Why you should take control of your health.
It’s often said that we only really appreciate the things most dear to us when they’re not there. We all know we should probably It’s often said that we only really appreciate the things most dear to us when they’re not there.
This is especially true of our health, which most of us take for granted. Then, when we are ill, we visit our doctor and expect an instant cure by modern medicine.
In a recent public health survey, people were asked how much control they felt to have over their personal health. A large proportion answered ‘very little’. These individuals also tended to rate their overall health status as ‘fair’ to ‘poor’. However, those who rated their health as generally ‘good’, also reported feeling they had greater control and that lifestyle was an important factor influencing health and wellbeing.
It’s an amazing fact that around 75% of illnesses in industrialised countries are caused by the way we live. Poor diets, lack of exercise and smoking are three major factors in seriously affecting our health and wellbeing.
Health is determined not only by the absence of disease but also by an individual’s resistance to disease. But how do we make ourselves better able to resist disease?
The human body is amazingly complex and regulates many of its functions within tight limits. This is termed ‘homeostasis’. Whatever changes there may be in the external environment (e.g. a hot sauna, or a bitterly cold winter’s day), the internal environment of our body cells has to remain stable. The body has literally hundreds of different control systems and the goal of virtually all of them is to ensure that the cells remain as constant as possible.
For example, if body temperature goes only a few degrees higher or lower than the normal of 37oC, this affects the life-supporting enzyme activity – which in turn affects our health. So, if we get too hot, our homeostatic control mechanisms are activated – and we sweat and/or go red in an attempt to lose the heat. If we get too cold, then we shiver and go white as blood is directed away from the skin to conserve heat. This is termed our ‘stress response’.
If a stressor (e.g. heat, cold, and exercise) is applied often enough, the body will adapt. The summer sun of the Costas makes us feel hot, uncomfortable and sweaty when we first arrive, but after a week or so, we become acclimatised, we get used to the heat – we adapt. The first few days of a skiing holiday at 6,000ft can be exhausting because of the altitude, but after a week in the mountains, we’ve got used to it – we’ve adapted.
The early days of an exercise programme may leave you feeling stiff and tired – but after a few weeks it becomes easier and you can do more. Your body has adapted – you’re now fitter.
Exercise can be considered as a real test of your body’s homeostatic control systems – and the more vigorous the exercise, the more dramatic the test. For example, during a vigorous workout, oxygen is used up rapidly, lactic acid and CO2 are produced in large quantities. Your body responds by increasing breathing, heart rate and muscle blood flow, mobilising energy stores and dissipating the heat generated by working muscles in order to prevent overheating. Activation of the nervous and hormonal systems helps to ensure that these responses are coordinated and efficient. After exercise, your body then recovers back to resting levels.
Physical training results in a variety of changes to the shape and size of your body. There are changes in the functional capacities of your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. There are also changes in metabolic processes and cellular structures, such as an improved ability to mobilise energy reserves & protein resources and a more efficient activation of your immune system – all vitally important factors in improving resistance to pathogenic factors causing illness and disease. This is termed ‘general adaptation’. Interestingly, these adaptations occur when you’re resting or sleeping. That’s why you need time to rest and recover. If your workouts are too heavy and too often, your body doesn’t get chance to recover and adapt. So, the spiral is down and not up – and your health may suffer.
So, the effect of regular exercise is not merely limited to improving your fitness – your body actually learns the process of how to adapt – and applies it to a wide variety of other situations and stimuli, including resistance to disease.
If the exercise is regular and moderate, this adaptation process is very positive and highly beneficial to your health and wellbeing.
Looking and feeling good is a key selling point of regular exercise – and it helps make you feel more in control of your own health. Take a look at our guide to measuring fitness at home.