KEY POINTS:

1. The aerobic system fuels most of the activities we do every day - walking, playing a musical instrument, solving a problem.

2. Regular aerobic exercise such as swimming, jogging, cycling, or hiking, makes your cardiovascular system stronger (heart, blood vessels, lungs) and energy pathways in your muscles more efficient. 

3. Training your aerobic system is the foundation of health and performance.

The potential for improvement in our lives by moving more is great. Simply standing up changes that way your body uses energy, circulates blood, and also how you think! Exercise can improve concentration, learning, focus and memory and can even prevent and treat mental illnesses. But taking advantage of this will require a paradigm shift. We need to incorporate movement into our daily lives. Here a key to making that happen - build your fitness.

The foundation of health and performance is your aerobic system. The aerobic system is the system that uses oxygen to create energy that fuels most of the activities in your life, from walking to running to playing music to writing a test, or to solving a math problem in your mind. Low to moderate physical activity is the key to building up your aerobic system and unlocking all the related benefits.

Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, hiking and other activities will build up your cardiovascular system (heart, lungs, blood, blood vessels) and the aerobic energy pathway inside your muscles. All of these activities and other similar forms of exercise like yoga or even gardening will all help to develop your cardiovascular fitness and endurance. These activities enhance the transport system your body uses to get oxygen from the environment to the muscle cells where it is used to create energy. When you put stress on your muscles, heart and lungs by pushing them through activities like walking, jogging, running, swimming, or cycling for periods of time that are longer than they are used to, you stimulate adaptation in the system and make it more efficient.

Consistent low – moderate intensity physical activity completely changes your body. To begin with, forcing your heart to beat more frequently causes the same change in your heart muscles that occur in any muscle you use regularly – it gets stronger and can pump blood through the body more easily. You are also increasing the rate at which oxygen is absorbed into your body by your tissues. This happens because you induce a process called “angiogenesis” which increases the density of the capillary beds that surround your muscle fibres. Capillaries are the tiny vessels at the end of the chain of blood vessels that begins with your heart and arteries. There are between 3 and 5 capillaries around each muscle fibre in your body and endurance activity ensures that your capillary beds will be at the upper end of that range.

The amount of blood that moves through your body with each beat of your heart is called “stroke volume” and if you exercise regularly you increase the amount of blood in your body and the amount of blood that can be pumped by your heart each time it beats. In one study, researchers found that while athletes and non-exercisers alike saw an increase in their heart rate during a workout, the athletes were moving 10 litres more blood per minute through their system. That is a huge difference in the amount of oxygen getting to the muscles!

Aerobic exercise also encourages the growth and development of mitochondria. Mitochondria are little organelles inside your cells that produce energy. Exercise stimulates mitochondria to grow, replicate and improve their ability to make use of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in order to generate energy. This does take some time so be patients when you start a workout routine – the energy boost might take a few weeks to come online as your body produces enough mitochondria to meet the new demand!

Today's POWER-UP: What type of exercise is best for your brain?

There are three main types of exercise. Aerobic exercise like running, high intensity interval training like spinning, and resistance training like lifting weights.

While looking at the impact of these different types of exercise on the brains of humans is extremely difficult and expensive, researchers in Finland looked at the impact of exercise on the brains of rats. They found that 6-8 weeks of aerobic exercise led to the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus (a part of the brain associated with learning and memory).

High intensity training had a small, non-significant impact on the brain and resistance training did not change neural structures in the hippocampus.

The researchers explained their results by suggesting that aerobic exercise results in an increase in BDNF – brain derived neurotrophic factor (a chemical that stimulates the growth of new neurons in the brain) – and that led to the changes in neurons in the hippocampus regions in the brains of the rats that were studied.

So what does that mean for you? If you want to optimize your brain and keep it healthy you should walk, jog, swim, or hike regularly!