Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being – Plato
Organs love exercise: Exercise, for mind and body, make healthy organs. Properly functioning organs rely on healthy sleep and nutrition (covered in earlier blogs). Organs also need the right quality and quantity of physical and mental exercise.
Organs 101: Understanding how organs are built and maintained by the body helps explain why organs need exercise.
A quick review: In Parts 1 and 2, you learned how nutrition, sleep, and your organs are all interrelated and how to eat and slumber for optimal organ health. This week you’ll learn how exercise, physical and mental, influences organ health.
You know that exercise is good for your body. It isn’t exactly news. Even before Plato, records exist from ancient China, Greece, and Rome that praise exercise for its health-related benefits. How powerful is exercise? Pretty darn powerful. Research suggests that lack of exercise (being stationary, sitting, driving, desk work, and so on) hurts your health. Sedentary behavior increases your chances of dying earlier by more than 50 percent, doubles your risk of heart disease related deaths, and increases your cancer risk by nearly 30 percent when compared to active individuals. From all the research available, it’s clear that more physical movement is good while the lack of activity is bad. Why so vague? Probably because the numbers are dismal. Today, the average adult spends more than 80 percent of his or her time sitting.
Are you getting the exercise you need? The blanket recommendation for exercise is 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week, and recent research suggests that even this activity may leave you short. The average adult sits for about eight hours every day. The physical demands you place on your body (within reason) tell your body what you need from it. Your body responds to exercise by building muscle, cardiorespiratory endurance, coordination, flexibility, and strength.
Regular physical activity improves sleep, eating habits, energy levels, and exercise reduces the risk of heart and lung disease, diabetes, cancer, anxiety, depression, and improves your overall chances of living longer.
What’s exercise got to do with your organs? To understand how exercise improves your organ health, you need to understand how organs are created and maintained in the body.
Organs and Organ Systems 101
Think about a washing machine. The most basic components are made up of screws, washers, hinges, etcetera. These small pieces are put together to make larger segments that serve various functions of the machine so that it can wash, rinse, and spin clothing. Arranging these more substantial components together in one unit creates a washing machine that serves one overriding purpose—to clean your clothes. The human body and its organs can be viewed in a similar way:
- Cells are the nuts and bolts of the human-machine. Each human body has somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 trillion cells that, by being arranged in many different structures, create the components that make you.
- Tissues Connected groups of cells form to make tissues that serve particular functions. Just as a washing machine is made of different materials (rubber tubing, metal, glass, etc.), your body is made of various tissues. Human tissues come in four categories:
- Connective tissue is cartilage, bone, collagen fiber, and other tissues that work to support and hold you together.
- Epithelial tissue covers all the body’s surfaces, including skin, the inside of the mouth, eye sockets, and so on.
- Muscle tissues come in three varieties. The walls of the heart are made of cardiac muscle tissue. Hollow organs such as the stomach, intestines, and bladder are made of smooth muscle fibers. Finally, muscles are made of skeletal muscle tissue.
- Nervous tissues are those that make up the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system.
- Organs. Now we get to organs. The tissues of your body are put together to create organs. An organ is a structure in your body that consists of two or more types of tissue that work together to perform specific functions. Just like a washing machine’s rubber tubing must connect to the tub to convey water to wash clothes, your “tubing” must connect to various “tubs” to carry blood to and from the heart and air to the lungs. Examples of human organs include your brain, heart, lungs, pancreas, muscles, and stomach. Organs are further designed and connected to create complex, interrelated systems. These organ systems work to carry out complex functions such as digesting food, eliminating waste, circulating your blood, breathing air, and so on. Altogether, your cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems make you—from your skin to the bones inside your body, and every other part of you.
So, back to the washing machine. Sedentary behavior can damage a machine in a way that is relatable to a stationary human body. If you put your washing machine in the corner and just let it sit for years, it would rust like the Tinman in The Wizard of Oz. Plus, the machine’s tubing would dry and crack, and the standing water would grow mold and bacteria that could damage the unit’s ability to function. Likewise, your body’s arteries and joints stiffen, your muscles lose strength, and waste isn’t properly flushed from your system.
How to Exercise for Healthy Organs
It’s not an exact science, but the 2018 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Report on Physical Activity gives some updated recommendations based on a review of the research available. Adults need 150 to 300 minutes a week (25 to 50 minutes, five days per week) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, biking) and two additional sessions of muscle-strengthening activity two times a week (push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, and/or lifting weights). The first goal is to move more than you do currently. This includes getting up more often and walking, doing cleaning or household chores, or any other activity that gets you moving your body. It all counts. Unfortunately, half of the American population doesn’t even hit the minimum 150 minutes per week, and another 30 percent of U.S. adults don’t do any sort of exercise at all.
Let’s take a closer look at some major organs and organ systems and how various types of exercise can benefit specific organs.
To protect your Heart and Lungs:
The circulatory and respiratory systems in your body love any type of exercise that demands an increased heart rate and breathing for a duration of time (hint: for a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes a week). Want even more benefits? Consider incorporating some high-intensity interval-training into your activities. Including alternating bouts of low- and high-intensity intervals provides extra exercise for these organs. Adding even a couple of minutes of running fast to a jogging routine has been shown to boost both heart and lung health compared to just steady-state moderate activity. Ditto for speed-walking interspersed in your walking routine. When you move at a more intense pace, you exercise the inside of your body by demanding that it pump more blood and breathe more air.
To strengthen your Muscles and Bones:
Strength-training, high impact moves like hopping and jumping, and exercises that improve balance and flexibility training all work to protect and maintain your bones, joints, ligaments, and muscle.
To optimize your Digestive System:
Includes and affects both digestive troubles and the storage of excess energy that can lead to over-weight or obesity. What’s best here is to move all throughout your day. This means breaking up desk time, TV watching, and driving with periods of time that you are up and moving about. Aim to move for five to 10-minutes once every hour of your day.
To protect your Liver and Pancreas:
These two serve the digestive system by filtering food and other nutrients and toxins, but they also are involved in the storage and usage of fuel that comes from the foods you eat. This is where overweight, obesity, metabolic disease, and type 2 diabetes are affected most. Since, all exercise reduces the above health risks that’s what needs to be included for a healthy liver and pancreas.
To enhance and empower your Brain:
Exercising improves sleep and brain functioning. The more you move, the better your emotional balance, memory, attention, focus, and clarity. Exercise has been shown to be as powerful as antidepressant medications at treating anxiety and depression. You’ll also lower the risk and progression of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s if you are a regular exerciser. Finally, mindful exercise such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation balances hormones and increases neural connections in the brain for better functioning.
That said, the bottom line is simple: moving your body is good, while being sedentary is not good—and that is the best place to start. The exercise you do when you are not purposefully exercising (the movement and activity in your daily life) is the first thing to examine before rating and determining the other needs in your exercise regimen. Once you have non-exercise activity covered, move on to a more structured exercise program. Now, get moving!