The benefits of exercise are far more than just losing weight or achieving that “bikini body.” Exercise benefits everything from your sleep quality to your energy level, and even your memory. From making you happier to helping you live longer, regular exercise is key to living a healthy, balanced life.
Exercise vbvvis also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.
1. Wards off depression: While a few laps around the block can’t solve serious emotional difficulties, researchers know there is a strong link between regular exercise and improved mood. Aerobic exercise prompts the release of mood-lifting hormones, which relieve stress and promote a sense of well-being. In addition, the rhythmic muscle contractions that take place in almost all types of exercise can increase levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which combats negative feelings.
2. Enhances sex life: Both libido and performance benefit from moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise. The Harvard Health Professionals Follow-Up Study found that men who exercised 30 minutes a day were 41% less likely than sedentary men to experience erectile dysfunction. Exercise helps women, too: in one study, 20 minutes of cycling boosted women’s sexual arousal by 169%.
3. Sharpens wits: Physical activity boosts blood flow to the brain, which may help maintain brain function. It also promotes good lung function, a characteristic of people whose memories and mental acuity remain strong as they age. While all types of physical activity help keep your mind sharp, many studies have shown that aerobic exercise, in particular, successfully improves cognitive function.
4. Improves sleep: Regular aerobic exercise provides three important sleep benefits: it helps you fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less during the night. If you can’t sleep and instead are prone to tossing and turning, exercising can help you sleep better. By strengthening circadian rhythms, exercising can help keep you more bright-eyed during the day and bring on sleep at night. It also promotes better quality sleep.
In fact, exercise is the only known way for healthy adults to boost the amount of deep sleep they get — and deep sleep is essential for your body to renew and repair itself.
5. Protects mobility and vitality: Regular exercise can slow the natural decline in physical performance that occurs as you age. By staying active, older adults can actually keep their cardiovascular fitness, metabolism, and muscle function in line with those of much younger people. And many studies have shown that people who were more active at midlife were able to preserve their mobility — and therefore, their independence — as they aged.
6. Boost happiness levels
Whether we’re fully conscious of it or not, we’re always looking for how to be happy. And exercise is one of the most obvious steps to take, as it’s not a coincidence that you feel better after a good workout: It’s science. A Penn State University study found that people who exercised, whether it was a mild, moderate or vigorous workout, had more pleasant feelings than those who didn’t.
These same people were also happier on days when they were more physically active than usual, meaning that upping the ante on workouts can provide even more of a happiness boost. The takeaway? Working out can make you happy long term; adding extra intensity can make you feel even better.
7. Learn to set — and achieve — goals
Whether it’s deciding to run a 10K, increasing the amount you can deadlift or increasing your bike mileage, setting and achieving fitness goals is an incredible self-confidence boost. But if you find your resolutions falling to the wayside, science has uncovered the secret to success: setting clear intentions.
A 2002 study examined three groups of people. Group one, the control group, was told to track how often each person exercised throughout the week. The second group, the motivation group, was given the same instructions, but also read a motivational speech. Group three, the intention group, added on to the previous groups by asking people to create a plan that set a specific day, time and place to exercise.
Guess who was most successful? Group three had a much higher rate of actually following through, at a tune of 91 percent, while the control group exercised at least 38 percent of the week. The motivation group actually exercised the least, with just 35 percent.
By discovering the power of goal setting by committing to reaching an exercise milestone and then working out just how you’ll achieve it, you can enjoy the benefits of exercise and the confidence that comes along with it.
8. Reduce your risk of heart disease naturally
Get out of the medicine cabinet and reduce your risk of heart disease the natural way. A meta-review of a variety of studies and trials conducted by researchers in 2013 — encompassing 305 trials with more than 339,000 participants — found that no statistically detectable differences existed between those who exercised and those who were given medications in the prevention of coronary heart disease and prediabetes.
In fact, in those patients who already had suffered a stroke, physical activity interventions were more effective than drug treatment. Work with your doctor to set up an exercise plan that works for you.
9. Get an energy boost
When you’re feeling exhausted, the last thing you might want to do is squeeze in a workout. But, according to experts, that’s exactly what you should do. They found that low-intensity exercise, the equivalent of a leisurely stroll, experienced a drop in fatigue levels and a 20 percent energy boost.
10. Live longer
Being there for our loved ones and enjoying as many special moments together as we can — that’s what life really is all about. Keeping your body happy and healthy to help you live a longer, fuller life is one of exercise’s biggest benefits. Therefore, it’s great news that research published in 2012, which studied more than 650,000 people, found that 150 minutes of moderate exercise (or about half hour five days a week) increases your life span by 3.4 years.