When you head out on that walk (or do any other type of moderate exercise), your body unleashes an army of billions of immune cells, some aptly named natural killer cells. Within an hour, these cells filter out of the bloodstream and seep into organs throughout your body. They find and destroy dangerous intruders (think viruses) and defective cells (think cancer).
Exercise may also help you avoid conditions like dementia and Parkinson's, which don't have effective drugs to prevent, reverse, or cure them.
For Parkinson's, high intensity interval training (HIIT) may improve brain cell activity and delay the worsening of the disease. HIIT switches between short bursts of intense exercise and less-intense recovery periods. For instance, you might sprint for a short time, and then walk, and then sprint again. HIIT is now gaining attention from researchers as a way to improve general health, not just shred fat and make you look ripped.
Here's what's going on inside when you're active. After just 2 minutes, thousands of molecules start to shift. Within 10 minutes, key chemicals rise or fall.
In one study, some of these changes lasted for minutes. Others stayed for at least an hour. A second study backed that up.
This affects genes, immune cells, inflammation, blood sugar, fat, metabolism, tissue healing, inflammation, and more.
Scott Trappe, PhD, of Ball State University leads a team of scientists studying exactly how physical activity boosts health. It's a deep dive into the biology of active and sedentary people, funded by the National Institutes of Health.
But you don't need to be a scientist to understand the core concept. It's the power to change your body -- down to your cells and molecules -- just by moving. Trappe calls it "plasticity," meaning that how your body is right now isn't how it has to always be.
His advice: Don't think of exercise as just a tool to burn off calories. Make it part of your life because the more often we use our muscles, the more often we send those waves of molecular messengers out through the bloodstream to refresh our entire system.
Check out the results you get after one workout, and over time when you've made it a habit.