan K. Smith Matthew S. Mayo Cheryl A. Gibson Debra K. Sullivan Jaehoon Lee Stephen D. Herrmann Kate Lambourne Rik A. Washburn. Obesity Research Journal (2012).
  • Arterial Noradrenaline Concentration during Exercise in Relation to the Relative Work Levels. J. Häggendal, LH Hartley & B. Saltin. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation 
  • (1970).
  • Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. 
  • Kathryn J. Reid, Kelly Glazer Baron, Brandon Lu, ErikNaylor Lisa, Wolfe Phyllis C. Zee. Sleep Medicine (2010)
  • Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all cause mortality: systematic review and harmonized meta-analysis. British Medical Journal (2019)
  • Does physical activity prevent cognitive decline and dementia ?: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Sarah J Blondell, Rachel Hammersley-Mather & J Lennert Veerman. BMC Public Health (2014)
  • Aerobic Fitness Reduces Brain Tissue Loss in Aging Humans. Stanley J. Colcombe, Kirk I. Erickson, Naftali Raz, Andrew G. Webb, Neal J. Cohen, Edward McAuley, Arthur F. Kramer. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, (2003)
  • Aerobic Exercise. Sports-Specific Rehabilitation (2007).
  • Physical Activity, Fitness, Cognitive Function, and Academic Achievement in Children: A Systematic Review. Joseph E. Donnelly, Ed.D, FACSM, Co-Chair, Charles H. Hillman, Ph.D., Co-Chair, Darla Castelli, Ph.D., Jennifer L. Etnier, Ph.D., FACSM, Sarah Lee, Ph.D., Phillip Tomporowski, Ph.D., FACSM, Kate Lambourne, Ph.D., and Amanda N. Szabo-Reed, Ph.D. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Author manuscript; available in PMC (2017).
  • Physical activity and depression: Towards understanding the antidepressant mechanisms of physical activity. Aaron Kandola, Garcia Ashdown-Franks, Joshua Hendrikse, Catherine M Sabiston. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral ReviewsOctober (2019).
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