We all know exercise is important for our health. Some of us even feel guilty for not moving enough. As with all-important life changes, however, the impetus for moving has to come from within. There is no amount of social pressure that will turn a couch potato into a gym junkie—unless the person themselves is motivated to change. That said, it is not necessary to become an elite athlete in order to reap the many benefits of regular exercise. In most cases, a daily walk around the block will make a difference between someone with serious health risks and a relatively healthy person.
How does exercise improve your life?
There are four ways in which regular exercise makes your life better.
1. Exercise makes it less likely that you will fall ill
When you move more, you will have a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Your risk of getting a cancer or having arthritis is also lower. Exercise prevents or manages high blood pressure and heart disease. It increases the amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – the good cholesterol – in your blood and decreases the amount of triglycerides – the main physiological reason you put on weight.
2. Exercise makes you feel better
Exercise gives you more energy and increases your brain’s endorphin levels which in turn boosts your mood and prevents feelings of stress. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to counteract depression.
3. Exercise makes you less prone to accidents
Exercise strengthens, tones and stretches your muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. It makes your bones stronger, protecting you from arthritis.
4. Exercising makes you brighter
Exercise will literally make you more intelligent, as demonstrated by a King’s College London test conducted on 324 female twins. According to this 10-year research, there was a striking parallel between muscle fitness and cognitive improvement.1
By moving your body, you make it possible for your brain to have more blood and oxygen. You will also enable a release of hormones which have a strengthening effect on your hippocampus – the area of your brain responsible for learning and memory.
Exercise does NOT help you lose weight
All in all exercise will greatly improve your quality of life.
What it will not do—contrary to conventional thinking and many expert opinions—is help you lose weight. According to moderate estimates, running for an hour will burn about 400 calories. This is less than a mid-sized muffin which contains about 420 calories.
Weight loss happens almost completely due to the type of food you eat. At The Essential Shop, we have had very good results with the low carb high fat (LCHF) way of eating. It has enabled us to lose a combined 50 kg (110 pounds) of weight over a couple of years.
How to have a healthy body
Nutrition is one of the cornerstones for having and maintaining a healthy body.
As you build your body from the outside with exercise, the food you eat will build you from the inside. A diet with low amounts of carbohydrates and increased fat content will fuel your body with steady, long-lasting energy.
To change your body, you will also need to drink adequate amounts of water. Being hydrated helps to regulate your body temperature, circulate nutrients and expel toxins.
Perhaps most importantly, you need sleep. When you sleep, your body is at work repairing damaged cells, revitalising your heart and cardiovascular system as well as nurturing your immune system.
Why Essential Oils?
While it is not necessary to use essential oils for a thriving exercise routine, they will give you an edge on three areas connected to physical culture.
- Essential oils prepare your body for the athletic task ahead and boost your performance.
- Essential oils help you recover from exercise.
- Essential oils can be used to treat a sports injury.
Essential oils are absorbed from the skin into the bloodstream which makes them a valuable part of sports massage.
When inhaled, essential oils are carried through the olfactory nerve into the brain’s limbic system responsible for emotions and feelings.
With some essential oils, oral ingestion is also possible.
5 Important Essential Oils for Athletes
1. Peppermint Essential Oil
If there is one essential oil every discerning athlete should use, it is the peppermint. This anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and analgesic essential oil improves the sports person’s performance on many levels, including lung capacity, pain tolerance and endurance.
A 2013 study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, tested the effect of Peppermint Essential Oil on running performance. The test subjects were given 0.05 ml of peppermint in a drink once a day for 10 days. They were then tested for cardiovascular performance before and after taking the peppermint oil.2
According to this study, Peppermint Essential Oil reduced the athletes’ resting blood pressure and heart rate. They saw improvement in respiration and respiratory gas exchange. The athletes’ overall sports performance was improved by a huge 51%! The time it took to reach exhaustion increased by 25%.
Peppermint Essential Oil is energising and cooling by nature. It increases the amount of oxygen in the brain and decreases the amount of lactic acid in the blood.
Another study, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology in 2001, tested the effect of essential oils, including peppermint, on athletic performance. The study involved 20 male and 20 female athletes. The results were encouraging:
“With an increase in motivation, athletes are likely to exert more effort, which in the present study led to their running faster, doing more push-ups, and having stronger dynamometer grip strength.”3
APPLICATION: Take Peppermint Essential Oil internally by adding 1 drop in a glass of water. You can also diffuse peppermint into the room air while you exercise. To apply Peppermint Essential Oil topically, dab a few drops on the back of your neck or shoulders to cool down, and to boost strength.
2. Immortelle Essential Oil
Immortelle, also known as helichrysum or everlasting, is an anti-inflammatory essential oil used for treating bruises incurred in sports. It contains a group of ketones called beta-diones which makes it an anticoagulant suitable for use on swollen body parts.
Immortelle Essential Oil is non-toxic and non-sensitising and can safely be used on the skin. It will reduce both the inflammation and the size of the swelling.
Used in lymphatic drainage massage, immortelle is valuable for removing toxins from the lymphatic system. It also encourages detoxification more generally by stimulating the functioning of internal organs, including the gall bladder, kidney, liver, pancreas and spleen.
Immortelle may also be used in massage to relieve leg cramps caused by over-exercising.
APPLICATION: Rub 3-4 drops of undiluted Immortelle Essential Oil on a bruise or swelling. Mix immortelle in a carrier oil and massage on cramping legs.
3. Rosemary Essential Oil
Rosemary is an analgesic, anti-inflammatory essential oil that stimulates the heart and increases blood flow into the body extremities.
For an athlete, Rosemary Essential Oil can be a valuable aid in treating pain. It is known to desensitise the TRPV1 channels, responsible for detecting body temperature, heat and pain. Rosemary can be used as an excellent topical analgesic.
Simultaneously, rosemary is also a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It improves concentration and helps with nervous debility. In a competitive situation, Rosemary Essential Oil may give you an advantage even before the race has started as it will calm your nerves and boost your attentiveness.
APPLICATION: Rub undiluted Rosemary Essential Oil on aching, tired muscles to reduce the discomfort. Breathe in rosemary from a diffuser as you mentally prepare for a physical performance.
4. Sweet Marjoram Essential Oil
Sweet marjoram is a relaxing and warming essential oil that can be used in sports massage to good effect.
It helps with sprains, strains and muscular spasms. It is safe to use undiluted on the sore areas as a first aid or as part of sports massage for a more thorough pain-relief.
Marjoram reduces tiredness and strengthens nerves while also being relaxing. It is non-toxic and non-sensitising but should not be used during pregnancy. Care should also be taken not to use excessive amounts of Sweet Marjoram Essential Oil as it may cause drowsiness.
APPLICATION: Rub undiluted Marjoram Essential Oil on your legs, arms and back prior to workout to prevent pain. Post-workout, add 3-4 drops of marjoram into a hot bath to completely relax your body.
5. Juniper Essential Oil
Juniper Essential Oil increases the amount of oxygen in the muscles and reduces inflammation in the body. It contains a chemical compound called alpha-Pinene which has a dual function as an anti-inflammatory and a pain blocker.
Juniper also attacks inflammation by releasing two other chemicals called beta-Myrcene and d-Limonene. Beta-Myrcene reduces inflammation by inhibiting the functioning of the inflammation-producing cytokine-proteins. D-Limonene has a similar inhibiting effect on cytokines. In addition, d-Limonene stimulates the immune system by activating white blood cells.
What this chemistry means to an athlete is that Juniper Essential Oil is a wonderful addition to pre and post-exercise muscle care. It reduces muscular pain and helps the muscles to prepare to and recover from a workout by increasing the oxygen in the muscles.
APPLICATION: Mix 3-4 drops of Juniper Essential Oil with a carrier oil and use in massage to prepare muscles for exercise and to relieve pain caused by over-worked muscles.
Exercise for Life
You may have stopped and started an exercise routine numerous times in your life. If you are like most people, sticking to a healthy lifestyle can be difficult. As rewarding as working out is, it is also painful at times, especially when you’re starting out.
There is no magic bullet. The best and the worst thing about exercising is that no one can do it for you. After a prolonged period of an exercise lifestyle, you may realise, however, that life without movement lacks something, and that you wish to continue.
We want to encourage you to start on your exercise journey and to keep going if you have already started. It is definitely worth it.
If you are at a stage where exercise is an integral part of your life, you know it’s worth it.
You would also know that in sports, unfortunately, there is always risk of injury.
If you have injured yourself in the past, you may be especially careful with your exercise routine while at the same time wanting to progress.
For both purposes – preventing injuries and making advances in performance – essential oils are a very useful tool. They will prepare your mind and body for an athletic performance but will also help you recover from it faster and more smoothly.
3. Raudenbush B, Corley N, Eppich W. Enhancing Athletic Performance Through the Administration of Peppermint Odor. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 2001.