One minute per day can transform you.
Do you know all the positive effects of physical exercise on your body and your mind? I bet you don’t. And even if you do know some of them, you may think that the recommended-by-the-Mayo-Clinic 30 minutes per day of moderate aerobic activity (about 150 minutes per week) is unattainable. If you’re like a lot of people, you might think that 30 minutes is too much time out of your day, and you are too busy or too tired for exercise.
Well, you don’t need to start with 30 minutes a day. You could just start with one minute per day.
You will tell me there is nothing you can do in one minute. Yet, you will be surprised at how much you can do in one minute: You can get on your tiptoes up and down for 20 seconds, then flex your knees up and down for another 20 seconds, then take one bottle of water in each hand and flex your biceps for an additional 20 seconds. See how much you can do in the comfort of your home for one minute? Or you can go for a walk around the block and for this, you will need at least 5 minutes.
You will be surprised at how much better this one minute per day or this walk around the block will make you feel immediately. And indeed, it is because physical exercise affects almost every part of the body. Among the numerous positive effects that physical exercise has, there are 4 little-known benefits:
1. Physical exercise benefits the brain.
Studies done by Texas Tech University show that physical exercise makes the brain secrete a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which increases the number of connections (called synapses) between neurons, helps create new neurons (a process called neurogenesis), increases long-term memory storage (see study) and increases hippocampus size (which encodes short term memory). As a result, physical exercise improves memory and cognitive function.
This same brain-derived neurotrophic factor has also an effect on mood. Lisa Monteggia from the University of Texas Southwestern demonstrated that BDNF has an anti-depressive effect.
A 2020 publication from the University College of London showed that the more physically fit people are, the less odds of depression and anxiety they have. Other studies show how physical exercise can slow down Alzheimer’s disease and significantly delay its onset in some cases.
All the above are effects of physical exercise on brain neurons.
But exercise helps more than the brain’s neurons: It also is good for the blood vessels in the brain.
Studies at the University of California, San Diego show that physical exercise stimulates the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the brain which stimulates the production of new blood vessels (a process called angiogenesis). This production of new blood vessels is important in the prevention of strokes.
As a matter of fact, studies on rats done by the University of South Florida show that even an instant of physical exercise before a stroke makes the stroke much less severe and the animals recuperate much faster than when they didn’t exercise.
We’ve established that even brief exercise is good for your brain, but the benefits extend to other surprising parts of the body as well, including the immune system. This is especially important right now during the coronavirus pandemic.
2. Physical exercise benefits the immune system.
Studies done by the University of Illinois show that moderate-intensity physical activity seems to increase immunosurveillance done by white blood cells by allowing these important cells to circulate more thoroughly in the blood vessels, and thus be better able to attack viruses and bacteria when needed. Physical activity is especially important to help fight against viruses like coronaviruses and the flu virus.
Research at the University of North Carolina shows that the more physically fit people are, the less prone they are to upper respiratory infections. And if physically fit people do get sick, they tend to have less severe infections and recover faster.
But be careful not to exercise too much and for too long periods without rest in between. If you exercise too long and push your body too much, this strenuous physical exercise could weaken your immune system and make you more prone to infection.
You need the right balance in your life: Exercise not too little but also not too much.
3. Physical exercise lowers blood pressure.
Another benefit of physical exercise is lowering blood pressure. Scientists at the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm, Sweden showed that physical exercise increases the number and density of capillary blood vessels in muscles which helps decrease arterial blood pressure.
Because a lot of Americans have high blood pressure, physical exercise needs to be a key part of their treatment.
Now let’s talk about another little-known effect of physical exercise: improved hormonal secretion.
4. Physical exercise stimulates the secretion of several hormones.
University of Copenhagen investigators discovered that physical exercise triggers the synthesis of hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine, growth hormone, cortisol, beta-endorphins, estrogen, and testosterone.
Epinephrine and norepinephrine increase the amount of blood the heart pumps which increases blood flow to all organs and muscles. Epinephrine and norepinephrine also seem to increase Natural Killer T cells which protect us against infections.
Moreover, growth hormone stimulates cell regeneration, cortisol reduces inflammation so physical exercise has a general anti-inflammatory action, and beta-endorphins help us relax.
The hormones estrogen and testosterone are essential for our reproductive organs, for our sexuality (I’ll write more about the benefits of physical exercise on sex in my next post), and for our bone strength.
And wait, there’s more!
I just described four health benefits of physical exercise, but there are many more that are well known, such as increasing cardiac strength and decreasing the risk of diabetes.
So, during this coronavirus pandemic, take at least one minute every day to exercise.
After a few days of one minute of physical exercise per day, your body will want more. So, you can increase your workout to 2 minutes per day then 3 until you get to 20 minutes per day. Look at different programs you can do online and choose the one that fits you the best.
If you can, increase your physical exercise to 30 to 45 minutes per day alternating walks around the block or nature walks with exercises at home. For even more variation, include a sport like tennis, table tennis, bicycling, or swimming, and you are all set for a strong body and a healthy brain which will be your treasures for many years to come.
And it all starts with one minute per day.
Nieman D.C., Henson D.A., Austin M.D., Sha W. Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45:987–992.