10 Surprising Benefits of Exercise
For most people, weight loss is the main motivator for getting into shape. But there are a lot of other benefits to exercising than just fitting into those skinny jeans. Believe it or not, regular physical activity can improve your sex life, decrease your cancer risk, make your skin glow and more. Whether you’re already fit or looking for a little extra motivation, check out 10 additional reasons to get moving!
1. Reduces your dementia risk.
Over the years, studies have found that staying active can boost mind function and energy, decreasing the risk of dementia. Physical activity “improve[s] cognitive function in healthy elderly persons, and potentially reduce[s] the risk of developing cognitive impairment,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Dance classes particularly, which require learning skills like memory and concentration, are especially helpful for individuals with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Decreases your osteoporosis risk.
Fitness, especially load-bearing exercise, is important for bone health, according to certified personal trainer Leigh Crews. “Exercise can be one of the most important things you can do to prevent osteoporosis, protect yourself from falls and help maintain bone mass,” she says. According to The University of Arizona, strengthening exercises like weight-lifting, jogging, hiking, stair climbing, step aerobics, dancing and racquet sports are best.
3. Improves your sex life.
The Harvard School of Public Health found that just 20 minutes of regular exercise a day can improve sexual response in women. Not only does working out leave you feeling energized, but it can also make you feel more desirable. “Since exercise can improve health, vitality, appearance and self-esteem, it does indeed tend to increase interest in—and capacity for—sexual activity,” says David Katz, MD, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. “Just make sure your partner is on the exercise bandwagon as well!” Working out with your partner, Dr. Katz says, not only will allow you to spend time together, but it will trigger adrenaline and other feel-good hormones to get you in the mood.
4. Prevents muscle loss.
As we get older, not only do our bodies build muscle less efficiently, but the muscle we already have breaks down more quickly, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This makes regular exercise an integral part of healthy aging. “Exercise not only helps us maintain our muscle mass, it can increase it,” says Crews. “This ultimately keeps our metabolism high, gives us strength and endurance to complete tasks of everyday life, and helps prevent falls, which can be a life-changing experience for older adults.”
5. Improves digestion.
The Gastroenterological Society of Australia found that exercise helps the intestinal muscles break down food and move it through your system correctly by strengthening the abdominal muscles and minimizing sluggishness. Dr. Katz seconds these findings, noting that regular exercise “can help prevent constipation.” He says even short, intermittent walking throughout the day can help keep things regular.
6. Reduces stress, depression and anxiety.
We’ve been hearing for years that regular activity boosts your mood, but it does much more than that. According to the Mayo Clinic, “once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference. Working out can definitely help you relax and make you feel better, keeping anxiety and depression from coming back.” How? When you exercise, neurotransmitters and endorphins that ease depression are released. Plus, you raise your body temperature, which has been shown to calm nerves.
7. Enhances mental performance and work productivity.
Dr. Katz is a firm believer that exercise is important for improving overall quality of life, especially when it comes to work. Not only does exercise improve self-confidence in the workplace, which helps you take on leadership roles and perform better, but it also increases overall productivity and focus. A study released by the American College of Sports Medicine found that 65 percent of employees surveyed reported an increased ability to manage their time and produce more, as well as an overall improved mental and interpersonal performance when they worked out in the middle of the day.
8. Reduces cancer risk.
Several studies have confirmed that the risk of lung, colon and breast cancers can be greatly reduced in regularly active people. In fact, a 2007 study found that exercise is an important step to preventing breast cancer because higher levels of estrogen (which is stored in fat) increase your risk. “Women who exercise heavily are, in general, older at the time of the[ir] first period, and tend to have irregular periods and a shortened estrogen-producing phase,” the American Association for Cancer Research reports. “Postmenopausal women who are physically active have also been shown to have lower levels of estrogen.”
9. Helps reduce stroke severity.
A study by the Bispebjerg University Hospital in Copenhagen following first-time stroke patients found that “people who exercised the most prior to their stroke were two and a half times more likely to have a milder stroke compared to those who exercised the least,” reports WebMD. Another positive tip? Even activities like “light housework, a walk outside and lawn care” count.
10. Improves your skin.
If vanity is still your number-one motivation to get in shape, then add glowing skin to the list of benefits. For one thing, “exercise enhances the blood flow to your skin,” Dr. Katz says. Studies have also shown that exercise improves acne by controlling the production of acne-inducing testosterone hormones like DHEA and DHT. Plus, sweating can unclog pores and help clear up your breakouts—ultimately detoxifying the skin of oils and dirt.