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Opinion | Exercise for health, not body image

By Carolyn Snively
On February 20, 2012

Being a college student is a full-time job; we want to catch up on TV shows, sleep, and be lazy every chance we get. Relaxing is great for our mental well-being, but we have to balance this with physical activity because being physically inactive can cause major health problems over time.

Today's society is more sedentary than ever before. We no longer have to get off the couch to answer the phone, get out of our cars to pick up dinner and go to the mall to pick up new clothes or the latest music. Technology fosters convenience that puts the world at our fingertips. We don't move our bodies because we don't have to.

What's important to remember is that the human body actually wears out from lack of use. A simple explanation is that our heart is a muscle and it only gets stronger if we exercise it. We need a strong heart to efficiently pump oxygen-filled blood throughout our bodies. Just like any other muscle in our body, our heart has to work harder the weaker it is.

Exercise typically has a negative connotation and leaves us thinking we don't have 45 minutes or an hour to spend at the gym three to four days a week. If you know you won't make it to the gym, there are other "convenient" ways to be active. Cleaning the house after a party and walking to class instead of driving are easy ways to stay moving. So, even if going to the gym isn't an option, do what you can to be active where you are.

One of the most common reasons we exercise is to alter our physical appearance. Regular exercise might affect our appearance, but there are more important reasons we should stay active. Physical activity benefits our bodies, especially the cardiovascular system, in more ways than we think. Not only does cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise build heart muscle, it results in at least twelve major health benefits (from information presented in KNH 188 and 243).

Aside from overall increased strength of our cardiovascular system, regular exercise lowers blood pressure and decreases body fat, resting heart rate, and insulin resistance. It increases mitochondria that make energy, good cholesterol (HDL) because fat is utilized to create ATP and keep bad cholesterol (LDL) out of the bloodstream, volume of red blood cells that carry oxygen, and collateral circulation where networks of vessels become enlarged to improve blood circulation.

More noticeable benefits of regular exercise include increased immune function on account of an increase in infection-fighting white blood cells, decreased stress response due to an increased production of endorphins, and increased self-esteem because no one can feel worse about themself after a workout.

These health benefits far outweigh any reason to exercise just for the sake of changing our physical appearance. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to extensively improve our cardiovascular system and decrease our risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States according to the CDC (2012). So don't stop working on the "spring break bod" after Spring Break ends.


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