What physiological changes occur to the body during exercise?

When someone begins exercising, many changes occur to the body.

Some of the changes are short-lived and return to normal after the exercise is finished, but others are long-term and offer many benefits to the body.

Broadly speaking, we can focus on four different systems to better understand what happens at the physiological level during exercise.

What changes occur to the cardiovascular system?

Your breathing rate and heart rate increase when you begin to exercise. This change occurs in the cardiovascular system of the body, which involves the heart, lungs, arteries and veins. We move with our muscles, and our muscles need energy, oxygen and nutrients. The increase in breathing allows more oxygen to enter the body through the lungs and the speeding up of the heart rate allows oxygen and other nutrients to be pumped all around the body through the bloodstream.

The other changes occurring in the cardiovascular system happen to the arteries, which deliver oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the tissues of the body. The arteries expand to enable more blood flow to reach the muscles as they demand more oxygen.

These changes together affect your blood pressure, which increases during exercise. At the end of an exercise session, it will take some time for the body to return to resting conditions. You will see a drop in blood pressure until resting state is reached.

A drop in blood pressure is perfectly normal in this instance and in fact is a desirable effect of exercise. Regular exercise has been shown to lower resting levels of blood pressure, promoting a healthier level.

What changes occur to the musculoskeletal system?

The musculoskeletal system involves the muscles and the bones. When you begin exercising, your muscles will start to warm up. This important change allows your muscles to work more efficiently, as well as reduce the risk of injury. This is also in part why an adequate warm up is required before starting any exercise.

Depending on the type and intensity of exercise, the muscles will obtain their energy from different sources. The primary energy source comes from oxygen. However, when the intensity of the exercise is very high and more energy is needed than that provided by oxygen alone, the body will produce a substance called lactate or lactic acid. Lactate can be converted into energy anaerobically, or without the use of oxygen. However, lactic acid can build up in the bloodstream, which causes us to feel a painful or burning sensation in the muscles. This is also the body’s way to protect ourselves from injury.

The final change that occurs at this level during higher-intensity exercise are tiny tears in the muscle. A side effect of this is the soreness felt in the day or two after the exercise session. However, there is nothing to fear, as this is how the muscles will grow bigger and stronger.

All these changes are short-term and resolve quite quickly after exercise. The longer-term changes and benefits of regular exercise, whilst not felt as much, are arguably of higher importance for general health.

Regular exercise enables the muscles to become more efficient at taking on increased work before reaching their maximum capacity. This is also very important for the heart, which is a muscle itself, and a hard-working one at that. Regular exercise also increases bone strength.

What changes occur to the endocrine system?

Many people think hormones relate only to mood, and while this is partly true, there are also many other hormones regulating the way the entire body responds to different situations, such as exercise.

The endocrine system involves a large number of structures throughout the body which release different hormones, all causing various effects across the body. For example, during exercise, the hormones which regulate heart rate and other cardiovascular functions are released to ensure the body is keeping up with the physical demands.

Another hormone people are familiar with is insulin. This hormone is important in meal digestion and how the body deals with blood sugar levels. During exercise, the muscles can use blood sugar as a source of energy. The body is able to recognise this and as a result lowers the levels of insulin present. This is particularly important in people suffering from type-2 diabetes, as regular exercise has been shown to dramatically improve the effectiveness of insulin in lowering blood sugar.

What changes occur to the neurological system?

The endocrine system is very closely linked to the neurological system. Together they maintain and regulate healthy bodily functions. The neurological system involves the brain and the nerves, which can be thought of as the highways the brain uses to send and receive information around the body. Studies have found that regular exercise has a beneficial effect on brain function, such as memory and learning, and can help with nerve regeneration. Regular exercise has also been shown to improve mood and reduce the body’s response to stress.

Consistent exercise benefits all systems in the body

There’s no doubt that exercise has incredible benefits on all bodily systems, but consistency is key! If you are NDIS funded and find yourself in need of a tailored exercise program, an Exercise Physiologist at Better Rehab may be able to assist with your fitness and exercise goals. They will also provide you with ongoing education to help you understand the changes that occur in your body as you exercise.

Find out more about how our Exercise Physiologists can support you by contacting our friendly Admin team today!

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