Any type of exercise uses your muscles. Running, swimming, weightlifting -- any sport you can imagine -- uses different muscle groups to generate motion. In running and swimming, your muscles are working to accelerate your body and keep it moving. In weightlifting, your muscles are working to move a weight. Exercise means muscle activity!
As you use your muscles, they begin to make demands on the rest of the body. In strenuous exercise, just about every system in your body either focuses its efforts on helping the muscles do their work, or it shuts down. For example, your heart beats faster during strenuous exercise so that it can pump more blood to the muscles, and your stomach shuts down during strenuous exercise so that it does not waste energy that the muscles can use.
When you exercise, your muscles act something like electric motors. Your muscles take in a source of energy and they use it to generate force. An electric motor uses electricity to supply its energy. Your muscles are biochemical motors, and they use a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for their energy source. During the process of "burning" ATP, your muscles need three things:
- They need oxygen, because chemical reactions require ATP and oxygen is consumed to produce ATP.
- They need to eliminate metabolic wastes (carbon dioxide, lactic acid) that the chemical reactions generate.
- They need to get rid of heat. Just like an electric motor, a working muscle generates heat that it needs to get rid of.
In order to continue exercising, your muscles must continuously make ATP. To make this happen, your body must supply oxygen to the muscles and eliminate the waste products and heat. The more strenuous the exercise, the greater the demands of working muscle. If these needs are not met, then exercise will cease -- that is, you become exhausted and you won't be able to keep going.
To meet the needs of working muscle, the body has an orchestrated response involving the heart, blood vessels, nervous system, lungs, liver and skin. It really is an amazing system!
Let's examine each need and how it is met by the various systems of the body.
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