Exercise Physiology — Why combat your “Couch-Potato” gene?

“ A healthy mind in a healthy body” — how many times have we all heard these words from our parents/teachers/school nurses or simply from all kind of people on TV or read on the internet? As obvious as it sounds, exercise really does exert an enormous amount of benefits to your body physical AND mental state… But HOW exactly?

Are you ready for some BIOMEDical insights of exercise physiology?! Yes?Then let’s get started✌

Le me tryin’ to be a sporty fit chick…but we all know the truth ahaha🍩 #Heidelberg’18

First things first! We all know that in order to do sports we need to use our muscles💪And that with prolonged exercise over time they grow, right? There is a neat scientific explanation behind this process, namely….

Obtained from 💪

Although there are different types of muscles, such as cardiac muscle (your heart), for the sake of our topic, we will talk exclusively about skeletal muscles. Skeletal muscle is composed of thread-like myofibrils and sarcomeres that form a muscle fiber and are the basic units of contraction.

There are around 650 skeletal muscles in the human body that contract upon receiving signals from motor neurons, which are triggered from a part of the cell called the sarcoplasmic reticulum.

Motor neurons tell your muscles to contract and the better you become at having those signals tell your muscles to contract, the stronger you can get.

So, how do muscles grow? After you workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy (growth).

Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. This adaption, however, does not happen while you actually lift the weights. Instead, it occurs while you rest. In this period, correct nutrition aka diet rich in essential amino-acids and carbohydrates plays a huge role, as it’s is needed to promote muscle mass anabolism.

What types of exercise are there for you?

Le me trying to remember to also do some lifting in-between taking pics :D

Aerobic exercise and resistance training are two main modalities of exercise commonly chosen in physical conditioning. Each modality has its unique advantages.

Resistance exercise can serve as a potent stimulus to the musculoskeletal system necessary to bring about gains in muscle size, strength, endurance, and power.

Aerobic exercise is effective in improving one’s cardiorespiratory fitness and in promoting energy expenditure and fat utilization.

The best strategy, however, is to practice them both.

It is recommended that a comprehensive training routine combines both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise because improvements in both cardiorespiratory function and musculoskeletal function allow individuals not only to reduce health risks and symptoms associated with physical inactivity but also to perform activities of daily living comfortably and safely.

Ok-ok, I bet many of you knew the above-described stuff👆 already. But despite this information being commonly available and people generally being aware of all the multiple benefits of physical exercise, the general statistics are quite frustrating. As stated by WHO, globally, 1 in 4 adults is not active enough. Moreover, physical inactivity is becoming a trend among young people and children.

Globally, 81% of adolescents aged 11–17 years were insufficiently physically active in 2010. Adolescent girls were less active than adolescent boys, with 84% vs. 78% not meeting WHO recommendations.
Proof-of-concept: Night jogs in Stockholm is a great way to increase your levels of physical activity while taking a break from working on yet another lab report x)

There is a number of reasons why we observe such worrying trends, starting from choosing an “inactive” way of spending our leisure time (such as watching series etc.🙈), an increase in sedentary behaviour (office jobs, endless uni work and such), growing use of “passive” modes of transport (ok, maybe not in the Netherlands🚲), and finishing with different environmental factors which may discourage participation in physical activity such as:

  • violence
  • high-density traffic
  • low air quality, pollution
  • lack of parks, sidewalks and sports/recreation facilities.

The latter, however, is not the case for neither Estonia, Germany or Sweden — countries where I got the chance to live so far while trying my best to stay physically active :D

Lastly, I would like to bring up another incredibly important aspect of physical exercise, and this is its influence on a person’s mental health. A number of powerful studies have been conducted showing the positive effect of MVPA (moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity) including effects on mood, self‐esteem, cognitive functioning and decline, depression, and quality of life.

A mountain hike can totally be considered MVPA… and one clearly see it’s positive effect on girl’s mood and general mental state :D #Alpbach’17

I am not going to describe how does exercise affect cognitive function and has therefore been used to advocate for more physical activity in schools, as well as in older adults to ameliorate or prevent cognitive decline. Shall you be interested in knowing more about the connection between physical activity and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, you can read it here and here, because… I wanna talk about depression👤

Don’t know how many of my readers have experienced such unpleasant condition at least once throughout their life, but I certainly did. Depression is a common illness worldwide, with estimated more than 300 million people affected worldwide. The beneficial effects of physical activity and exercise on depression symptoms and general mood have been confirmed in individuals of all ages. Moreover, it has been proven that exercise can bring additional benefit both when “administered” together with classical types of medications such as various antidepressants, as well as alone. Different physiological mechanisms are involved in this process, most prominent of them being exercise-induced beneficial effect of endorphins in mood, which suggests that further research is warranted on the endorphins hypothesis.

As for me, I am signing under every above-written word👆👊🙌No antidepressant have been as effective for me, my mood, sleep and general well-being, as regular exercise is. And it’s currently being my only way to deal with thesis-writing-related stress and anxiety #biomedslife #uniwhatyadoin’tome

With all the information gathered above, I would finally like to stress just one more thing. According to WHO,

Insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.

Insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.

Sick? I think it is. But it’s in our hands to change this!!

Regular physical activity of moderate intensity — such as walking, cycling, or doing sports — is the key. At all ages, the benefits of being physically active outweigh potential harm, for example through accidents. Some physical activity is better than doing none. Giving up on elevator in favor of taking the stairs, switching from a car to bike to get to work/uni, doing some yoga in the morning or helping grandma in the garden — anything would do! A for sports, I believe that everyone can find something that you truly enjoy doing while staying fit and healthy — there are SO many options!

Don’t be like her! Just…don’t :D

Gym is not the only place you can become a “fit-chick”. Don’t like sweaty people around and not keen on lifting weights? No problem! Outdoor jogs and workouts, swimming, cycling, acrobatics, dancing, volley-, basket- and football games, badminton, surfing, horse-riding, yoga, pilates, taekwondo, karate and s*it lots of other sports are there for you! The key is to try until you find your favourite, and then doing sports will become from a boring obligation into your greatest joy🙆🏂🏃🏄🏊🏉🎾🚵

Of course, you can also take an easy path and get some fake six-pack from Juan, but better go and do some real stuff there :D

Stay active, my friends!

Cheers for the days I was actually utilizing my muscles to the fullest :D

Thanks for reading!