We all know that working out keeps your heart healthy, boosts energy levels, and is crucial for weight loss and maintenance. But if you need some more motivation to get moving, these eight surprising benefits of exercise may just do the trick.
1. It lowers your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. There are currently about 44 million people suffering from dementia worldwide, and Alzheimer’s accounts for 50 to 75 percent of those cases — with that number expected to double by 2030. But you can reduce your risk by lacing up those sneakers: According to the 2014 World Alzheimer’s Report, regular exercise is one of the best ways to combat the onset and advancement of the disease, which is a progressive mental deterioration that impairs memory and cognitive ability over time. Not only have a large number of observational studies suggested an association between physical activity and reduction in dementia risk, but exercise improves vascular health and reduces the risk of other diseases, which in turn can lower risk of dementia. In fact, a recent study showed that aerobic exercise significantly increased the volume of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that plays an important role in memory function.
2. It will help your skin glow. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: When you get moving, your skin is happy, too. For starters, working out gives you a natural glow by improving oxygen and blood flow to the skin, and it also helps detoxify, since sweat is the body’s vehicle for removing toxins from the organs. Plus, research has shown that regular exercise can stave off, and even reverse, signs of aging. A group of sedentary volunteers aged 65 and older, who had a normal skin composition for their age, were placed on a steady exercise routine. At the end of a three-month period, the subjects showed a skin composition comparable to that of a 20-to 40-year-old — making a promising case for exercise’s ability to prevent as well as reverse aging.
3. You’ll improve your sex life. Working up a sweat at the gym can help heat things up in the bedroom. Studies show that regular exercise boosts energy and feelings of attractiveness, which increases sexual performance. Plus, women who exercise have a more active sex life and reach orgasm more quickly than sedentary women, while men who exercise regularly are less likely to experience erectile dysfunction.
4. It’ll help you ditch food cravings. A recent study found that high intensity exercise suppressed ghrelin, the hormone in the brain responsible for pesky, unwanted hunger cravings. That means that adding exercise to your daily routine may help you kick you your mid-afternoon vending machine habit. So next time you’re stressed, tired, or bored, step away from the potato chips and go for a walk instead!
5. It lightens your mood. Physical activity has been shown to not only improve overall mental health, but also provide an immediate mood boost as well. People who exercise regularly reported an uptick in feelings of happiness, particularly on days when they were more physically active than usual. This makes sense, since exercise triggers the release of endorphins — chemicals that reduce pain perception while triggering positive emotions. In other words, if you are feeling stressed out or sad, a trip to the gym really can make you feel better.
6. It decreases your risk for the two most prevalent cancers. This year alone, more than 232,000 new cases of breast cancer will be reported, while one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. With no foolproof cure, prevention is the best mode of attack against the disease. The most recent report from the American Cancer Society reminds us that we all have the best prevention tactic at our disposal: Moving our bodies! Being physically active on a regular basis helps with weight control — and maintaining a healthy weight, especially after menopause, is an important factor in lowering breast cancer risk. Plus, regular exercise can dramatically reduce a man’s risk for prostate cancer.
7. It eases the symptoms of PMS. If you suffer from pesky, and sometimes painful, symptoms before and during your period, you may want to run for your bed — but it turns out that heading out for a run is a much better idea. The most recent guidelines from the Office of Women’s Health recommend a combo of high-intensity and moderate exercise, in addition to strength training, for women who regularly report premenstrual symptoms. Working up a sweat is a way to combat typical PMS symptoms as well as the fatigue and depression that often plague women during their “time of the month.”
8. You’ll live longer. Exercise has repeatedly been shown to improve overall lifestyle, but does this translate to a longer lifespan? One set of researchers aimed to quantify the concept, and found that a routine including regular exercise can significantly improve life expectancy. Meeting the World Health Organization's recommended physical activity level of 150 minutes of brisk walking per week was associated with a 3.5 to 4.5 year gain in an individual’s life expectancy, while getting just half the recommended amount still added almost two years to an individual’s lifespan — all of which makes a strong case for getting off that couch and moving, regardless of how much time you have.
Meredith Franco Meyers 11/5/2014