August 14

The Importance Of Exercise For Survival: 11 Reasons You Need Movement In Your Life

Living well should matter as much as living longer. This post contains 11 scientifically-backed reasons, on the importance of exercise to our survival.

I woke up a few days ago with a sore throat. I vividly imagined red-spiked coronaviruses floating in my throat. Yikes!  

Told you - I tend to Overthink! I decided to take my advice to combat this analysis-paralysis through the practice of Gratitude. So, instead of frantically calling my attorney to update my will, I reflected on the top-3 positive life-changing events from the last two decades that have happened in my life. (Note: I’ve been married for more than two decades, in case friends and family wonder why I left my spouse out of this list)!

  • Having a child
  • Learning the importance of exercise
  • Practicing meditation

It's not hyperbole for me to credit my existence today to these three factors. I’ll tell you why.

Good Health

Like most people, I used to hear the overused phrase ‘Sleep well, eat right and exercise’ and ignore it. This is such a cliched and overstated phrase that it means nothing to most people. Most people hear it, almost everyone repeats it but hardly anyone follows it. I wasn’t different.

However, a serious health scare forced me to reckon with the true meaning of this phrase. I had to quickly learn the importance of exercise, sleep, and diet, albeit under trying circumstances, just to survive.

It’s good to learn from your mistakes, it’s better to learn from others.

I write this article, in the hope that you learn from my mistakes. My goal today is for every reader to take this cliché – ‘Sleep well, eat right and exercise’, seriously.

I’ve already written about how important Sleep is.

Diet recommendations are about as polarizing a topic as recommending a religion (or non-religion) to follow. I’m not ready to touch that one with a barge pole. Yet.

This leaves me today to address the importance of exercise. For that, we first need to understand two terms: lifespan and disease span.

Lifespan v Disease-span

Almost all emphasis, especially in the western world, has been on increasing lifespan aka the average life expectancy. Very little importance is placed on whether the increased life expectancy is commensurate with an increased quality of life.

As a result, we are becoming a longer-living but disease-ridden population. In other words, we’ve increased our disease-span and not our lifespan.

So, how did we get to this place where quantity seems to matter over quality?

Here’s a snippet from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website:

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) caused 71% of deaths globally, ranging from 37% in low-income countries to 88% in high-income countries. All but one of the 10 leading causes of death in high-income countries were NCDs.

Translation: 88% of death in rich countries is due to lifestyle factors, or to put it more bluntly – ‘diseases of the rich’. 

88% of anything is a staggering number. If someone said to you 88% of your car’s mechanical systems are bound to fail, I bet you’d be calling an Uber right away. 

A sedentary lifestyle aka not realizing the importance of exercise is #1 in that list of key lifestyle factors.  Yet, our reaction to the WHO's warning is not one of alarm. I guess we're too involved in our sedentary lifestyles to pay attention. 

Sitting is the new smoking

A CDC report from 2017 shows that only 20% of the US population gets both the recommended amount of exercises (aerobic and muscle-strengthening) every week. Now, that explains the WHO statistic above. 

It is no wonder then that being a sofa spud (apparently, people don’t like being referred to as couch potatoes anymore) simply leads to increased disease-span.

Sitting is indeed the new smoking!

Let’s just say you’re convinced about the above stats, but absolutely detest the word EXERCISE. So you’d like to know if there’s any other way to get these benefits? A pill, perhaps? 

After all, our ancestor cavemen and women or for that matter even our great-grandparents had never heard of rowing machines, treadmills or ellipticals. They seemed to fare okay. So what are we missing? Why do we need to understand the importance of exercise?

To answer this perfectly legit question, I defer to my trusted source - Science.

The Science behind exercise

Here’s an overly-simplistic scientific explanation that may help you understand the importance of exercise.

The largest organ in our bodies is the muscular-skeletal system. When you contract muscles, (as you do with exercise), stuff (proteins and peptides) called myokines are released. These myokines act as protective agents, travel to various organs, and guard your body against diseases. Consider them your own security detail.

On the contrary, at-rest muscles (such as when you’re in a sofa-spud-state) don’t produce myokines. Therefore, if your muscles are constantly in a resting state, your visceral fat increases over time leading to systemic inflammation all over the body. This then becomes fertile ground for 88% of diseases that kill us - diabetes, cancer, heart disease, depression, dementia, etc.

Bad News: As of this writing, quality myokines cannot be produced even in the most technologically advanced laboratory in the world. So, regardless of how much money you have, you can’t hire your security detail.

Good News: On the other hand, you can groom them. Every single one of us hosts our very own internal lab capable of producing custom-made myokines, on-demand, and at very low cost to boot. The only input they require are some contractions in the form of exercise. The best things in life really are free. 

So, there you have it. The choice is clear. It's Hobson's choice. For those that aren’t familiar with the expression…

Hobson's Choice

Hobson (1544-1631), an English gentleman, owned 40 horses that he housed in a stable. The stable gave customers the appearance that they could go in and choose the horse they wanted. However, Hobson had a rule that the customer could only pick the horse closest to the door (since he didn’t want his best horses overworked). Of course, this meant the customers didn’t really have a choice in which horse they picked even though there supposedly were a stable full of them. Hence the expression ‘Hobson’s choice’.

Moral: If you seek to live well, you NEED to exercise. Period.

What counts as exercise?

CDC recommends at least

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity OR 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity AND
  • Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week.

But this is the bare minimum. If you believe in Retail America’s maxim of ‘Buy more/save more’, then, I’d recommend extending that to exercise as well.

Here's my motto in terms of how much exercise is good for you: As much as you can, and then some. Of course, temper it with some common sense. Too much too soon will send you back to square one in no time.

Also, you don’t have to be spandex-clad and do Jane Fonda-type workouts (only people born about half a century ago may even understand this reference. Others: I insist you look up her videos online; entertainment at its best!). Do what you can.

When you exercise you become a different person altogether. Literally. A very recent Stanford study showed that just a 10-min jog changed 9815 molecules in your body. 

Exercising has numerous benefits, but to drill home the importance of exercise, I'll give you my top 11. Because 11 is better than 10.

My Top 11 reasons to exercise

1. For health

To increase your lifespan instead of your disease span. See above - Enough said.

2. To beat blahs

I’ve encountered the blues and blahs more often than I care to remember. I’ve found exercise helps combat this better than other alternatives. 

You’ve probably heard the term exercise-induced endorphins. While endorphins get all the credit, it’s not really the endorphins but other neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin that actually make you feel better. Low levels of these hormones are associated with depression. Consistent exercise makes your body learn how to react to stress and keeps these hormones in balance. 

3. For inspiration

I always come back buzzing with ideas after a walk or run. I certainly am not the only with this reaction. The simple act of putting one foot in front of another triggers creativity.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous philosopher said, ‘All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking’. Not sure about his other ideas, but on this matter, Nietzsche was spot-on.

A study published by Stanford researchers found that participants were overwhelmingly more creative when walking as opposed to sitting. Their creativity went up by more than 60 – 80% when walking. For real.

So, just know that the next big movie idea or best-selling app or book is a secret treasure already lodged inside your brain. Your key to unlock that treasure is to get out and walk. Or run. Don't underestimate the importance of exercise.

4. For Me-time 

When I’m overwhelmed or when I feel like I owe everyone in the world something that is due that very moment, I choose to do what wise people do. Disappear. I run (or walk) away from it all. I usually come back less-frazzled and with a clearer mental picture of my priorities.

5. To stay sharp 

I’m not saying I’m the sharpest tool in the shed but I’m convinced things would be much worse if I weren’t an exercise-junkie. 

Science has proven that you can literally rejuvenate the brain through exercise. I’ve talked at length about neuroplasticity and neurogenesis here.

A recent Argentinian study on middle-aged mice (a group that I closely self-identify with), showed that aging-related slowed neuron-development is reversed through running. I can vouch for it.

6. To feel good

How can something that seems like a punishment feel good, you ask? I think its nature’s way of rewarding us for our hard work. Not many runners would have returned to running if it weren’t for the runner’s high.

The happiness hormones that exercise releases - dopamine and endorphins - stay in circulation for a while in the body even after the exercising is done. And you know how contagious happiness can be. When I’m happy, I tend to be less of a pain in the a... for everyone else too. Win-Win.

7. To heal

The best way to process grief and seek comfort is through physical activity – walking, hiking, running, biking – preferably in nature. I have run my way through grief and loss and can vouch for this.

Two days after a shocking loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, a photo of Hilary Clinton surfaced on social media. Clinton was seen walking with her dog in the woods of Chappaqua, New York. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you are on, you have to admit that Clinton had just faced monumental disappointment and humiliation in the most public way possible.

But she got one thing totally right. Long walks in the middle of nature can be intensely healing.

The Japanese have a term for this, Shinrin-Yoku, translated as Forest bathing. This means moving about and engaging with nature (doesn’t have to the forest - could be your garden or neighborhood park) through your senses. Numerous studies have shown this to be beneficial especially since, according to a survey, we spend about 93% of our time indoors!

 We all suffer from NDD (Nature-deficit-disorder). The sooner we right that, the better we’ll fare.

8. To empty my mind

Sometimes we just need to not think. About anything. We think about 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. Most of it is rubbish. Just like we set out our overfilling trash bins for the trash collector every week, we need to find a way to get the rubbish out of our heads.

Meditation is a great way to do this. So is exercise. The best part is you can combine the two.

I love running meditation. I simply pay attention to my breath and notice my footfalls. One after the other. This practice can be hypnotic and helps build focus and concentration.

9. For others

I admit, when I’ve been particularly irritable or irritating (more than usual), my family gently prods me to go for a run or asks if I missed one. They understand the importance of exercise FOR ME. For those of us that aren’t our most charming selves always, exercise will help soften our edges.

So, what I’m saying is, even if don’t do it for yourself, exercise for others. If you want to keep your friends and family, that is!

10. For Weight-loss

Exercise, of course, does help with weight-loss. I sometimes amp up my mileage after the holidays or other indulgent festive periods (they seem to come with more frequency lately) to aid with weight-loss. Though, unless you’re training for an Ironman or ultramarathon, it’s hard to sustain weight-loss purely through exercise alone. 

Make no mistake - diet and nutrition play a much more crucial role than Exercise in terms of losing pounds. While you’ll notice a drop in weight when you start an exercise regimen, the weight loss will plateau soon unless you make corresponding adjustments to what you eat.

 The good news, though is that one positive behavior is likely to encourage another. That’s why you'll notice that fitness buffs (freaks?) tend to not just work out well but eat well (as well…).

11. Beats other alternatives

There definitely are other ways to address physical, mental, emotional issues described above. Binge-watching TV shows, downing a couple or more glasses of wine (or something stronger), drugs (doctor-prescribed or self-subscribed), ‘adult substance’-laced gummies or brownies, etc. are all methods that help take the edge off.  

But exercise (done right) has one thing going for it that these alternatives don’t. Exercise doesn’t leave negative after-effects. No glazed eyes, no hangovers, no buyer’s remorse, just simple goodness. 

In the end

I could go on and list many more reasons on the importance of exercise, but you get the gist, don't you? 

As someone who had to stare at her own mortality, I’ll say this. If you don’t have good health, you have nothing.

So, don’t ever tell yourself you are too busy to exercise.Exercise should never be something you get to after you finish everything else. Instead, it should be something you must do first to be able to keep doing other things.  

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve felt better after I’ve worked out – 100% of the time. Even when my mind has given me a thousand reasons to curl back in bed or stay on the couch.

Arthritis, lop-sided walks, poor memory are not a feature of aging. They don’t have to be if you get on the right path now. Movement is the safest, easiest, cheapest option to good health.

So, get out and work up a sweat. Ideally, you’d be out in deep forest woods. If not, hit up your neighborhood trails. Or simply your neighborhood community. Alternatively, pound the street you live in. Or pace in your own backyard. Get on a treadmill. But I implore you, Get out and Move. Already. Because I just cannot overstate the importance of exercise


Unplug, a book on Forest bathing - by Dr. Qing Li


Exercise, Fitness, self, Wellness


{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
Get a FREE detailed step by step guide to build a practical to-do list to achieve all your life goals. 
You'll also get weekly actionable tips based on science for a healthy, productive and happy life!