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The Exciting First Phase of the Fitness Journey: Understanding the Benefits and Changes

November 02, 2023 6 min read

The Exciting First Phase of the Fitness Journey: Understanding the Benefits and Changes

By: Wallace Wells, M.S. In Exercise Physiology, Doctoral Candidate in Biophysics and Physiology, ACSM CPT.

As you may or may not know, the first year of exercising is often considered the most exciting. For most of us, the “newbie gains” is a thrilling time. Changes such as the rapid increase in strength, the newfound energy, the boost in confidence, and the compliments from friends and family are just a few of the side effects of a new fitness journey.

For this article, I wanted to outline a few of the reasons why these changes take place. So, whether you are thinking about starting your fitness journey for the first time or restarting down a path you thought you had long left behind, this could be interesting and hopefully motivating.

From the moment you start exercising again, your body begins complex processes to rebuild its fitness. Let’s dive into the Physiological and Mental benefits of 1 year of exercise!

On The Day of Exercise

Exhausted, breathless, and feeling clumsy? No worries! The first workout is unlikely to leave you feeling as accomplished as you might have hoped.
You’ll often have the perception that things were much harder to do, and there’s a lot of physiology that goes into that movement.First, your brain is doing a lot of work to coordinate all these new nerve patterns to your muscles. There’s a lot of mental effort that’s very subconscious, which is why you must concentrate when exercising.
When you take a break from working out, your body shrinks muscle fibers and breaks down blood vessels in the muscles that are no longer being used. The body is always trying to conserve as much energy as possible.
It means when you return to exercise, you're fatigued because high demand is being heaped onto your heart and lungs to increase blood flow through your contracting muscles, but your body has become less effective at doing this.

The upside? As your body pushes to oxygenate the muscles, this stimulates surrounding tissue to start synthesizing those blood vessels and muscle fibersyou've lost.

The Day After

The main thing you’ll notice is aching muscles when you wake up the next day. Where the pain is will depend on your workout, but it’s possible that stairs won’t be your friend for three or four days. That’s because lengthening and contracting your muscles can cause microscopic damage, resulting in delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as "DOMS". 

It only becomes a concern with severe pain, as it means you've done too much too quickly. Barely being able to sit down the next day means you’ve overdone it.

But usually, it's nothing to be alarmed about. The next time youworkout, you're incredibly unlikely to be as sore again. It’s amazing how rapidly the muscles adapt. They become stronger and more tolerant. 

We generally recommend exercising through muscle soreness, because ironically the best way to get rid of that soreness is with movement, as long as your movement is not compromised. 

Your resting metabolic rate also increases after training. Your body consumes more energy for muscle repair, therefore burning more calories when not exercising. After 45 minutes of vigorous exercise, some may experience an approximately 40 percent rise in their metabolic rate for 14 hours.
Another immediate effect you can expect after exercising is reduced appetite. Most people think that if you exercise and expend calories, you’ll get hungry. The truth is actually the opposite. The hormonal response to exercise and the energies you expend reset the brain and sense of hunger.

You may also find your sleep Improves. Your body wants to repair overnight, that’s when all the adaptation occurs. This includes the repairing of the muscles, improvements to fluid distribution, and all the important added protein synthesis to build more muscle fibers.

After A Week

At the end of the first week, you should ideally not be too sore. You should be feeling as though you’re more energetic and need to do more. It’s not about how far you can run or swim or how high you can jump; it’s about how you’re feeling.

The brain’s release of feel-good hormones – such as endorphins – while training is believed to be partly responsible for this shift in mindset. Exercise is well-known for its mood-boosting powers. It’s why some people eventually develop a deep-seated need to exercise regularly.

We know that once you’ve started back into training and you’ve overcome those first stress perceptions, there’s a craving for it! On a cellular level, mitochondria (mini power plants that produce energy) multiply, meaning that your body can produce more energy.

This stage is too soon to see any physical changes. You might feel as though you look a bit more muscular because there’s more blood flow, but it won’t have been muscle growth. After just a week, it’s more about the mental side. You’re starting to feel those mental health benefits!

After A Month 

After a month of regular exercise, you will notice improvements in your strength and fitness. You may be able to do more reps in weight training or slightly raise the load, or you're able to walk, jog, or cycle a bit faster.

One month still isn't a lot of time, but you'll notice you're better able to tolerate your workout and recovery doesn't take as long.

Initial strength gains are largely thanks to the nervous system learning how to contract your muscles more efficiently. This can be it working a few muscles at once or improving the rate at which you’re firing up your muscles. As that messaging gets better, more fibers are working.

With each session, your body works hard to develop larger muscle fibers, and as your muscles slowly gain in volume, they're better able to store and use fuel in the form of carbohydrates and fats (thanks again to those mitochondria).

There’s alsoabetter supply of blood to your muscles.

Your cardiovascular system is working better because increased hydration leads to larger blood volume and the heart strengthens. Your heart is now efficiently pumping more blood around the body with each beat, allowing it to beat more slowly when resting. 

You might also notice you're sweating more when training. That's because your body has become better at regulating its temperature. Your body is more sensitive to the need to remove heat, and as you get more physically fit, you are working harder and therefore producing more heat.

A month in, you may notice some minor changes to your appearance. However, this is a slow process and visible change mainly comes about thethree-month mark.

The muscles become a bit more defined and more hypertrophied (enlarged), but you might feel it more thanyou can see it.Body fat reduction isalong-term process, usually beyond three months.

Most importantly, at this point, you should mentally be feeling great, which is a motivator in itself. Consider this your "aha" moment. If you can get to four good weeks of exercise, we think that’s something to celebrate! You’ve set yourself up to continue to succeed.

After A Year

Those improvements you saw to your strength and fitness after the first month will now be significantly larger. That means your endurance and ability to keep your muscles contracting will be better, as will the amount of load you can lift and the speed with which you do that action. You should also feel more flexible,andagile, and have less back and joint pain.

Whether or not it’s one of your goals, you’ll see great changes to your physical appearance, be it your body weight or muscle mass.

You'll also find your realm of potential recreational pursuits has broadened. Playing with little children might be less physically taxing, or you may now be able to do more fun runs and swims or plan to hike in the mountains. 

The body's physical changes such as a stronger heart, bones, and muscles play a key role in reducing your risk of developing serious health conditions. This includes heart disease, type two diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

Regular exercise also enormously benefits our mentalwell-being. Research has consistently found that people who work out regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Training can often be as effective as antidepressant medication as they both increase the size of the brain's hippocampus.

And just generally, you will likely be feeling happier than you did a year ago. Research shows people who work out even once a week tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. The difference in someone’s mood and confidence is quite profound.

The bottom line? When you've been exercising for this long, you will see all that hard work was definitely worth it.
If you’d like to know more or would like to discuss starting your own new fitness journey with us, we would love to work with you. Contact us for more information.

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