Benefits of Exercise: How does exercise impact your body?

Published May 6, 2021

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Exercise impacts every system in the body and can improve how you feel, look and perform during the day. But what changes does exercise make to your body? What are the benefits?

Did you know your muscles talk to the rest of your body?

Did you know your muscles and organs have their own unique language?  Muscles produce compounds called myokines which help them talk to other organs, including the brain, fat, bone, liver, gut, pancreas, blood vessels, and skin, as well as communicating within the muscle itself.

Biologically myokines have been shown to affect cognition, fat and glucose metabolism, bone formation, and skin structure. If your muscles and organs talk to each other, what impact does exercise have on your different body systems?

How exercise helps the cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system is made up of the blood, heart and blood vessels and is responsible for transporting blood, nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide and hormones around your body.

During exercise, your body needs up to three or four times your normal cardiac output, because your muscles need more oxygen. Your heart then typically beats faster so more blood gets to your body. Your heart can also increase its stroke volume by pumping more forcefully or increasing the amount of blood that fills the heart before it pumps. Your heart beats both faster and stronger to increase cardiac output during exercise.

This increased output helps your body by:

  • Helping your heart — Exercise strengthens your heart and improves circulation.
  • Boosting oxygen — Oxygen levels are increased in the body with exercise.
  • Decreasing risk — Your risk of cardiovascular health issues decreases with regular exercise.
  • Improving lipid metabolism — Exercise improves your metabolism of fats in the body, helping reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol and increasing ‘good’ cholesterol.

How exercise helps the musculoskeletal system

The musculoskeletal system incorporates bones, cartilage, skeletal muscles and connective tissues.

During aerobic exercise, your muscles improve the way they use oxygen and improve the way they use fats, carbs and protein as sources of energy. Exercise also increases mitochondria in the muscle, allowing the muscle to use food as a form of fuel more effectively.

During resistance exercise muscle fibres increase in diameter, causing an increase in muscle strength and bulk.

Exercise has also been shown to help with.

  • Strong bones — Strengthen your bones and muscles with weight-bearing exercises like walking or hiking.
  • Bone formation — Improve bone formation with weight-bearing exercise.
  • Reducing bone loss — Exercise slows the loss of bone density as you age.
  • Building strength — Maintain muscle mass and strength with resistance training.
  • Decreasing inflammation — Reduce inflammation in the joints and surrounding tissue with moderate exercise.
  • Building muscle as you age — Exercise helps with muscle proliferation, differentiation and regeneration.

How exercise helps the nervous system

The nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. It is the communication network that controls much of what your body does.

Exercise helps you:

  • Feel good — Improve mental health and mood by releasing feel-good chemicals in the brain when you exercise.
  • Snooze better — Exercise improves sleep by supporting your body’s circadian functioning. Circadian function deteriorates with age, so exercise becomes more important for a good sleep as you get older.
  • Reduce stress — Builds resilience against stress and anxiety with exercise.
  • Improve brain function — Helps learning and memory and executive function and support neurogenesis.
  • Protect your brain — Decreases risk of neurodegenerative conditions.
  • School performance — Exercise improves academic function in children.

How exercise helps the digestive system

Your digestive system is made up of the digestive tract, the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.

During exercise, your digestion goes through many changes, especially to the microbiota.

Exercise helps:

  • Boost healthy bacteria — Recent studies suggest that exercise can enhance the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, enrich the diversity of the bacteria, and improve the development of commensal bacteria. This can provide a range of health benefits for your whole body, not just a healthier digestive tract.
  • Glucose production — Exercise increases glucose production by the liver which helps you manage your blood sugar.
  • Gastric motility — Some studies have shown an improvement in the motility of the gut, improving digestion and reducing constipation.

How exercise helps the endocrine system

The endocrine system consists of glands that secrete hormones that interact with the rest of your body. These hormones support:

  • Growth — Hormones promotes growth throughout different stages of your life and during pregnancy as well as tissue repair.
  • Sexual function — Glands in the brain and reproductive organs produce hormones necessary for sexual function.
  • Metabolism — Your endocrine system supports digestion, elimination, breathing, circulation and maintaining body temperature.
  • Homeostasis — Your glands help your body maintain homeostasis.
  • Mood — The endocrine system works to help prevent low mood, fight anxiety and reduce stress.

Exercise helps your endocrine system to:

  • Maintain a healthy weight — Exercise helps your endocrine system control your weight and increase your metabolism.
  • Maintain healthy blood sugar levels — Keep your blood sugar levels healthy with exercise.
  • Support Mitochondrial function — Improve mitochondrial function (mitochondria are responsible for making energy) with exercise.
  • Burn fat — Help with fat burning. Exercise helps your endocrine system turn white fat into brown fat. White fat stores fat in big, oily droplets, large quantities of white fat leads to obesity. Brown fat contains smaller droplets and high amounts of mitochondria which promotes fat burning and can help reduce weight.

How exercise helps the integumentary system

The integumentary system is the largest organ of the body. It forms a physical barrier between you and the outside world. It consists of the skin, hair, nails and sweat glands. In addition to its barrier function, your skin also helps regulate your body temperature, maintains cellular fluid balance and helps with vitamin D synthesis.

During moderate exercise you improve cutaneous blood flow to your skin, helping protect it from oxidative damage. Sweating also helps remove chemicals from the body.

Exercise benefits your integumentary system by:

  • Helping you look younger — Exercise helps protect your skin from oxidative damage, improving skin structure and helping reduce age-related skin changes.
  • Improving body temperature regulation — Exercise helps improve microcirculation to the skin and helps you regulate body temperature. The ability to regulate body temperature becomes more difficult as you age. Exercise helps prevent age-related changes to this process.
  • Supporting detoxification — Sweating when you exercise helps support the detoxification of several toxic chemical compounds including PCB’s and BPA’s.
  • Helping you look younger — Exercise improves age-related skin changes.

How exercise helps the immune system

Your immune system defends the body from infection. It’s made up of a complex network of cells, tissues and organs, including:

  • Your skin
  • White blood cells
  • The lymphatic system made up of lymph, lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes
  • Bone marrow
  • Thymus gland
  • Spleen
  • Mucous membranes, like the lining of the inside of your mouth

Your immune system is very busing during moderate exercise. The benefits include:

  • White blood cell boost — Some white blood cells increase with exercise, supporting your immune defence.
  • Better surveillance — Immunosurveillance (where your immune system is on the lookout for foreign pathogens) is increased with exercise
  • Less inflammation — Inflammation decreases with moderate exercise.

How exercise helps the reproductive system

The reproductive system is involved in sexuality and fertility. In women, the reproductive system includes organs such as the uterus (womb), ovaries, fallopian tubes and vagina.

The male reproductive system contains the external genitals (the penis, testes and scrotum) and internally the prostate gland, vas deferens and urethra.

Exercise helps regulate your metabolism, improve hormonal function and reduce weight, all of which have a major impact on the functioning of the male and female reproductive system.

Exercise helps your reproductive system by:

  • Improving hormonal balance — Improving hormonal balance can help improve medical conditions that can impact your reproductive system.
  • Improve your sex life — Exercise lowers the risk of erectile issues in men and may increase sexual arousal in women.

How exercise helps the respiratory system

When you exercise, your heart and lungs work harder to supply the additional oxygen your muscles demand and with regular exercise, this can make your lungs stronger.

Exercise helps your respiratory system by:

  • Helping lung efficiency — Getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to muscles becomes more efficient.
  • Building stronger muscles — Some types of exercise can also strengthen the muscles of the neck and chest, including the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs that work together to power inhaling and exhaling.

Moderate exercise benefits every system in the body. It’s nature’s polypill, helping a myriad of conditions from emotional wellbeing to reproductive health. Finding a physical activity that you love, that gets your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day, will make a big difference to your life, helping you feel good now and prevent illness as you age. So grab a friend, find a support network and take control of your fitness — you’ll be happy you did.

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