We all know exercising makes us look and feel great. After all, there’s nothing like that sense of accomplishment we get after a long run or good workout. However, it’s important to realize that working up a sweat does a whole lot more than just build muscles. Exercise creates real physical changes in our bodies that can have a profound impact on our overall health, wellness–and, yes, even our happiness.
1. You’ll live longer
While it’s widely accepted that exercise is good for us, most people don’t realize just how much the simple act of moving can make a difference in our health. Need proof? Just take a look at this Canadian Medical Association Journal study. Not only does it confirm that regular physical activity helps prevent premature death and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis, it goes on to say that further increases in physical activity (over recommended guidelines) will lead to even greater health benefits.
A 2012 Journal of Aging Research paper gets even more specific on longevity, stating that when comparing athletes to non-athletes, regular physical activity is associated with an increased life expectancy of up to 6.9 years.
2. You’ll look better
A fit body and bigger muscles are only part of the reason a good sweat session makes you feel more attractive. In addition to helping you build muscle, exercise stimulates circulation. This brings more oxygenated blood to the surface of the skin, giving you a healthy and vibrant glow and delivering nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles.
Exercise is also known to stimulate the lymphatic system, which may help reduce water retention. This may reduce puffiness under the eyes, a classic sign of aging. While there is limited research on the exact degree to which exercise impacts our skin, a study conducted by researchers at McMaster University, Ontario found that the biopsied skin of people who regularly did cardiovascular exercise appeared significantly younger than the skin of their sedentary counterparts. Just remember: If you’re exercising outside, wear a hat and make sure your skin care routine includes sunscreen. One easy way to protect your skin is to use a daily moisturizer with SPF.
3. You’ll be less stressed out
Tough day at the office? It turns out that working out is one of the best stress-busters there is. It doesn’t matter if you run, hit a bag or lift weights, when you work through your troubles by being physical, you not only release feel-good endorphins, you get your mind off the stresses of the day.
Just one of many studies showing the positive effects of exercise on stress, a 2014 Frontiers in Physiology article states that regular exercise protects against the negative emotional consequences of stress. Put simply, we all feel better when we work out.
4. You’ll be more alert and you’ll remember more
When you exercise, you increase blood flow, and therefore oxygen, to all parts of your body. This includes your brain. It’s why a good workout can leave you feeling more awake and more focused than you would if you had given in to that urge to sit on the couch.
But what about your memory? Can running, jumping and lifting really help you better recall important information? According to a 2017 Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience article, it can. And the best news? The findings showed that it only took a short period of exercise training to realize the improvements.
5. Your bones will benefit
Strong bones are essential to good overall health. And, according to the National Institute of Health, regular exercise is absolutely crucial to good bone health as we age. That’s because bones consist of live tissue that behaves much like muscles, meaning they respond to exercise by getting stronger.
However, in the case of bone health, it’s important to make sure you include weight-bearing exercises like running, tennis, basketball or lifting weights in your workout routine. While it’s true that non-weight-bearing activities like swimming and bicycling are great for overall health, they don’t directly help build new bone.
6. You’ll sleep better
We all know there’s nothing like a great night’s sleep and a good skin care routine to help us look and feel our best first thing in the morning. But with the prevalence of insomnia in adults at 10 percent to 40 percent in Western countries, according to a 2012 Journal of Physiotherapy article, many of us aren’t getting the zzzs we need.
Fortunately, there is something we can do about it. According to this same article, a study of middle-aged adults with sleep problems showed that when they participated in a 10- to 16-week exercise program, the quality of their sleep improved. While the exact reasons for the improvements are unclear, some believe that the stress and anxiety benefits of exercise may help with insomnia as well.
7. You’ll be happier
How many times have you heard “you’ll feel better after you’re done” when contemplating skipping a workout? If you’re like most of us, it’s familiar advice. It’s also very true, according to a 2006 article in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. It states that exercise helps to reduce anxiety, depression and negative mood, while also improving self-esteem and cognitive function.
So, whether it’s all those endorphins flooding the body, or just the high that we get from achieving a physical goal, one thing is clear: working out makes us feel great. And there’s no better reason than that to get up and get moving.