10 benefits of exercise

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Long-term benefits of regular exercise

Long-term benefits of regular exercise

Keeping healthy habits over time isn’t easy—but it is worth it.

Once you push past the first few weeks of starting a new fitness program, you probably start to notice some changes in how you feel.

You might feel challenged to stay motivated—changing up your workouts is a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle.

In addition to feeling energized and positive about your progress, regular physical activity is shown to provide a bundle of physical benefits:

Overall health improves with exercise

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says ongoing exercise can help:

  • Control weight
  • Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers
  • Strengthen bones and muscles
  • Improve mental health and mood
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls
  • Increase your chances of living longer

Exercise can make a positive impact on aging

Harvard Medical School compares the effects of aging with the effects of exercise—and demonstrates that exercise can influence how your quickly your body grows older. For example, with age:

  • Resting heart rate increases—exercise can help decrease resting heart rate.
  • The speed at which intestines empty decreases—exercise can help increase speed.
  • Metabolic rate decreases—exercise can help increase metabolism.
  • Body fat increases—exercise can help decrease body fat.
  • The risk of depression increases—exercise can help decrease this risk.

Consistency is key

To realize the benefits of exercise, it’s critical that you participate in physical activity regularly. For example, running five miles on one day and then skipping workouts for the next two weeks doesn’t work that well. Exercising sporadically can decrease motivation, decrease endurance and increase injury.

However, “consistent workouts” does not mean that you must work out every day—it’s important to build rest days into your fitness program. Does it really matter if you work out three days in a row, rather than spread activity across the week? .

There’s no doubt exercise is good for you, but the degree of benefits varies

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans are based on years of scientific research, which shows that the longer, harder and more often you exercise—the greater the health benefits.

Scientific American examines common claims about the benefits of exercise and says that family history and other factors can also play a role in how fitness can have an impact on your overall health.

Benefits of Exercise

We have all heard it many times before – regular exercise is good for you, and it can help you lose weight. But if you are like many Americans, you are busy, you have a sedentary job, and you haven’t yet changed your exercise habits. The good news is that it’s never too late to start. You can start slowly, and find ways to fit more physical activity into your life. To get the most benefit, you should try to get the recommended amount of exercise for your age. If you can do it, the payoff is that you will feel better, help prevent or control many diseases, and likely even live longer.

What are the health benefits of exercise?

Regular exercise and physical activity may

  • Help you control your weight. Along with diet, exercise plays an important role in controlling your weight and preventing obesity. To maintain your weight, the calories you eat and drink must equal the energy you burn. To lose weight, you must use more calories than you eat and drink.
  • Reduce your risk of heart diseases. Exercise strengthens your heart and improves your circulation. The increased blood flow raises the oxygen levels in your body. This helps lower your risk of heart diseases such as high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and heart attack. Regular exercise can also lower your blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
  • Help your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels. Exercise can lower your blood sugar level and help your insulin work better. This can cut down your risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. And if you already have one of those diseases, exercise can help you to manage it.
  • Help you quit smoking. Exercise may make it easier to quit smoking by reducing your cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It can also help limit the weight you might gain when you stop smoking.
  • Improve your mental health and mood. During exercise, your body releases chemicals that can improve your mood and make you feel more relaxed. This can help you deal with stress and reduce your risk of depression.
  • Help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. Exercise stimulates your body to release proteins and other chemicals that improve the structure and function of your brain.
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles. Regular exercise can help kids and teens build strong bones. Later in life, it can also slow the loss of bone density that comes with age. Doing muscle-strengthening activities can help you increase or maintain your muscle mass and strength.
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers, including colon, breast , uterine, and lung cancer.
  • Reduce your risk of falls. For older adults, research shows that doing balance and muscle-strengthening activities in addition to moderate-intensity aerobic activity can help reduce your risk of falling.
  • Improve your sleep. Exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
  • Improve your sexual health. Regular exercise may lower the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. For those who already have ED, exercise may help improve their sexual function. In women, exercise may increase sexual arousal.
  • Increase your chances of living longer. Studies show that physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from the leading causes of death, like heart disease and some cancers.

How can I make exercise a part of my regular routine?

  • Make everyday activities more active. Even small changes can help. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk down the hall to a coworker’s office instead of sending an email. Wash the car yourself. Park further away from your destination.
  • Be active with friends and family. Having a workout partner may make you more likely to enjoy exercise. You can also plan social activities that involve exercise. You might also consider joining an exercise group or class, such as a dance class, hiking club, or volleyball team.
  • Keep track of your progress. Keeping a log of your activity or using a fitness tracker may help you set goals and stay motivated.
  • Make exercise more fun. Try listening to music or watching TV while you exercise. Also, mix things up a little bit – if you stick with just one type of exercise, you might get bored. Try doing a combination of activities.
  • Find activities that you can do even when the weather is bad.You can walk in a mall, climb stairs, or work out in a gym even if the weather stops you from exercising outside.

The secret to better health — exercise

Whether you’re 9 or 90, abundant evidence shows exercise can enhance your health and well-being. But for many people, sedentary pastimes, such as watching TV, surfing the Internet, or playing computer and video games, have replaced more active pursuits.

What exercise can do for you

Millions of Americans simply aren’t moving enough to meet the minimum threshold for good health — that is, burning at least 700 to 1,000 calories a week through physical pursuits. The benefits of exercise may sound too good to be true, but decades of solid science confirm that exercise improves health and can extend your life. Adding as little as half an hour of moderately intense physical activity to your day can help you avoid a host of serious ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and several types of cancer, particularly breast and colon cancers. Regular exercise can also help you sleep better, reduce stress, control your weight, brighten your mood, sharpen your mental functioning, and improve your sex life.

A well-rounded exercise program has four components: aerobic activity, strength training, flexibility training, and balance exercises. Each benefits your body in a different way.

Fighting disease with aerobic activity

Aerobic exercise is the centerpiece of any fitness program. Nearly all of the research regarding the disease-fighting benefits of exercise revolves around cardiovascular activity, which includes walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling. Experts recommend working out at moderate intensity when you perform aerobic exercise — brisk walking that quickens your breathing is one example. This level of activity is safe for almost everyone and provides the desired health benefits. Additional health benefits may flow from increased intensity.

Protecting bone with strength training

Strength or resistance training, such as elastic-band workouts and the use of weight machines or free weights, is important for building muscle and protecting bone.

Bones lose calcium and weaken with age, but strength training can help slow or sometimes even reverse this trend. Not only can strength training make you look and feel better, but it can also result in better performance of everyday activities, such as climbing stairs and carrying bundles. Stronger muscles also mean better mobility and balance, and thus a lower risk of falling and injuring yourself. In addition, more lean body mass aids in weight control because each pound of muscle burns more calories than its equivalent in fat.

Easing back pain with flexibility exercises

Stretching or flexibility training is the third prong of a balanced exercise program. Muscles tend to shorten and weaken with age. Shorter, stiffer muscle fibers make you vulnerable to injuries, back pain, and stress. But regularly performing exercises that isolate and stretch the elastic fibers surrounding your muscles and tendons can counteract this process. And stretching improves your posture and balance.

Preventing falls with balance exercises

Balance tends to erode over time, and regularly performing balance exercises is one of the best ways to protect against falls that lead to temporary or permanent disability. Balance exercises take only a few minutes and often fit easily into the warm-up portion of a workout. Many strength-training exercises also serve as balance exercises. Or balance-enhancing movements may simply be woven into other forms of exercise, such as tai chi, yoga, and Pilates.

Exercise at a glance

In a nutshell, exercise can:

  • reduce your chances of getting heart disease. For those who already have heart disease, exercise reduces the chances of dying from it.
  • lower your risk of developing hypertension and diabetes.
  • reduce your risk for colon cancer and some other forms of cancer.
  • improve your mood and mental functioning.
  • keep your bones strong and joints healthy.
  • help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • help you maintain your independence well into your later years.

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

The Importance of Exercise

See also: Dieting and Weight Loss

We all know that exercise is important in our daily lives, but we may not know why or what exercise can do for us.

It’s important to remember that we have evolved from nomadic ancestors who spent all their time moving around in search of food and shelter, travelling large distances on a daily basis. Our bodies are designed and have evolved to be regularly active.

In the same way that a sports car is designed to go fast, we are designed to move. If the sports car is taken out once a week for a 3 mile round trip through a town centre then it would probably develop engine problems fairly quickly.

Over time people too develop problems if they sit down all day at a desk or in front of the TV and minimise the amount of exercise they do.

The Benefits of Exercise

There are many benefits of regular exercise and maintaining fitness and these include:

  • Exercise increases energy levels

    Exercise improves both the strength and the efficiency of your cardiovascular system to get the oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. When your cardiovascular system works better everything seems easier and you have more energy for the fun stuff in life.

  • Exercise improves muscle strength

    Staying active keeps muscles strong and joints, tendons and ligaments flexible, allowing you to move more easily and avoid injury. Strong muscles and ligaments reduce your risk of joint and lower back pain by keeping joints in proper alignment. They also improve coordination and balance.

  • Exercise can help you to maintain a healthy weight

    See our page: Dieting and Weight Loss for more information.

    The more you exercise, the more calories you burn. In addition, the more muscle you develop, the higher your metabolic rate becomes, so you burn more calories even when you’re not exercising. The result? You may lose weight and look better physically which will boost your self-esteem.

  • Exercise improves brain function

    Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain. It also encourages the release of the brain chemicals (hormones) that are responsible for the production of cells in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and learning. This, in turn, boosts concentration levels and cognitive ability, and helps reduce the risk of cognitive degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

    See our pages: Keeping your Mind Healthy and Memory Skills for more information.

There is overwhelming evidence that people who lead active lifestyles are less likely to suffer from illness and more likely to live longer.

  • Exercise is good for your heart

    Exercise reduces LDL cholesterol (the type that clogs your arteries), increases HDL (the good cholesterol) and reduces blood pressure so it lowers the stress on your heart. Added to this, it also strengthens your heart muscle. Combined with a healthy diet, exercise lowers the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

  • Regular exercise lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes

    Regular exercise helps to control blood glucose levels, which helps to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. Additionally exercise helps to prevent obesity, which is a primary factor in the development of type 2 diabetes.

  • Exercise enhances your immune system

    Exercise improves your body’s ability to pump the oxygen and nutrients around your body that are required to fuel the cells that fight bacteria and viruses.

  • Staying active reduces the likelihood of developing some degenerative bone diseases

    Weight bearing exercise such as running, walking or weight training lowers your risk of both osteoarthritis and osteoporosis – the adage of “use it or lose it” really does apply to bones.

  • Exercise may help to reduce the risk of certain cancers

    Being fit may mean that the risks of colon cancer, breast cancer and possibly also lung and endometrial cancers are reduced. Studies by the Seattle Cancer Research Centre have suggested that 35% of all cancer deaths are linked to being overweight and sedentary.

Exercise not only makes you physically fitter but it also improves your mental health and general sense of well-being.

  • Active people tend to sleep better

    Physical activity makes you more tired so you’re more ready to sleep. Good quality sleep helps improve overall wellness and can reduce stress.
    See our page The Importance of Sleep for more information.

  • Exercise improves your mood and gives you an improved sense of well-being

    Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins which make you feel better and more relaxed. These in turn improve your mood and lower your stress levels.

  • Exercise can help prevent and treat mental illnesses like depression

    Physical activity can help you meet people, reduce stress levels, cope with frustration, give you a sense of achievement, and provide some important “me time”, all of which help with depression.

  • Keeping fit can reduce some of the effects of aging

Exercise can be fun!

Getting fit is not just about running on a treadmill for hours in your local gym, it can be a dance class or a new hobby like fencing or mountain biking. It could be a group or team activity like football or a karate class.

Whatever form of exercise you choose, you’ll almost certainly meet new people and may make new friends.

How Much Should you Exercise?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, current guidelines suggest that to stay healthy, adults between 19 and 64 should try to be active daily and follow these recommendations:

Cardiorespiratory Exercise

Cardiorespiratory exercise, often abbreviated to ‘cardio’, is any exercise that increases the heartbeat and breathing rate.

Such exercises include walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing and team sports such as football, hockey, basketball etc.

You should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

These recommendations can be achieved through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five times a week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three times a week) or a combination of both types.

One continuous session combined with multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) is also acceptable.

For those starting out, gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended. You are more likely to stay on track and avoid injury if you start gently.

Even if you can’t reach these minimum targets you can still benefit from some activity.

Resistance Exercise

Resistance exercise is concerned with working the bodies muscle groups and building strength.

It is recommended that adults train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment.

Very light or light intensity resistance training is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults new to exercise

  • Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power.
  • For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise, while 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance.

It is recommended that adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.

Moderate vs Vigorous Intensity

There are a number of different ways to classify the intensity of any exercise, some based on heart rate, some on perceived exertion and some on how the exercise affects your metabolic rate.

Generally Speaking…

Moderate-intensity activity should raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and make you feel warm enough to start to sweat.

Vigorous intensity exercise will make you breathe hard, increase your heart rate significantly and make you hot enough to sweat profusely.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests that moderate-intensity activity allows you to talk but not to sing, whereas more vigorous activity results in an inability to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Examples of moderate intensity exercise include:

  • Brisk walking (100 steps/minute)
  • Dancing
  • Swimming or aqua aerobics
  • Gentle cycling (5-9mph)
  • Badminton or doubles tennis
  • Volleyball

Examples of vigorous intensity exercise include:

  • Running
  • Power walking at 5mph or more, or walking uphill briskly
  • Cycling faster than 10mph
  • Aerobics
  • Martial arts
  • Competitive sports (football, basketball, rugby etc.)
  • Skipping/jump rope
  • Rowing

Overall though, any activity that gets you moving, gets your heart rate up and gives you enough pleasure to do it regularly and often is good for you in almost every way.

Have fun, be healthy and feel good!

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10 Amazing Benefits of Exercise

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you know that exercise should be an essential part of your routine. But the benefits of physical activity go far beyond just physical fitness. Increasingly, more and more research is showing that working out regularly can boost other aspects of your health as well, including cognitive function and emotional well-being.

A regular fitness routine has been shown to have a wide-range of positive health effects, such as a lower risk of cancer and stroke, better cardiovascular health, stronger muscles, and slowing of bone density loss associated with age.

Exercise has also been linked to better brain health and emotional well-being. And a study published in the journal Circulation found that exercise, even without weight loss, may help you live longer.

Here’s how Christopher Berger, PhD, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University in Pheonix, sums it up: “Everything improves with exercise.”

And perhaps one of the best new findings about exercise — especially if you, like many people, struggle to find the time to fit it into a busy day — is that all those benefits of physical activity can be had even if you only squeeze in a few minutes of exercise a day. While doctors used to think that we needed to engage in 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, new research is finding that we can see benefits with shorter bursts of physical activity. “As little as 15 minutes a day of high-intensity activity that leaves you breathless, like swimming, can kick start your metabolic rate and reduce body fat and increase muscle mass,” says Dr. Berger.

RELATED: What Counts as Aerobic Exercise?

In a widely-cited study published in February 2013 in the American Journal of Health Promotion, researchers at Oregon State University looked at more than 6,000 American adults and found that even small amounts of physical activity — like pacing while talking on the phone or doing some jumping jacks during commercials while watching TV, as long as these short bursts of exercise add up to 30 minutes a day — can be just as beneficial as longer workout sessions at the gym.

And you don’t need to sweat buckets to see the benefits of exercise, either. According to the physical activity guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise with two days of strength training per week yields the same health benefits as 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise with two days of strength training each week — as does a combination of moderate- and high-intensity exercise, plus two strength training workouts.

RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About How Much Exercise You Need

So what are some of the many ways exercise can benefit your health? Read on to learn about 10 health reasons to break a sweat today.

With additional reporting by Katherine Lee.

The benefits of exercise extend far beyond weight management. Research shows that regular physical activity can help reduce your risk for several diseases and health conditions and improve your overall quality of life. Regular physical activity can help protect you from the following health problems.

  • Heart Disease and Stroke. Daily physical activity can help prevent heart disease and stroke by strengthening your heart muscle, lowering your blood pressure, raising your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels (good cholesterol) and lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (bad cholesterol), improving blood flow, and increasing your heart’s working capacity. Optimizing each of these factors can provide additional benefits of decreasing the risk for Peripheral Vascular Disease.
  • High Blood Pressure. Regular physical activity can reduce blood pressure in those with high blood pressure levels. Physical activity reduces body fat, which is associated with high blood pressure.
  • Noninsulin-Dependent Diabetes. By reducing body fat, physical activity can help to prevent and control this type of diabetes.
  • Obesity. Physical activity helps to reduce body fat by building or preserving muscle mass and improving the body’s ability to use calories. When physical activity is combined with proper nutrition, it can help control weight and prevent obesity, a major risk factor for many diseases.
  • Back Pain. By increasing muscle strength and endurance and improving flexibility and posture, regular exercise helps to prevent back pain.
  • Osteoporosis. Regular weight-bearing exercise promotes bone formation and may prevent many forms of bone loss associated with aging.
  • Self Esteem And Stress Management. Studies on the psychological effects of exercise have found that regular physical activity can improve your mood and the way you feel about yourself. Researchers have found that exercise is likely to reduce depression and anxiety and help you to better manage stress.
  • Disability. Running and aerobic exercise have been shown to postpone the development of disability in older adults.

Keep these health benefits in mind when deciding whether or not to exercise.

Benefits of Physical Activity

Why should I be physically active?

Physical activity is an important step you can take to improve your health and quality of life. Regular physical activity may help prevent or delay many health problems. Being active may help you look and feel better, both now and in the future.

So what’s stopping you? Maybe you think that physical activity is boring, joining a gym is costly, or fitting one more thing into your busy day is impossible.

This information may help you identify and beat your roadblocks to physical activity! Learn tips to create a plan to get moving or add more activity to your life.

What are the benefits of regular physical activity?

Physical activity has many benefits.

Improve your health
Regular physical activity may help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. If you have one of these health problems, physical activity may improve your condition.

Physical activity also may help you

  • reduce your risk for certain cancers, including colon and breast cancer
  • maintain your weight by balancing the number of calories you use with the number of calories you take in. To lose weight, you’ll need to use more calories than you take in.

Improve your quality of life
Regular physical activity also may improve your quality of life right now. Become more active and you may enjoy a happier mood, less stress, and a stronger body.

Who should be physically active?

Everyone can benefit from physical activity. Health benefits are possible for adults and youth from a range of racial and ethnic groups studied, and for people with disabilities.

Enjoy a family walk. Physical activity provides health benefits across your life span.

The Federal Government developed physical activity guidelines for Americans (PDF, 14.2 MB) for the amount, types, and intensity of physical activity you need to help you achieve many health benefits across your life span.

By Jessica Cassity

Glance around the gym, and you’ll probably see lots of people who are exercising in an attempt to shed pounds, tone muscle and look better. But numerous research studies have uncovered many other benefits to working out — ones that aren’t necessarily visible from the outside.

Here, some of the awesome ways exercise can benefit your mind, body and soul:

It zaps anxiety. Ever notice that you can start a workout feeling stressed and anxious, and end it feeling good? It isn’t in your head. Or, actually, it is: According to a new study from Princeton University, exercise appears to change the chemistry of the brain by causing the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps quiet brain activity and minimize anxiety. The study found that people who ran regularly had a low reaction to stressful situations, even if they hadn’t run in more than 24 hours.

It boosts immunity. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of certain serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. It can also decrease your chances of developing — and getting stuck with — more common illnesses, such as flus and colds. (According to one recent study, colds lasted 43 percent longer for people who exercised once a week or less.)

It improves body image. After summarizing the effects of 57 separate studies, a group of researchers determined that exercise does indeed improve how you feel about your body.

It brings on better sleep. If you’re having sleep problems, skip the pills and hit the pool, track or spin studio. According to one study, people who exercised regularly for about 10 weeks reported sleeping better than they had previously. What exactly does “better” mean? In this case, it translated to dozing off faster and having a decreased need for sleep-promoting medication.

It gets you in the mood. You may have heard that smelling the pheromones in sweat can make you want to get down and dirty — but that’s not the main reason exercise can lead to sex. For men, exercise can lower the risk of erectile dysfunction, and it gives both genders stamina and feel-good vibes about the body.

13 Unexpected Benefits of Exercise

Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin’ bod, but working out has above-the-neck benefits, too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level (yup, this includes everyone from mall-walkers to marathoners), studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Get inspired to exercise by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships, and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.

1. Reduce stress

Rough day at the office? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So go ahead and get sweaty — working out can reduce stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!

2. Boost happy chemicals

Slogging through a few miles on the ‘mill can be tough, but it’s worth the effort! Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly the gym rat type — getting a happy buzz from working out for just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost overall mood.

3. Improve self-confidence

Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person’s perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth. How’s that for feeling the (self) love?

4. Enjoy the great outdoors

For an extra boost of self-love, take that workout outside. Exercising in the great outdoors can increase self-esteem even more. Find an outdoor workout that fits your style, whether it’s rock-climbing, hiking, renting a canoe, or just taking a jog in the park. Plus, all that Vitamin D acquired from soaking up the sun (while wearing sunscreen, of course!) can lessen the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. Why book a spa day when a little fresh air and sunshine (and exercise) can work wonders for self-confidence and happiness?

5. Prevent cognitive decline

It’s unpleasant, but it’s true — as we get older, our brains get a little… hazy. As aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells, the noggin actually shrinks, losing many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45. Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.

6. Alleviate anxiety

Quick Q&A: Which is better at relieving anxiety — a warm bubble bath or a 20-minute jog? You might be surprised at the answer. The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down. Hopping on the track or treadmill for some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise (intervals, anyone?) can reduce anxiety sensitivity. And we thought intervals were just a good way to burn calories!

7. Boost brainpower

Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.

8. Sharpen memory

Get ready to win big at Go Fish. Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things. Getting sweaty increases production of cells in hippocampus responsible for memory and learning. For this reason, research has linked children’s brain development with level of physical fitness (take that, recess haters!). But exercise-based brainpower isn’t just for kids. Even if it’s not as fun as a game of Red Rover, working out can boost memory among grown-ups, too. A study showed that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults.

9. Help control addiction

The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol (and more rarely, food and sex). On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term). Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. As a result, alcoholics find they can’t fall asleep (or stay asleep) without drinking. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, helping people hit the hay at the right time.

10. Increase relaxation

Ever hit the hay after a long run or weight session at the gym? For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill, even for people with insomnia. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep.

11. Get more done

Feeling uninspired in the cubicle? The solution might be just a short walk or jog away. Research shows that workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers. While busy schedules can make it tough to squeeze in a gym session in the middle of the day, some experts believe that midday is the ideal time for a workout due to the body’s circadian rhythms.

12. Tap into creativity

Most people end a tough workout with a hot shower, but maybe we should be breaking out the colored pencils instead. A heart-pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards. Supercharge post-workout inspiration by exercising outdoors and interacting with nature (see benefit #4). Next time you need a burst of creative thinking, hit the trails for a long walk or run to refresh the body and the brain at the same time.

13. Inspire others

Whether it’s a pick-up game of soccer, a group class at the gym, or just a run with a friend, exercise rarely happens in a bubble. And that’s good news for all of us. Studies show that most people perform better on aerobic tests when paired up with a workout buddy. Pin it to inspiration or good old-fashioned competition, nobody wants to let the other person down. In fact, being part of a team is so powerful that it can actually raise athletes’ tolerances for pain. Even fitness beginners can inspire each other to push harder during a sweat session, so find a workout buddy and get moving!

Working out can have positive effects far beyond the gym (and beach season). Gaining self-confidence, getting out of a funk, and even thinking smarter are some of the motivations to take time for exercise on a regular basis.

What inspires you to stay fit? Tell us in the comments below or tweet the author @SophBreene.

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