9 Amazing Benefits of Exercise
Exercise Benefit: The Brain
Research is finding that as we age, exercise may be able to help keep our brains healthy. Two studies presented at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s disease showed that older people who exercised more had significantly less cognitive impairment than those who did not spend time working out. Working out is so good for your brain because it increases the blood being pumped to the brain and encourages higher levels of healthy chemicals called brain-derived nerve growth factors.
Exercise Benefit: Osteoporosis Prevention
“Exercise of various types can help prevent osteoporosis, thinning of bones, fracture risk, and falls that are associated with fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist,” says Larry McCleary, MD, retired acting chief of neurosurgery at Denver Children’s Hospital, and author of Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly. “Types of exercise that help include aerobic exercise, resistance training, and even exercises that increase balance and agility.” Tai chi may also be beneficial when it comes to improving balance and muscle strength.
Exercise Benefit: Better Sex
Regular exercise can also boost your sex life. “When a person is aroused, blood flow rushes to the genitals,” says Stacy Berman, NASM, ACE, owner and founder of Stacy’s Bootcamp in New York City. “The better the circulation, the less likely one is to suffer from sexual dysfunction.” In addition, working out can also improve mood and boost confidence and self-esteem, all of which can lead to more success in the bedroom.
Exercise Benefit: More Muscle
As people enter their forties and fifties, muscle mass starts to decline because of aging and, in some cases, decreased activity levels. Muscular atrophy can also occur because of health conditions such as joint pain. As we age, it’s important to increase or maintain muscle mass through strength training, not only because it helps burn calories, but also because muscle mass is essential for strength and balance.
Exercise Benefit: Healthier Digestion
Although constipation can have a variety of causes, a lack of exercise can be a major contributing factor. “Exercise can help,” McCleary says. “It also enhances many factors that are indirectly beneficial, such as increased hydration and better dietary intake.”
Exercise Benefit: Less Stress
Exercise can have a number of emotional benefits. Stress can be caused by elevated levels of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Exercise lowers these hormones, and increases serotonin, otherwise known as the happy hormone, which helps reduce stress. Working out can help keep depression and anxiety at bay. Plus, coping with mood disorders that are often associated with stress can be a little bit easier when you are in good physical shape.
Exercise Benefit: Cut Cancer Risk
“Inactivity is associated with increased risk for a number of cancers, including colon and breast cancer,” McCleary says. “Exercise has been linked with a decreased risk of developing cancer, death from cancer, and recurrence of certain cancers.” The suggested mechanisms at play include exercise’s beneficial effects on the immune and surveillance systems that detect and kill cancer cells, improved cardio-respiratory status, improved hormonal profiles, weight maintenance, and other beneficial metabolic effects, he says.
Exercise Benefit: Decreased Stroke Risk
Given that two of the greatest risk factors for strokes are high blood pressure and heart disease, exercise — with its benefits of a stronger heart and better circulation — is crucial. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week for optimum health, though you should always check with your physician if you have any health concerns before beginning an exercise program.
Exercise Benefit: Better Skin Health
Another benefit of the increase in blood flow exercise provides is better skin — oxygen and nutrients are carried to cells throughout the body and waste products are moved out. “It’s like cleansing the skin from the inside,” Berman says. Skin inflammation can occur when you’re under stress, so relieving stress through exercise might help clear any skin blemishes as well. “This is easily seen when one compares the glowing skin of a conditioned athlete versus the skin of a stressed out, depressed person,” McCleary says.