Every time you step out to break sweat, your cells set off a near total-body chain reaction that leads to awesome mental and physical benefits!
In The First Few Seconds
Your muscles start using adenosine triphosphate (ATP), energy molecules your body makes from food. That burst of power you feel? It’s ATP converting into another high-powered molecule, adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Muscle cells – expert recyclers – turn ADP back into ATP after the initial surge.
In The First 90 Seconds
To unleash more ATP, your cells break down glycogen, a form of glucose fuel that’s stored in your muscles. Cells also pull glucose directly from your blood (one reason why exercise is helpful in fending off high blood sugar).
Your body gobbles up more glucose, and your muscles release lactic acid – also known as the burn in the age-old mantra “feel the burn.” This pain signals the liver to start converting the lactic acid into glucose (energy) so you can keep running. Think of it as internal energy recycling!
In The Next Few Minutes
Your heart starts beating faster and directing blood towards your muscles and away from functions you don’t need at the moment, such as digestion. So don’t go slamming your dinner down before you go for a run – aside from feeling ill, you won’t digest your food properly!
To make the best use of glucose, your muscle cells require an influx of oxygen. Cue heavy breathing! Lungs can be trained like muscles so if you’re having trouble slow down or use a Powerbreathe device to improve your lung strength – my preference is slowing down to train your lungs and body more safely.
As you hit your stride, your body’s biggest muscle, the gluteus maximus (your bum), your legs and your core help keep you upright, control your gait and extend your hip joints so your feet can push off the ground. Your stride should glide over the ground rather than slam down.
You begin to torch kilojoules (runners work through about 260 per kilometre), including some that might have been stored as fat.
All this burning of glycogen and oxygen raises your body temperature. To cool your body down, your circulatory system diverts blood flow to your skin, lending you a healthy “flush.” Your sweat glands start releasing moisture in order to keep you from overheating so now would be a good time to take a drink of water.
In 10 Minutes
If you’re in decent shape. your muscles and their ATP supply are ample, and your body can efficiently shuttle oxygen and burn fat and glucose. You feel strong. If, however, you’ve been slacking on exercise, your ATP simply can’t keep up with the demand. You can’t suck in or process oxygen fast enough, and lactic acid starts to flood your body. Every minute feels like a slog, so switch to walking for a minute before you pick up the pace again.
After 30 Minutes
Phew!! It’s over. As you slow to a cool-down walk, your energy demands fall away and your breathing rate gradually returns to normal.
Chances are, you feel energised. Your brain has triggered a rush of the mood-elevating hormone dopamine. The effect of exercise can be so great that it can even decrease cravings – chocolate! Don’t worry – even if you still indulge in the sweet stuff, you’ve created some room in your glycogen stockpile, so those extra kilojoules are less likely to be converted into fat. Bonus!