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How Does Exercise Help

SS Diets How Does Exercise Help

Do you think you do enough exercise? Only about one third of Australian adults meet the national exercise guideline. Boys (men) are better at meeting the guideline than girls (women), and typically we (Australian adults) get worse at meeting the guideline as we get older. More of us report a sedentary or low level of exercise, compared with those of us who exercise regularly which is kinda crazy for a country with such beautiful weather, right? Essentially, we’re here to get you thinking and ask the question how does exercise actually help?

How much exercise should Australian adults do each day?

The national exercise guideline is 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity each week – that’s 30 minutes, 5 times a week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity (playing sport, running or swimming laps per week. Moderate activity is defined as requiring some extra effort, but which is not strenuous, such as fast walking, gardening or playing golf. Vigorous activity means you’re out of breath and sweating, think running, a HITT class at the gym or playing sport. 

I’m exercising but not losing weight?

This is one of our pet peeves at SS Diets. So many of our clients measure their success with exercise based on the number on the scales, as though that is the only indicator of progress. “I’m walking every day and I feel better, but it’s not making any difference to my weight”, is a complaint we commonly hear. To be fair, many personal trainers also use weight as a measure of progress which we personally believe is kinda lazy. There are so many outcome measures that are much more indicative of progress than the number on the scales.

Exercise should be measured in performance improvement, not a change in weight. How heavy is the weight you are lifting? Can you do the walk quicker or more comfortably? How many star jumps can you do in 30 seconds? Can you run further before getting puffed? Is your mood better? Are you sleeping better? Has your doctor dropped your blood pressure or diabetes medication? There are so many benefits to exercise that cannot be measured by weight alone.

Everything has a weight.

Lots of people want to ‘lose weight and gain muscle’ at the same time. We know they’re referring to lowering body fat and increasing muscle mass (which has a “weight’). These are fundamentally opposing strategies though (weight loss + weight gain). If you’re lifting heavy weights at the gym with the goal to increase muscle mass and strength, you’ll be increasing your weight. Many clients use weight and ‘fat’ interchangeably but they’re totally different concepts.

A client recently reported feeling frustrated she is doing all this training at the gym with lots of heavy weight lifting but can’t seem to lose weight. She also said she wanted to be stronger and feel more toned. We discussed a basic flaw in her thinking – which was that her goal (strength) is not measured by weight. That being stronger is weight gain and if she were to lose “weight” she would lose strength. Her goal and her measurement of progress are opposing.

There’s also a problem with interpretation of weight gain. If you gain weight (say recovering from a cancer treatment, or an eating disorder) most people interpret this ‘weight’ as fat. When we gain weight it’s not actually 100% fat. Our blood volume increases, our organs get bigger (yep, bigger hearts <3) and we have increased connective tissue (ligaments and tendons), muscle and fat and all of this contributes to the bathroom scales saying our weight has increased.

Move it or lose it!

The benefits of exercise far outweigh changes in weight (pun intended). Research consistently shows regular exercise (30 minutes most days) is as good at improving mood as an anti-depressant, particularly exercise done outside! High school students who do 30 minutes of exercise increase their school marks by 10%, by ‘getting away from the books’. So, when your teenager says “I can’t exercise, I’ve got too much school work’ the best reply is “you have to exercise because you have so much school work”! Getting away from devices (laptops, tablets, TV, computers, phones, watches) is helpful for students to be more productive when they sit down to address that assignment or study for that exam.

Similarly being sedentary (and not exercising) is terrible for joint injury management and exercise physiologists and physiotherapists are constantly saying “move it or lose it’. Exercise has been shown to both improve pain management and function in people with chronic back, hip and knee pain. So, when we hear, “I can’t exercise, I’ve got a bad back/knees/hip/ankle” our reply typically is “No, you need to move because of your bad back/knee/hip/ankle’.

Physical inactivity is estimated to account for 6% of Australia’s cancer burden, making it carcinogenic. It’s also as good at lowering blood pressure as mild level medication and improving blood glucose levels to match pills. While we’re in no way suggesting you stop any medication prescribed by your doctor, increasing your exercise will likely lower the dosage and minimise any future increase or potentially eliminate your need for it entirely.

How much is too much?

While exercise is particularly good for us (and most of us don’t do enough), too much can be bad.  Exercise becomes a problem in one of 3 circumstances, excessive, obsessive and compensatory. 

  • Excessive Exercise is when you push your body too far beyond it’s limits, making it do more than it’s comfortable doing. This might be lifting weights that are to heavy (and your technique falters), running to the point you feel dizzy or doing 2 gym classes on the same day.
  • Obsessive Exercise is when you have strong feelings of guilt or panic if you cannot exercise on a particular day. For example, if you intend to exercise every day but can’t because it’s Christmas Day and the gym is closed.
  • Compensatory Exercise is when you use exercise as a form of ‘purging’. It might sound or feel like “even though it’s raining I NEED to go for a run to burn off last night’s dinner/dessert/drinks”.

If exercise feels like an obligation, maybe you have fallen into an unhealthy relationship with it. While exercise is good for mental health and managing stress levels, over-exercising increases symptoms of depression, anxiety and irritability. Putting exercise before anything else in your life (family, friends, work, school) can leave people feeling isolated, disconnected and unsupported.

Our team of experienced dietitians can offer you evidence based advice and provide effective, practical strategies tailored individually for your particular needs. It’s best to book in a session with one of our dietitians and get the right advice that’s best for you!