Exercise-make your motivation more meaningful

“You have a big fat belly Daddy.” How charming. What father hasn’t been at the receiving end of this punch line, mainly thanks to that loveable Peppa Pig’s complete disregard for poor Daddy Pig’s feelings. My immediate internal response is: “Well maybe if you’d sleep more Daddy would be able to get up early and do his daily run like he once did and wouldn’t have a fat belly”. But I keep this to myself. As Charlie lies perpendicular to me I am awoken yet again by his bony big toe prodding into my increasingly slackening stomach. I have no doubt that Christmas saw me gain an extra couple of pounds, not much to be fair, in what was the first real break from running I’ve taken in… maybe ever. But while gradually increasing my running volume each week I pass the motivated masses that have also started their own fitness journeys. Gyms generally see a 50% increase in traffic in January. But of these new members 80% will not continue past the second week in February. What if your motivation to exercise was far beyond why most January joggers will be clogging the paths or joining gyms? Or what if it was more than to fit into a lower dress size or jeans? What if your motivation was something more? A longer, healthier, better quality, less stressful, more invigorating life. Interested?

We’ve known for a long time now that exercise helps with general health but what of the other multiple benefits. As a musculoskeletal physiotherapist with an interest in injury reduction and prevention I am always encouraging physical activity for patients at every opportunity, even for those who feel they should not be moving due to pain. But now lets discuss 3 other amazing benefits that get forgotten about far too often.


Brain health

Exercise increases brain blood flow. As well as promoting the growth of new synapses it also increases the number of neurons within the brain. Even a single bout of exercise (high intensity aerobic) has been shown to increase attention span, learning and memory. This has implications for a range of populations: school going children could reap the cognitive benefits by adopting a regular physical activity regime; employers could, and do, increase productivity and staff morale by introducing wellness and health promotion programmes. The positive endorphins released during and after physical activity will leave a lasting positive effect on your mood and stress levels. In elderly populations the benefits are similar. Undertaking regular physical activity has been shown to decrease the incidence of cognitive impairment and dementia. And for those with existing cognitive impairments such as dementia, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimers aerobic exercise can be an adjunct therapy for treatment of the condition.


While for many weight loss may primarily be for vanity reasons there may be a much greater benefit to shedding unnecessary baggage. The World Cancer Research Fund Global Network has made recommendations to help reduce the incidence of cancer. One of these is to reduce body fat and exercise daily. So what, exercise reduces the risk of cancer? Yes, and with 25% of cancers worldwide a direct cause of being overweight and sedentary it becomes easy to see why, specifically colorectal cancer, post menopausal breast cancer and endometrial cancer. These improvements are actually independent of any body fat reduction but with liver, prostate, ovarian, gall bladder, kidney, esophageal, and pancreatic cancer the risk of cancer is reduced with body fat loss.



Diabetes affects approximately 382 million people worldwide, accounting for 8.3% of the world’s population, and continues to increase in all countries. It is estimated that the number of people with diabetes will increase 55% by 2035 (Brussels International Diabetes Federation 2013). In Ireland 854,165 adults over the age of 40 are at increased risk of developing, or actually have Type 2 diabetes. Another 300,000 adults between 30-39 are overweight and not meeting the recommended guidelines for physical activity putting them at increased risk of chronic ill health (Healthy Ireland Survey). The body needs insulin to transform glucose into energy. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterised by chronic hyperglycaemia resulting from defects in insulin secretion, insulin action, or a combination of both. If the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin it is Type 1 diabetes. If the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin cannot be processed it is type 2 diabetes. Type 2 is the most common type accounting for 85-95% of worldwide cases. It is also the one most treatable. Exercise significantly improves glycemic control and reduces visceral adipose tissue and plasma triglycerides in persons with type 2 diabetes, even without weight loss (Cochrane Systematic Review 2007). Physical activity causes glucose uptake into active muscles. Resistance training results in lowering fasting blood glucose for at least 24 hours post exercise and can result in acute improvements in systemic insulin action lasting up to 72 hours post exercise.

Although a cartoon (one that’s actually pretty funny at times) it is likely that the characters in Peppa Pig do reflect society. In actual fact Daddy Pig is a ticking time bomb: he is clinically obese; at increased risk of cardiac disease and some cancers; and likely pre-diabetic if not a full blown type 2 diabetic. This is a typical presentation of a whole cohort of conditions existing together and what our health system now faces. Yet despite the unequivocal evidence of the benefits of exercise adherence remains poor. Only 39% of adults with diabetes are adequately active (American Diabetes association and ACSM, 2010) and the post cancer care pathway remains largely conservative with rest and recovery advised rather than a gradual increase in exercise tolerance. So as the second week of February fast approaches don’t be in the 80% drop off group. Consider making time for exercise for more than the obvious reasons.

For more information on any of the issues addressed throughout this article please contact Rob via email at mccabephysiotherapy@gmail.com, Twitter @mccabephysio, Facebook at McCabe Physiotherapy or visit http://www.mccabephysiotherapy.com

Rob McCabe MISCP

Chartered Physiotherapist

MSc (pre reg) Physiotherapy, BSc Sport Science and Health, MSc Sports Physiotherapy, PG Dip Orthopaedic Medicine

Orchard House, Moorefield Rd, Newbridge, Co. Kildare




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