An article by exercise physiologist, Jennifer Smallridge.
This is a common question that I hear as an exercise physiologist! Of course if you are going to be investing time and energy into getting active, you’d like to know what rewards to expect. The good news is, the body and brain change instantly after a workout! To maintain and sustain these positive adaptations, the following timeframes are based on participating in regular physical activity (eg; 30 minutes on most days of the week).
I always liken exercise to a medication – one dose can make a small change, but it is better taken regularly! Here’s a sneak peek into what happens behind the scenes in your body when you move.
Within the first 10 minutes of exercise:
The body starts to reprioritise its processes, increasing the activity of the cardiovascular system and dialling down the digestive system. Heart rate and breathing increases, more blood is delivered to the brain, fuels such as carbohydrates and fats will start to be converted to energy, and pain signals get quietened.
One hour after exercise:
Everything that was elevated during your workout will start to return to resting levels. Blood pressure can even go slightly lower than it was at the start of exercise! This is known as “post-exercise hypotension” and is of significant benefit to people with cardiovascular disease. Research also supports a positive change in mood shortly after exercise, reducing stress and negative emotions.
One day after exercise:
Your metabolic rate increases, meaning that you can burn more energy for the next day or so than if you hadn’t exercised. This is particularly true for resistance training. Your body also becomes more effective at removing glucose from the blood and storing it in the muscles, a win for preventing and managing type 2 diabetes. These benefits are transient, and exercise needs to happen 48-72 hours later to receive the next “dose” of this magic medicine!
You may also experience some tenderness in your muscles, known as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). This is a normal phenomenon and means that your body is fortifying itself for the next time that exercise is completed.
Two weeks after starting an exercise program:
Measurable increases in strength and fitness can be detected after as little as two weeks. The heart is a muscle which acts like a pump, and regular exercise enables it to pump out more blood with each beat. This results in a decreased resting heart rate.
After a few weeks, blood pressure also continues to decrease if it was high to begin with. The neuromuscular system (where the nerves and muscles combine) starts to light up and muscles become easier to activate – like “switching on more light switches” in your body. You may find it easier to carry the shopping from the car to your house!
A few months after starting an exercise program:
You are highly likely to experience significant changes in anxiety, stress, depression and sleep quality. Exercise may have become a habit by this stage, and you might feel strange if you don’t complete it! If you had excess body weight, it will start to reduce, especially when combined with dietary changes.
Cardiovascular fitness will have improved, meaning that you can exercise for longer before feeling “puffed”. If you are doing weight-bearing exercise, your bone density will have either started to increase, or at least prevented further significant losses. If you have type 2 diabetes, you may find your fasting blood sugar levels coming within a healthier range. Other health markers such as cholesterol and lung function will also have started to improve.
Given that the average lifespan of all cells in our body is seven years, there is no time like the present to get active and start experiencing the immediate benefits of exercise! Always consult with a trusted health professional if you have a chronic condition, injury, or if you are starting to exercise for the first time.
Powers SK, Howley ET, Cotter J, De Jonge XJ, Leicht A, Mündel T, Pumpa K, Rattray B. Exercise Physiology: Australia/New Zealand. McGraw-Hill Education; 2014.