It is a dreary day, and way too early for a high-school student to be awake on a weekend, let alone dressed and ready to run a five-mile race. I look around at all the avid runners stretching and warming up, feeling extremely weak next to their defined legs and rock-hard abs. They had obviously been running a very long time.
My running experience included being on the high-school track team, mostly for the camaraderie and not because I was very good. I didn't particularly love running. But I decided to sign up for this race with a friend just for fun, and we agreed that we would stay together the entire time.
I finally finished somewhere just under an hour. I will admit I babied myself the entire way. My friend and I ran as slow as could be, on purpose. But somewhere in the middle of that race, I thought about what my body was allowing me to do. I considered all of the reactions that must be going on inside my body which allowed me to keep running, no matter how slow I was going. I thought about how healthy I must be for my heart and muscles to keep me moving forward. And for a few moments in the midst of a morning I would much rather have been lounging around at home, I was grateful for my body's ability to carry me through this long and uncomfortable run.
In college, I majored in Biology. I spent many hours studying bacteria and fungus and strange sea creatures and photosynthesis in plants. But the topics which grabbed me the most dealt with the human body. It is absolutely fascinating to me. The more I learned, the more astounded I was by the body's involuntary functions and its ability to adapt to outside influences. The icing on the cake was the Exercise Physiology class I took in graduate school. It was there that I finally learned how to apply my curiosity about the human body towards something I could fully grasp—my ability to complete that five-mile run all those years ago, and how my body became stronger each time I clocked in another workout.
The human body was made to move. Simply standing rather than sitting is enough to initiate reactions within the body which promote more efficient functioning. But standing is not enough. Just as a car must be driven in order to maximize performance, our bodies must be exercised in order to function efficiently:
Blood flow increases.
Muscles become engaged.
Blood glucose (sugar) is more readily burned by the body's cells for energy.
Oxygen delivery to the muscles increases.
The heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood.
The lungs increase their capacity to take in air and gas exchange (oxygen in, CO-2- out) is more efficient.
The body's sweat response (i.e. cooling system) becomes more efficient.
These are just a few ways exercise enhances the body's functioning. Over time, with continued exercise, all of these events occur more readily in response to exercise. Not only do muscles get stronger, but so do the heart (also a muscle), the lungs, and the billions of cells inhabiting every square inch of the body.
As if that isn't awesome enough, a physically fit body will continue to have heightened functioning in all these areas even when at rest. That is why it is possible to increase metabolism. That is why regular exercise can help reduce blood pressure and the risk for heart disease. That is why the more you exercise, the harder and longer you can push yourself. And that is why the more you commit to an exercise program, the more you will crave exercise on a regular basis. A body in motion tends to stay in motion.
The next time your workout is kicking your butt, don't let the challenge discourage you, but let it inspire you to continue providing your body the ability to perform exactly what it was built to do. Then feel the glory as you become stronger and healthier with each and every workout!