Whether you are working out for general fitness, to lose weight, manage an injury, run a marathon or just for the pleasure of it, your body reacts and benefits in a variety of ways.
There are the obvious signs you are working hard like the red face, accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath, improved mood and alertness plus the added bonus of looking fitter and healthier (when you finish your workout at least).
Everyone knows that exercise, even in a very basic form is essential to overall health and a longer life but very few understand what is actually happening behind the scenes. I’ll try to keep this as un-scientific as possible while illustrating the essential information.
Your body recruits glucose which is sugar you have stored away for later use from foods we eat in the form of glycogen. This allows the muscles to contact and move. It also uses ATP (adrenosine triphosphate) but the body only has very small stores of both glucose and ATP. After it rapidly uses these stores, your body requires additional oxygen to create more ATP. More blood is pumped into the main muscles contracting to deliver the extra oxygen. Without enough oxygen, lactic acid will form instead. Lactic acid is typically flushed from the body within an hour of finishing exercise.
Your body needs as much as 15 times more oxygen than normal when you exercise. This is why you start to breathe heavier and faster. Your rate of breathing will continue to rise until the muscles surrounding the lungs are unable to move any faster. This maximum amount of oxygen is referred to as VO2 max. The higher the VO2 max, the fitter the person is.
Like all muscles, the diaphragm gets tired also. Some people argue that as the diaphragm fatigues, it causes the horrible results commonly referred to as a stitch. Others argue that it is caused by the ligaments around the diaphragm having spasms. Whatever the case may be, deep breathing in the middle of a workout routine can usually offset the problem before it occurs.
When you exercise your heart rate increases to circulate more oxygen via the blood much faster than normal. The more you exercise and the fitter you become, the more efficient your heart becomes at this process. This means you can work out harder and longer. Eventually this will reduce your resting heart rate and make your heart function much more easily.
- Stomach and intestines
Because your body is pumping more blood into the muscles that need it, it takes it away from areas it considers it to be less of a priority, like digestion. This can create an upset stomach if you’re working out after just consuming a big meal.
Exercise creates more increased blood flow to the brain and this in turn allows the brain cells to function at a higher than normal level. This will make you fell more awake during exercise and more focused afterwards. NOW THIS NEXT PART IS IMPORTANT AND SHOULD NO BE OVERLOOKED.
When you work out REGULARLY, the brain gets used to this frequent surge of blood and adapts by turning certain genes on or off. Many of these changes boost brain cell function and protect from diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or even stroke. It also greatly helps to reduce age related declines.
Exercise also triggers a surge of chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters, which include endorphins or more commonly referred to as the happy gene. Serotonin is also released and is a well known treatment for depression.
Other parts of the brain that receive a great deal of benefit from exercising are the Hippocampus, Hypothalamus, and the Pituitary Gland.
The Hippocampus is highly involved in memory and learning, and is one of the only sections of the brain that will create new brain cells.
The Hypothalamus is responsible for regulating blood temperature, as well as salt and water balance. As the body heats up it tells the skin to produce sweat to keep you cool.
The Pituitary Gland is the control center of the brain and alerts the adrenal glands to pump out the hormones required for movement. It also releases growth hormones.
The rate at which your kidneys filter blood changes with exertion. After intense exercise, the kidneys allow a greater amount of protein to be filtered into the urine. They also promote better water re-absorption. The adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys are utilized to produce several of the so called stress hormones. Cortisol for example will assist the body to use its fat stores as fuel. Adrenaline will help the heart beat faster to assist in moving the blood around your body.
As you (or any machine) starts to heat up, it needs to be cooled down. The blood vessels in your skin will dilate and increase blood flow to the area. The heat then dissipates via the skin into the air.
The Eccrine Glands produce odourless perspiration, a mixture of water, salt and electrolytes directly onto the skins surface. As this sweat evaporates, your bodies temperature will drop.
The Apocrine Glands are another type of sweat gland found mainly in areas covered by hair such as the armpits, scalp or groin. These glands produce a fattier sweat that usually results in bad odour when the bacteria on the skin starts to break it down.
The capillaries close to the skins surface of your face dilate as well as they release heat. This causes some people to suffer from a red face when exerting themselves.
We as a species are designed to move. We are not designed to sit at a desk all day or lounge around on the sofa. So many modern health issues or concerns can be repaired or possibly avoided completely if we simply used our bodies as they are designed.
Your body is an amazing piece of machinery and will do whatever it can to keep you healthy and live a pain free life if you use it to it’s potential. This could be something as simple as 30 minutes exercise a few times per week.