While we all know the importance of exercising for our health, did you know that exercise can also affect how and when we move, even when we’re at rest?
Scientists have suggested that we can influence our body clock by exercising, and that this influence can help us in recognising the best time for us to be moving or keeping still. You’re probably aware that our bodies work to circadian rhythms, the regular cycles which influence our heartbeat, hunger, alertness, tiredness, hormones, digestion and all manner of other bodily functions. These cycles follow regular patterns, although they do undergo modifications as our circumstances change; for example when we alter shift patterns or travel through different time zones. It’s believed that our physical activity pattern is also controlled in this way.
Generally speaking, we sleep at night and are active during the day. However, we also have an obvious pattern of activity during the day, although it does tend to change as we age. Younger people tend to move around a lot during the day, with their pattern showing many peaks and valleys, although their patterns aren’t always consistent. Conversely, older people tend to show less movement during daytime, but more random movement during the time when they should be sleeping, thus developing a much more haphazard pattern as they age.
However, whether these changes are caused by aging or whether they are due to other unrelated factors is not yet clear, although it is believed that the amount of exercise that we do has an effect on our daily movement patterns. When we exercise, a variety of biochemicals are released into the body and brain, which almost certainly has an effect on our internal body-clock and associated circadian rhythms, in particular those that are related to activity. By exercising on a regular basis it appears to enable the body to more easily judge when to move and when to rest, and the quantity of movement it needs.
So, in short, the more we exercise, the more likely we are to develop more consistent patterns, which in turn will keep our circadian patterns, and us, healthier as we age.