Losing To Win: The Hidden Benefits Of Exercise

Photo by TONY BENNETT | Contributing Photographer

Pure Fitness

The summer season is a time when many of those bodily improvements one has worked so hard to make are unveiled for all to admire: the ten pounds lost, the sleek, sculpted arms and shoulders and the tight, six-pack abs. Smaller sized clothing is purchased, and people notice and offer compliments for a job well done. All of that hard work is finally validated.

But what about the less visible improvements that occur in response to exercise? Although looking better can make you feel more confident, the true improvements – those to your health – occur on the inside. The human body is a complex biological machine composed of many interworking systems, and the great thing about consistent exercise is its ability to positively affect all of these systems, reversing damage caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, making the body more efficient and increasing longevity.

One of the most rewarding parts of my position to share health improvement information with others is that when people notice changes in their bodies, they often share the news with me. The visible, aesthetic changes are always great to hear about, but it’s the news of health improvements that makes me feel that the work I do is truly worthwhile.

The cardiovascular system, consisting of the heart, blood vessels and blood, is probably the system we hear about most when discussing exercise and health. Regular exercise reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, by helping the heart to beat less frequently but more forcefully, allowing the blood vessels to relax and dilate more, and increasing the ability of blood to carry oxygen to hungry tissues.

Recently a story was shared with me by Sandy, a 46-year-old woman who has been regularly attending our PURE Fitness boot camp for almost two years, about an improvement to her cardiovascular system. Sandy reported that, since the birth of her first child nearly 19 years ago, she has had a chronically high resting heart rate (about 85 beats per minute), and has frequently experienced the feeling that her heart was racing.

However, during the last two visits to her doctor, Sandy’s resting heart rate was measured at 55 beats per minute, and she has noticed that rarely does her heart unexpectedly race. Clearly, Sandy’s heart has become stronger and more efficient and is able to pump more blood with less beats, which is a great thing since the heart never gets to rest. She also reports that her thyroid function is now normal –after 15 years of dysfunction – and that she has lost 25 pounds and 22 percent of her body fat. Now that’s what I call losing to win!

Another very common body system that is positively affected by exercise is the one that manages blood glucose levels. This system can become dysfunctional as a consequence of a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary habits, often resulting in the development of insulin resistance, and eventually Type II diabetes.

Luckily, just as with the cardiovascular system, regular exercise can greatly improve the function of the blood glucose management/endocrine system. Exercise promotes the clearing of both glucose and insulin from the blood, both of which can be very damaging to blood vessels when chronically high, by signaling cells to increase their insulin sensitivity and to take in glucose independent of insulin. This is beneficial for people with Types I and II diabetes.

Meredith, 29, is another PURE boot camper who has seen a health improvement. She has been a Type I diabetic for 12 years, but saw her need for insulin supplementation reduced after participating in regular exercise. This is because her body is better able to clear blood sugar using the non-insulin-dependent glucose transporters that are activated during and immediately after exercise.

Meredith also credited improved eating habits, which are an important part of the plan for improving a diabetic or pre-diabetic condition. Barbara, 61, had been working hard at boot camp for several months, but was failing to see much progress with her weight and body composition. Somewhat frustrated, she visited a doctor and learned that she was insulin resistant, a pre-diabetic condition in which the cells begin to become unresponsive to insulin due to its chronically high concentrations, the result of a high carbohydrate diet.

Insulin is a ‘storage hormone,’ so when it is chronically elevated, it is nearly impossible to lose pounds or reduce body fat. Barbara’s doctor placed her on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet, and within seven weeks she had dropped eight pounds. She was also on her way to reversing her insulin resistance, thus avoiding becoming a Type II diabetic.

As you can see, with a healthy diet and exercise, outward, aesthetic changes will occur simultaneously with inward improvements to the body systems. This translates into a healthier, happier individual, with a superior quality of life.