We’ve heard it time and again that exercise is good for you, but beyond the superficial benefits of a toned body or 6-pack abs, many may still wonder what the big deal is?Why is it good for me? For thousands of years, mankind has been touting the anecdotal benefits of an active lifestyle, but up until recently, concrete scientific data has been unavailable and the field of exercise science relatively understudied. Today, however, the fitness industry is booming and billions of dollars are being poured into a better understanding of the effects that physical activity has on our bodies and minds. With that investment, along with major scientific advancements in recent history, an astounding number of health benefits associated with exercise have been discovered. Here are 7 incredible reasons to start placing exercise, and your lifelong health, as a top priority.
1. Strengthen the heart
The heart is a muscle too (and the most important one at that). Like other muscles, when the heart is challenged by exercise, it responds by becoming stronger. With a strengthened heart and cardiovascular system, the heart is able to pump more blood per beat, leading to a lower, more efficient heart rate at rest. Physical activity will become easier as well, as the body readily adapts to the physical stimuli it receives, reducing fatigue and the effort required to breathe. Last, but certainly not least, regular exercise has been shown to significantly reduce incidents of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. A stronger heart (as opposed to stronger biceps 🙂 ) can literally add years to your life!
A stronger, healthier heart is just the beginning of a very long list of benefits achieved through regular exercise. Modern science has repeatedly demonstrated a solid link between physical activity and the reduction of a growing number of common ailments, including dementia, stroke, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, as well as the aforementioned number one killer of Americans each year: heart disease. Exercise has also been shown to increase the overall quality of our health as we age, granting us a greater quality of life through our later years. Who doesn’t want to be the fun, active grandparent that keeps the grandkids on their toes?!
3) Gain a better mood, reduce stress
Between work, family life, and our never-ending list of personal obligations, it’s no secret that many of us experience high levels of stress. As much as the thought of exercise might add to your stress levels, you might be surprised at how good it can make you feel once you begin. While a busy schedule may seem like a logical reason to skip the gym, physical activity can actually lower stress levels through the release of a powerful chemical in the brain responsible for regulating stress signals. If that weren’t enough, exercise adds icing to the cake by releasing endorphins, neurochemicals associated with feelings of happiness and euphoria. That’s right. Lower your stress levels and increase happiness at the same time. It’s a win-win!
4) Improve concentration and creativity
Whether your work involves a 9-5 grind or traveling from place to place, it’s important to make the most of your time. A study involving a mandatory work-exercise program for employees resulted in greater self-rated productivity in the office. Additionally, increased endorphin levels and an improved cardiovascular system stimulate the mind for more creative thoughts to flow.
5) Maintain mental fitness
As we age, our brain power decreases and the brain actually grows smaller. Mental decline can start as early as 24 years of age. A study following an active and inactive group of 70-year-olds showed that after three years, the group who exercised consistently had less brain shrinkage than the inactive group. Physical activity engages the entire body, and a healthier cardiovascular system means the heart is better able to circulate blood to all parts of the body, even in those older years!
6) Better sleep
Few things ruin your day more than a poor night’s rest. A lack of sleep can increase stress and anxiety levels, impair cognitive performance, and generally make you feel like an extra in The Walking Dead. However, there’s a solution that can help, and you already know the answer: exercise! Physical activity produces a two-fold solution to poor sleep quality. First, exercise increases the body’s core temperature, and as time passes post-workout, our body temperature begins to lower, signaling to our brains that it’s time for sleep (note: working out close to bedtime can produce the opposite effect). Additionally, exercise promotes a more stable sleep/wake homeostasis, increasing our “sleep drive” at night as our body seeks to repair. Studies show that consistent exercise not only results in sounder sleep cycles but also less daytime drowsiness. No more zombies at work!
7) Gain an energy boost
While it might seem counterintuitive to expend energy in an effort to regain energy, you might check with science first! According to experts, the equivalent of a Sunday stroll in the park can boost energy levels by up to 20 percent through the combination of a change in brain chemistry and increased circulation. Additionally, through a moderate weight training regimen, the resulting increase in muscle strength reduces the burden of everyday tasks such as carrying groceries or climbing stairs. This newfound increase in stamina allows for less energy to be expended for the same daily chores. Time to pump the iron.
So, the next time you’re thinking about skipping the gym, read through this list and remind yourself that exercise is so much more than looking good at the pool!