Ever wonder why exercise is good for you?

By Howard J. Bennett

Have you ever been watching TV or sitting in front of the computer when your mom or dad asks you to stop what you’re doing and get some exercise? I don’t know what you do when this happens, but most parents hear the following words more than they’d like to: “Aw, come on Dad. I’ve had a long day at school, and my brain needs to relax.”

So why is it that every parent on the planet bugs their kids to put down the mouse and pick up a basketball instead?

Repeat after me: Exercise is good for you!

I know what many of you are thinking. The word exercise conjures up an image of chubby grownups huffing and puffing as they run on treadmills or peddle stationary bikes in an attempt to lose their middle-age bulge.

But who said you have to exercise on fancy equipment? The word exercise just means to get off your butt and use your muscles. And the best way to accomplish this is to do something that’s fun. If you like sports, play sports. If you don’t like sports, go swimming, hiking, take a fast walk or do anything that makes you sweat a little. Your body may ache a bit after you’re done, but it will thank you a thousand times over for the workout.

Here are some of the ways exercise keeps you healthy.

Strength. Like the rest of your body, muscles are made up of cells. However, one of the interesting things about muscle cells is that they get bigger (and stronger) if you use them and smaller (and weaker) if you don’t.

Strong bones. The more exercise you get, the stronger your bones become. And the stronger your bones become, the less likely they will break if you get injured.

Energy. People who exercise have more energy throughout the day. Really.

Fighting infection. You body has a sophisticated immune system that helps you fight viruses and bacteria that try to invade your body. One of the body’s defenses is a special type of white blood cell called natural killer cells. The name is pretty cool, but here’s the awesome part. Research has shown that the number of natural killer cells in the bloodstream increases after exercise.

Pooping. Believe it or not, exercise helps you poop. Running around helps your intestinal tract work more efficiently. People who sit around all day are more likely to get constipated, which can cause tummy aches.

Brainpower. Research has shown that exercise improves a person’s memory more than those brain games you read about on the Internet.

Sleep. People who exercise sleep better at night.

So the next time you feel like flexing your jaw muscles on a Snickers bar, resist the urge and exercise the rest of your body instead.

Bonus Fact: One of the problems with space travel is that being in a zero-G environment causes muscles to atrophy (get smaller). Even though astronauts exercise a lot while they are in space, their muscles are much weaker when they return to Earth.


© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 3/21/08.)

For more KidsPost articles and lots of other cool stuff,
please visit Dr. B’s website at  www.howardjbennett.com.