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Daily Movement for Stress Reduction and Beyond

A holistic perspective

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As children, we crave movement, but our grown-up selves often choose to forgo exercise. We’re stressed and tired, and exercise adds to that. Or does it? While a physical stress inducer, exercise helps our ability to deal with stress in general and makes us healthier too.

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The big picture: Why it matters that we do it

A walk around the neighbourhood will lift your mood and improve your health. It’s not magic. It’s what movement does. Blood delivers more oxygen to our muscles, which in turn helps them process “fuel” more efficiently.

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Brain health

Regular exercise, because it delivers more oxygen to our brain, helps improve brain health, delay brain aging, and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s.

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Weight management

While diet helps address weight issues, exercise helps with weight management and also reduces the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

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Sleep and sex

We sleep better with exercise, have a better sex life, and improve self-esteem, too.

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Stress relief

As for exercise being stressful … It does increase cortisol levels, but unlike psychological stress, exercise-induced cortisol is soon inactivated, a desirable outcome that makes our bodies more resilient to stress.

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Balance

As we age, certain exercises, such as standing on one leg, can help increase stability, which is essential for reducing the risk of falls and injury.

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Metabolically speaking: Why it matters that we do it

We’ve all heard it said repeatedly that moving after a meal has many benefits.

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Glucose management

Active muscles are a great “sink” for glucose, helping the body’s response to the post-meal sugar influx. In the long run, daily exercise (ideally aerobic and resistance) can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

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Healthy microbiome

Our gut bugs also benefit from exercise. Active people tend to have more beneficial bacteria, some of which produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid with anti-inflammatory and gut lining repair properties, while others contribute to improved metabolic health. Regular exercise has positive impacts on dysbiosis as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

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Stress-buster supreme

Feeling blue? Go for a walk, jog, or hike. Aside from reducing stress and increasing oxygenated blood flow to the brain, aerobic exercise generates complex molecules called endocannabinoids, which can suppress pain and enhance well-being (the so-called runner’s high) and have positive impacts on brain health, cardiovascular health, gut motility, and insulin sensitivity.

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Mood manager

Speaking of desirable highs, did you know that serotonin levels, known as “the happiness molecule,” increase when we exercise? Among others, this helps us manage emotions better (translation: step away from a conflict and go for a walk; you’ll find better words upon returning).

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Cardiovascular helper

Nitric oxide, which also increases with exercise, can have an analgesic effect and helps improve cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure, often a consequence of acute and chronic stress. Exercise can help the body develop a robust response to stress, dial down the risk of depression, and lower inflammation levels and oxidative stress in the brain.

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Brain booster

Regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases; it boosts cognition, memory, and the ability to learn by increasing the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is involved in the growth of new neurons.

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Counter cancer

Up to 40 percent of cancers can be prevented by changing our lifestyle, and exercise is a critical lifestyle choice.

Higher levels of aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of breast, colon, bladder, endometrial, and digestive tract cancers, and picking up some weights may also work in our favour by slashing the risk of kidney and bladder cancer while also impacting total cancer mortality.

This is due in part to myokines, which are produced in the muscles during exercise and can inhibit cancer growth. And here’s the best incentive of all: myokines are only secreted during exercise, both aerobic and anaerobic, when they’re also helping prevent and attenuate aging-related conditions such as sarcopenia, dementia, obesity, and cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

No matter where you are today, think about daily movement as your most reliable ally in improving health, mood, and the chance of aging gracefully. Every step counts (and so does dancing!), so why not start today?

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Make it a daily affair

Make a goal

Work toward a goal of two to four workout days (bodyweight, light weights, heavier weights, wherever you’re at), each session at least 20 minutes.

Take a walk 

Get a brisk walk in (with a checkmark on the calendar for accountability!) at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If 10 minutes is all you have, go for it!

Include NEPA 

NEPA stands for non-exercise physical activity. It’s exactly what it says: movement as it happens. All of it counts for health and well-being. NEPA can include the following:

·         taking the stairs

·         replacing sitting with standing when possible

·         walking instead of driving

·         getting up from sitting and walking around

·         stretching

·         tidying up

·         gardening

·         playing with your kids and/or dog

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Stats and facts on movement

·         Approximately half of Canadians aged 18 to 79 meet the 150-minutes-a-week recommendation of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

·         On an average day, our locomotor muscles (the ones that take us around) are inactive, on average, for about 7.5 hours.

·         Sedentary behaviour can increase the risk of colon cancer (by up to 44 percent), breast cancer (up to 17 percent), and endometrial cancer (up to 36 percent).

·         Exercise boosts the number of mitochondria, which are directly correlated with muscle health and can contribute to lowering the risk of cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

This article was originally published in the December 2023 issue of alive magazine.

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