93 Research Proven Benefits of Exercise

benefits of exercise

We’re all aware that an active lifestyle is good for us.

Yet, most of us often skip working out because we’re too busy or too tired from work.

If you think that going to the gym or spending some time for physical activity is just about getting in shape, think again.

Our comprehensive list below covers the many benefits of exercise. And, it explains how being active helps us be a better, healthier and happier person.

Hopefully, it’s enough to convince you to make it a part of your daily routine.

 

Note: You can use the links on the table of contents below to jump to the category you’re interested in.

 

93 Proven Benefits of Exercise

Physical Benefits of Exercise

physical benefits of exercise

1. Weight Loss & Better Weight Management

One of the first things you’ll notice after exercising regularly is you lose weight.

And for good reason.

There’s a lot of scientific evidence that points to working out as being effective for weight loss and management.

One research notes that as far as weight loss goes, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at moderate intensity is a good recommendation to follow.

Also, higher intensity and increased frequency or length improve the magnitude of weight loss.

That said, resistance training is another option.

Aerobic vs. Resistance Exercise

But, the study does mention that with resistance exercise weight loss doesn’t always occur. If it does, it may not be as much as what you’d see with a cardio workout.

Why?

You may end up adding muscle while losing fat.

Since muscle is 18% denser than fat, you may not see the needle go down on your scale.

Sure, one pound of fat is equal to one pound of muscle. Of course! But, when you weigh the same mass of fat and muscle, muscle will be heavier due to its higher density.

With resistance training, you may end up weighing the same or slightly more than when you started.

The good news is, you’ll have better body composition. This means lower body fat percentage. And, a higher percentage of lean muscle mass.

This makes you healthier.

This is one reason why basing your fitness goals on just your weight isn’t always a good idea.

Diet & Exercise

In the same manner, working out without changing your diet or lifestyle isn’t the way to go. It isn’t the most efficient way to lose weight. It may work for some, but it will be inconsistent at best.

Research tells us that exercise, on it own, works.

In a study, 58 obese men and women participated in a 12 week workout. The workouts aimed at burning 2,092 calories per session. In the end, they lost around 7.1 lbs.

But, because the participants’ diets weren’t standardized, results varied significantly.

Data ranged from weight loss of as much as 32.5 lbs. for some to weight gains of up to 6 lbs. for others.

This study design was intentional on the part of the researchers. They wanted to log and analyze the diets of the subjects and see its effects.

The variety in diet allowed them to find correlations between diet and exercise.

In the end, data gathered revealed something interesting. Participants who ate more, and cut down on fruits and vegetables, were the ones who didn’t lose weight.

 

2. Get an Energy Boost

swimmingThe next time you feel tired or sluggish, try a little exercise instead of crashing on the couch and watching TV. It will give you a natural “pick me up”.

Studies suggest that exercise gives us a short term energy boost.

Better yet, if you exercise regularly, it improves your overall energy levels.

We find proof from a study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. It notes that healthy, but sedentary individuals who often complained of fatigue benefited from even short bouts of low-intensity exercise.

The research put participants through a thrice a week exercise program. After 6 weeks, the subjects saw a reduction in fatigue and improved energy levels.

They also compared weight loss results between different workout intensity levels.

In the end, the study found that best results came with low-intensity exercise. Here, the subjects exhibited a 20% rise in energy levels and 65% decrease in fatigue.

Other Effects

Contrary to what most of us think, exercise actually boosts energy instead of making us tired. As long as you don’t exhaust yourself in your workouts.

This is because our body’s cells produce energy during exercise.

Also, our endorphin levels rise as well. Endorphins are hormones the body releases when we need to use energy. Some examples include running or swimming.

Apart from the extra energy, these hormones make us feel good and lift our moods.

In the long term, the changes experienced by the body make it adapt better against fatigue. These include:

  • Improved sleep: which lets you wake up each day energized and refreshed.
  • Better heart function: which allows you to have better stamina. This way, you don’t get tired just after a few hours. Also, you can do things the entire day.

So the next time you need an energy boost, skip the caffeine or sugar buzz. Workout instead.

 

3. Better Posture

Muscle imbalances along with weak muscles are among the reasons we have bad posture.

Our muscles hold our skeletal system up. Having muscle imbalances makes us lean toward one direction or another.

Muscle imbalances occur when one muscle group is tight and the opposite muscles are weak.

Poor posture also has long lasting effects.

The reason is the body works to compensate for the imbalances. In this case, the stronger muscles compensate for the weaker ones.

And as a result, our bodies deviate from their normal alignment. And, we end up experiencing stiffness, discomfort, pain and fatigue.

Regular exercise, along with proper stretching, helps fix these imbalances.

A 6 week exercise program was able to improve the forward shoulder posture of 26 individuals. The program included stretching and resistance exercises. These were done 3 times a week.

This resulted in a decrease in the forward angle of the thoracic spine. It also improved arm elevation. In the end, the participants of the study had a more erect posture and better scapular stability.

Another benefit of exercise is that it helps relieve pain that’s caused by poor posture.

A 2015 study done in Korea backs this up. Participants went through 8 weeks of posture correction exercises. After the program, 88 students saw improvements. These students experienced less pain in the shoulder, mid and lower back regions.

 

4. Stronger Bones

stronger bonesAs we age, bone health becomes increasingly important.

When we reach our 30’s, the rate at which our bodies build bone slows down. Due to this, the rate at which bone breaks down begins to outpace it.

As a result, proper calcium, vitamin D supplementation, and weight-bearing exercise become essential.

Without them, we increase our risk of developing weak bones. This makes us more prone to fractures.

Review of existing studies links resistance training to increased bone density. Analysis of data found a few important factors involved. They included the degree of intensity, duration, and design of the workout program. All three factors affect the results you get.

In older adults, high-intensity resistance training improves bone density. Additionally, it also improves muscle mass, strength, and balance. All of which help reduce the risk of falls and fractures.

Related research also tells us it’s good to start early.

Exercise for bone building is most effective during a person’s rapid growth stage. During this time, working out produces gains in bone mineral content and density of around 2% to 5% per year.

These gains do slow down as we age. Bone density only goes up 1% to 3% for older individuals.

 

5. It Helps with PMS Symptoms

Studies suggest that regular exercise helps reduce symptoms associated with PMS. These include anger and depression.

One study recruited 40 women between the ages 18 to 25 years old. Here, researchers observed that working out thrice a week for 1 hour at a time helps reduce PMS symptoms. Participants performed the program for 8 weeks. Aerobic exercise was also included.

Related research verifies these results. They show that aerobic exercise, such as swimming, reduces physical symptoms.

Additionally, it also has positive psychological effects.

 

6. You’ll Sleep Better
sleep better with exercise

One of the most effective natural ways of helping you sleep better is exercise. It doesn’t require any medication, herbs or supplements.

Just start moving and be physically active.

A review of prior studies done on exercise and sleep offers proof. It shows that regular exercise helps increase the total amount of sleep time.

We do note that these studies weren’t done in perfect conditions, due to the many forms of exercises. They didn’t have large sample sizes and weren’t completely standardized.

Yet, current findings support exercise’s ability to help people get more sleep.

The 2013 Sleep in America Poll by the National Sleep Foundation came to a similar conclusion. It found that individuals who exercised sleep better than those who didn’t. Sleep duration was similar across the 2 groups, though, at around 6 hours and 51 minutes on weeknights.

But, there’s a difference when comparing those who exercised to non-exercisers.

Those who exercised were more likely to say they “had a good night’s sleep” every night (67%) or almost every night (56%). Whereas only 39% of non-exercisers would agree to that statement.

The poll also found that those who did vigorous exercise:

  • rarely or never have insomnia symptoms (67%)
  • are able to get back to sleep easily if they woke up at night (72%)
  • had no difficulty falling asleep (69%)

 

7. Your Sex Life will Get Better

For some people, this may be enough incentive to hit the gym.

Research suggests that regular physical activity makes you perform better in the bedroom.

Being in better shape gives you more stamina and endurance. Additionally, you’ll also feel better and more confident about your body.

There’s also scientific evidence that links better orgasms to being fit. You have your stronger ab muscles to thank for that.

The studies reveal that both men and women benefit. Both genders experience improvements in sexual performance and satisfaction due to exercise. These include increased frequency, sexual ability, and satisfying orgasms.

As an added bonus, working out gives your libido a boost.

Psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin offer some scientific proof. They found that 20 minutes of exercise before watching an erotic video increases genital arousal. This was in spite of the fact that the women were on antidepressants.

 

8. It Helps Combat Erectile Dysfunction / Impotence

For men, improved blood circulation throughout the body also benefits the bedroom. It makes it easier to get an erection. This gets rid of those embarrassing moments.

Think about it.

Increased blood flow to the genital region causes penile erection. As such, improved circulation as a result of better heart health due to exercise decreases the likelihood of impotence.

For obvious reasons, the topic isn’t something a lot of men like to discuss. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality.

A study published in the American Journal of Medicine gives us some figures. It notes that more than 18 million Americans over the age of 20 suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED).

A review of 5 studies done between 2004 and 2010 found that aerobic exercise is beneficial for individuals experiencing ED.

The study covered data from 385 participants. It found that exercise also reduced obesity and metabolic syndrome. At the same time, it improved cardiovascular function.

All of which contribute to reducing impotence.

So how much exercise is optimal?

For that, we turn to research done by the Duke University School of Medicine.

Researchers recruited 295 individuals to see how exercise affected erectile and sexual function. It also sought out to find the lowest amount of exercise needed to notice improvements.

The study divided participants into 4 groups of varying exercise intensity. Results showed that more exercise results in better erectile and sexual function.

Those who exercised 18 or more MET (metabolic equivalents) hours weekly saw the best results. Eighteen MET hours is equal to around 2 hours of vigorous exercise.

As an alternative, you can combine exercises of different intensities to achieve this. For example, you can do the following.

  • 3.5 hours of moderate intensity swimming or running.
  • Plus, 6 hours of light exercise.

This gives you the same results as 2 hours of vigorous exercise.

 

9. Better Looking Skin and Complexion

beautiful skinExercise is also a great way to maintain younger looking skin.

This is according to researchers at McMaster University in Canada. Their study discovered that people over the age of 40 who exercise have younger skin. In fact, when tested, their skin composition is similar to that of individuals who are in their 20’s and 30’s.

This was true even for those who were over the age of 65.

The researchers then pushed the boundaries even further. This time, taking sedentary individuals aged 65 or older. Participants went on a 3 month workout program of jogging or cycling.

After 90 days, the researchers tested the participants’ skin samples. Testing showed that their skin composition improved.

Both the inner and outer skin layers looked closer to those of people between the ages of 20 and 40.

 

10. Everyday Tasks Become Easier

Let’s face it.

We all aren’t what we used to be.

We aren’t as strong, as fast or energetic as we were in our teens or 20s.

As we get older, the simpler tasks become more troublesome. This may be carrying heavier loads or climbing more flights of stairs.

Exercise helps make everyday tasks easier.

In older adults, a study found that 6 months of exercise improved overall functional well-being. The participants had a mean age of 76 years old. They participated in a workout program that included strength and endurance training.

In the end, results revealed a 33% improvement in strength. Plus, an 11% rise in maximal oxygen consumption. More importantly, their scores on the physical functional performance test rose by 14%.

Science also tells us that choosing the right type of exercises is essential.

A related study notes the importance of functional exercises. It showed that they were more effective than resistance exercises. This is especially true if you want to improve your ability to handle day to day activities.

Here, the research recruited 98 healthy elderly women. Then, they divided them into 3 groups. One participating in functional exercises, another in resistance exercises and the control group.

Those in the functional training group showed significant improvements in their ADAP test. ADAP stands for Assessment of Daily Activity Performance. It is a test that measures functional task ability.

The resistance training group did gain more strength in specific muscles. But, the extra muscles did not help them do functional tasks better.

This reminds me of a funny video.

 

11. You’ll Become More Productive

Spending some time away from your desk to sweat it out may seem counterproductive. But in reality, it increases the amount of work you do.

A Swedish study observed that adding physical exercise increased employee productivity. This included the amount of work done, their working ability and reduction in sick days.

Other research suggests that workers are more productive on days they exercised.

Among the reasons for this is that during exercise our heart rate goes up. This leads to an increase in blood circulation. The oxygen delivered by the blood not only fuels our muscles but also our brain. This gives us more energy and helps us think with more clarity.

So the next time you’re stuck in a rut and not getting anywhere with work, take a few minutes off to exercise. It will help rejuvenate you when you get back to your desk.

 

12. Regular Exercise Saves You Money in the Long Run
running

You’ll probably spend a bit of money today to workout.

This may be from getting a pair of sneakers for your walking or running routine. Or, to pay for your gym membership.

This is a small investment. But, it saves you a load of money in the future.

Exercise keeps us healthy. This reduces medical bills and doctor’s visits. It also saves you from the trouble, treatment or equipment you’ll be paying for due to back, neck or hip pain down the road.

This is one reason why many Fortune 500 companies have wellness programs and incentives for their employees.

Johnson & Johnson, the large consumer and pharmaceutical manufacturer, is one example. J&J says it saved $250 million between 2002 and 2008 thanks to its wellness program. The company used its own internal estimates to get the final figure.

As a result, its employees are healthier.

The number of employees who are smokers has dropped by more than 66%. Also, the number of employees who are physically inactive or have high blood pressure is down by 50%.

The end result was better productivity, less sick days and lower health care costs.

 

13. Exercise Protects Our Joints

Exercise helps keep cartilage healthy. It does so by building muscle mass around the knees and other joints to protect them. At the same time, it increases bone strength as well.

Austrian researchers offer scientific evidence through MRI imaging. Their research focused on men and women between the ages of 40 to 69 years old. Results revealed that participants who did the most vigorous weight-bearing exercise did best. They had the thickest, healthiest knee cartilage.

Cartilage is the flexible connective tissue that cushions bones at the joints. They act as shock absorbers. This way, we don’t experience bone on bone bumping or scraping when we move our joints or experience impact. As you can imagine, bone rubbing against each other is very painful.

Loss of cartilage, as opposed to thick, healthy cartilage, results in osteoarthritis. This is what causes joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness.

Meanwhile, on the issue of exercise and knee osteoarthritis…

There’s some interesting data gathered from the Framingham Heart Study. This particular study followed over 5,000 residents of Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948. It observed that there was no association between knee arthritis and exercise.

This is contrary to what many experts believe.

The study used data gathered from x-rays and questionnaires done between 2002 and 2005. This information revealed that active and inactive knees were similar. Joggers had similar knees to those who regularly walked.

Results led the researchers to conclude that exercise activity didn’t cause arthritis. These forms of activities included high impact ones, like running.

 

14. Stronger Tendons & Ligaments

As important as muscles are to strength, our tendons and ligaments play an important role in allowing us to move and carry things.

The two look similar when it comes to composition. They both function to help stabilize joints and allow our muscles to extend and contract. But, they work in different ways.

  • Tendons connect muscle to bone: They are strong, elastic fibers that allow bones to move.
  • Ligaments connect bone to bone: These are tough fibers that are flexible. They connect bones together at our joints. Thus, allowing for movement in different directions.

Research shows us that inactivity and immobilization weaken our tendons and ligaments. Regular activity, meanwhile, especially those that are endurance related, help strengthen them.

There is some controversy over whether exercise can increase ligament strength. But, most studies suggest that working out helps strengthen them.

 

15. It Helps Suppress Your Appetite
proper meal portions

We’re all aware that working out regularly helps us lose weight due to all the movement and sweating.

What’s less known is that it has an indirect benefit on our weight because it suppresses our appetite.

A U.K. study found that a moderated 60 minute workout (cycling) helped suppress appetite in 12 healthy volunteers.

Results also noted that exercise increased many hormones related to appetite reduction. These include polypeptide YY, glucagon-like peptide-1, and pancreatic polypeptide. As a result, the participants experienced decreased hunger.

If you’re wondering which type of exercise is better?

It’s cardio. Aerobic exercise works better than weight lifting when it comes to curbing appetite.

A study presented by the American Physiological Society offers proof. It shows that 60 minutes of running on a treadmill beats 90 minutes of weight training. At least, as far as controlling your hunger goes.

The basis of the results was a questionnaire filled out by the subjects. It shows that aerobic exercise was more effective in suppressing hunger.

Samples taken from the participants also confirmed this.

The treadmill workout resulted in a drop in ghrelin levels. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. The cardio workout also increased peptide YY levels.

Weightlifting meanwhile, reduced ghrelin levels. But, it didn’t cause much of a change in the appetite suppression peptide YY hormone.

 

16. It Can Help You Quit Smoking

quit smokingSmoking is one of the most difficult habits to quit.

This is because of the nicotine and chemicals.

In a survey, the CDC reports that around 69% of smokers said they wanted to quit.

But, statistics from the American Cancer Society say otherwise. It estimates only 4% to 7% of smokers are successful without the help of any medication.

With the help of medication, the success rate jumps to 25%.

Exercise is one way you can tilt the odds in your favor. Even if you don’t completely stop the habit, you may reduce the number of sticks you smoke.

A study published in the journal of Adolescent Health notes that 20 minutes of exercise helps lessen smoking in teens. The study, notes that on days the teens were physically active, the number of cigarettes they consumed decreased.

A review of studies reveals a link between working out and reduced cravings. The same study notes that exercise also helps with withdrawal symptoms.

Using previous data, researchers discovered that even short amounts of low-intensity exercise helps. As little as 10 minutes, and up to as low as 24% of heart rate reserve (HRR) is enough to yield positive results.

The researchers aren’t sure how exercise reduces cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms. But, they know that physical activity cuts smoking.

return to table of contents

 

Benefits of Exercise on the Brain

benefits of exercise on the brain

17. It Prevents Cognitive Decline

If you want to keep your brain healthy till your 80s or 90s, which would you choose?

a) do brain games and crossword puzzles
b) exercise

Contrary to what most people think, exercise is the better option.

Research comparing the effects of mental and physical exercise on the brain shows interesting results. It discovered that regular exercise or physical activity helped increase brain size. It also protected against cognitive decline more than mental exercises.

The study used medical records of individuals in Scotland. It also gathered data on the participants’exercise habits, amount of mental activity and social engagement. Then an MRI scan of their brains was done at age 73.

The goal was to see the size and volume changes in their brains. The MRI images allowed researchers to note and analyze associations between brain size and ability. They then linked this with the participants’ habits.

Findings point out that those who were active or did regular exercise had less brain atrophy. Their brains also had larger volumes of gray matter and normal volume of white matter.

  • Those who exercised most had the largest brains. And, the least shrinkage.
  • Those who engaged in intellectual activities or socially stimulating pursuits surprisingly didn’t present these benefits.

 

18. You’ll Get Smarter Too…
exercise makes you smarter

Exercise helps preserve our brain size and function. Additionally, it also boosts brain power.

If you want to get smarter, hitting the books isn’t enough.

You should also step away from the desk once in a while and start moving.

Our brains, like our other organs, need oxygen.

Exercise is one of the best ways to increase blood circulation to the brain. It increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients our brain cells get.

This helps us think and perform better.

Exercise also increases the level of glucose delivered to the brain. This helps a lot because glucose is the main source of fuel for our brains. To note, our brain uses around 120 grams each day for energy.

Research also shows that aerobic training increases the function in our hippocampus. This is the region of the brain that’s responsible for long-term memory. It also plays a role in learning.

The study notes that 5 weeks of exercise caused an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. BDNF is an important chemical in the brain. It affects cell growth, mood regulation, and learning.

In simple terms, without BDNF our brains can’t make new cells or acquire new information.

Also, a 2013 study found that exercise significantly improves brain structures and functions. This resulted in better cognition in older adults.

Here, researchers used high-tech brain imaging like MRI and fMRI to track the effects. Results show that walking 3 times a week increases brain power.

 

19. Better Memory

As we get old, our hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, shrinks. This is why elderly individuals find it harder to remember things.

That’s just how human aging works.

There’s some good news, though. A study notes that regular exercise helps prevent this. It protects the hippocampus from this natural shrinking process. Plus, it is effective even in older adults.

Recruiting 120 older individuals, researchers observed that exercise increased hippocampal volume by 2%. This is like recovering the age-related loss by 1 to 2 years.

The benefits aren’t limited to adults. Kids benefit too.

A study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests this. Kids who were physically fitter had larger hippocampi compared to kids who didn’t exercise. The fit kids had about 12% bigger brain hippocampal sizes compared to out of shape kids.

As you’d expect, these kids also performed better in memory tests.

 

20. You’ll Be a Better Learner
learn better by exercising

Learning is a life-long pursuit.

It doesn’t stop after you graduate from college. At least not if you want to become successful.

Adding some exercise to your daily routine helps in this aspect. It will help you pick things up faster.

This is true whether they’re new motor skills like driving a car or, learning a new language.

Among our brain’s unique abilities is it can reorganize itself and create new pathways to adapt. This reshaping of the brain is called neuroplasticity. It is what allows us to learn and pick up new things or skills.

A study by German researchers proves that exercise improves our learning ability. Physical activity also caused increased levels of BDNF (for short-term learning). Also, dopamine (for intermediate learning) and epinephrine (for long-term learning) rose.

In the study, researchers compared low impact aerobic running to high impact sprinting. Of the two, the latter helped participants learn vocabulary 20% faster. High impact exercise also caused the strongest increases in BDNF, dopamine, and epinephrine.

In a related study, researchers discovered 1 moderate intensity running session already helps. This was enough to produce immediate improvement in motor skill acquisition.

 

21. Creativity Boost

Having problems finding inspiration?

Try stepping away from your desk and spending some time in the gym.

Studies reveal that exercise helps boost creativity.

  • Research shows that a workout session improves our convergent and divergent thinking. These two types of thinking are related to our creativity. Even better, this extra creative ability lasts for 2 hours after your workout.
  • In related research, scientists sought to find out if the creativity boost was an effect of the mood enhancement brought about by exercise. Positive mood promotes creativity. Thus, it may be possible that the creative boost only occurs because of the better mood. Results did prove that that mood and creativity were both improved by exercise. More importantly, the two were independent of one another.

return to table of contents

 

Emotional Benefits of Exercise

emotional benefits of exercise

22. It’s an Effective Mood Booster

Feel down and need something to lift up your mood?

Instead of heading to the freezer and opening a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, try going out for a run.

Exercise releases a host of brain chemicals that boost our happiness levels. Among them are endorphins. These hormones blunt pain and enhance our feeling of happiness.

Exercise also reduces levels of certain immune system chemicals that contribute to feeling down. The increase in body temperature when we start moving automatically makes us feel better as the warmth helps calm us.

To see how exercise affects mood, researchers in the U.K. performed an experiment. They gave 80 regular gym goers Profile of Mood States questionnaires to answer. One before and another after their 60 minute exercise session.

The questionnaire was a simple 15 minute form. It helped measured moods including depression, anger, tension and fatigue among others. Responses showed that a single session of exercise helps reduce negative mood feelings.

Exercise also decreased tension, anger, confusion and fatigue. This was true in those who came into the workout feeling depressed.

 

23. It Builds Mental Toughness and Resilience to Stress

Being mentally strong lets you get through the tough times that life throws at you.

According to University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth, mental toughness, or grit, is the number one trait that determines long term success.

In one of her studies, she followed students enrolled at West Point. What she learned was that the best predictor of success was grit.

In fact, having grit mattered more than physical fitness, intelligence, and leadership.

Duckworth also did another study. This time, involving students at an Ivy League school. She observed that smarter students had less grit. Especially, when compared students who scored lower on an intelligence test.

She also discovered that is wasn’t the smartest ones that got the highest GPAs. Instead, it was the grittiest ones. These students were willing to work harder than their brighter peers. Their determination was what made them succeed despite not being as intelligent.

Anyone who’s ever had to power through those final few meters of a marathon, or finish a grueling workout knows a thing or two about mental toughness.

Research has data to back up this claim.

It comes in the form of a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sport Behavior. It says that people who exercise often had more grit than non-exercisers.

In the same way, grit also was a predictor of one’s effort and persistence in their workouts. It was a trait that drew the line between those who gave up. And, those who followed through with their fitness goals.

 

24. Helps Fight Anxiety

Feeling anxious about a test or upcoming event?

Try exercising.

When we exercise, our body releases hormones that help reduce anxiety and calm us down. Dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are among these hormones. All three work to help relieve anxiety and boost our mood.

Also, exercise helps reduce our body’s cortisol levels. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is often elevated when we’re feeling anxious.

A study of 54 individuals noted that 20 minutes on a treadmill helps bring anxiety relief.

The researchers did note that relief varied based on workout intensity. High intensity running on the machine produced a faster drop in anxiety levels. It also had a better response from the participants.

 

25. Regular Exercise Reduces Violence & Fighting
gun violence

Exercise is a good outlet for excess energy, frustration, anger and even aggression.

Keeping kids busy with positive things is what youth counselors in troubled neighborhoods do. It keeps children off the streets and away from violence.

Science gives us proof that this theory works.

Columbia University researchers did a study of over 1,300 students from New York’s inner city schools. They found that teen girls who did some form of exercise at least 10 days a month were less likely to join a gang.

In fact, it states that any form of exercise helps.

Playing sports or spending 20 minutes working out is enough. Doing so reduced the risk of the kids carrying a weapon, being in a fight or joining a gang.

In general, sports and activities in recreation centers are productive for young kids.

There are exceptions, though. At least according to research.

A Penn State study notes that participating in violent sports is an example. As a sport, they offer many physical and mental benefits. But, they have a downside.

The study found football players and wrestlers to be more violent. They got into more serious fights as well. They were even more violent than those who didn’t play any sports at all.

The effects also extended to their circle of friends.

Friends of football players were more likely to engage in fights. This was true even if they weren’t athletes themselves.

return to table of contents

 

Physiological Benefits of Exercise

physiological benefits of exercise

26. Lowers Blood Pressure

Exercise is one of the pillars of good blood pressure management.

Together with proper diet and a healthy lifestyle, it can help you can lower your blood pressure.

Even on its own, exercise is very effective.

The best thing about it is that it doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do. Walking, sports, swimming or lifting weights, they all work.

A review of prior studies on blood pressure shows that exercise:

  • Reduces resting systolic blood pressure by a mean of 3.3 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 2.4 mmHg.
  • Ambulatory blood pressure meanwhile, which is your BP while you’re moving, also dropped by 3.3 mmHg and 3.5 mmHg, respectively.

For those who are hypertensive, the improvements are more significant. There was a 6.9 mmHg drop in systolic BP and 4.9 mmHg reduction in the diastolic.

Should you prefer resistance training to aerobic based exercise, that works too.

An analysis of past studies notes its effects. In this case, -3.3 mmHg in systolic BP, and -3.5 mmHg in diastolic BP.

In today’s world, we eat out a lot due to convenience. Exercise helps mitigate the effects of dining out.

 

27. It Lowers Blood Sugar

Besides blood pressure, exercise also aids in blood sugar reduction and maintenance.

Those looking for the easiest way to lower blood sugar can try walking after meals.

Research by Old Dominion University gives us some evidence this works. They showed that walking after meals helps blunt the rise in blood glucose levels.

The study involved 12 individuals with type 2 diabetes. Participants took 20 minute walks on a treadmill at a pace comfortable to them. On separate days, they walked either right before dinner or after finishing the meal.

Results showed that taking a walk after a meal produced lower blood sugar numbers. It beat out pre-meal walking and no walking at all.

Walking is the simplest form of exercise to do. That’s why it is the most popular as well. But, it isn’t always the most effective in lowering blood glucose.

Popular Exercises

Research by the same author abovepopular forms of exercise lists the top forms of exercise. Data comes from the 2012 Big Blue Test.

The Big Blue Test is an annual initiative where diabetics voluntarily exercise. They also record self-monitored blood sugar levels in the process.

In it, walking got nearly 49% of the survey results.

Next were:

  • Other forms of exercise: 19%
  • Jogging or running: 12%
  • Cycling: 9%
  • Conditioning machines: 6%
  • Dancing: 6%

While effective, walking only produces an average of 25 mg/dL drop in blood glucose. Here’s how the other forms of physical activity stacked up.

blood sugar effects of exercise

  • Cycling: -42.4 mg/dL
  • Jogging/running: -40.1 mg/dL
  • Dancing: -37.4 mg/dL
  • Conditioning machines: -35.9 mg/dL
  • Non-specified exercise: -33.5 mg/dL

Interestingly, moderate exercise was better than vigorous exercise. It produced a decrease of 33 mg/dL compared to a 28 mg/dL drop for the latter.

As far as timing goes, the best time is usually 1 or 2 hours after eating. Both lowering blood glucose by 40 mg/dL.

In general, the longer the workout session, the better.

The data does suggest that there is a sweet spot. This is where the biggest drop happens. It is exercising 30 or more minutes 1 hour after eating (-49 mg/dL) or 2 hours after the meal (-46 mg/dL).

 

28. Reduce Your Cholesterol & Triglycerides

Sticking with our metabolic factors. Exercise also improves your cholesterol and triglycerides.

Review of existing research suggests that physical activity works.

But what kind of exercise works better?

Research tells us aerobic exercise produces bigger improvements. At least compared to resistance training alone.

But, combining aerobic with resistance exercise offers the best results.

While we’re on the topic of maximizing its effects, here’s another one. Researchers from Stanford University found that exercise along with a healthy eating program beats dieting alone.

The study followed more than 250 moderately overweight men and women for a year.  It found that:

  • Men who went on the diet and exercised saw a 13% increase in HDL cholesterol. Men who only dieted gained 2%.
  • Women who did both diet and exercise saw a small improvement of 1% in their HDL cholesterol. Whereas, those who only dieted saw a drop of 10%.

Thus, science tells us that exercise and eating a healthy diet is the best way to improve your lipid profile. It also notes that the exercise should include both aerobic and resistance training.

 

29. Improve Insulin Sensitivity

Our bodies need insulin to transport glucose from our bloodstream into our cells. The glucose is then used for energy.

Insulin resistance occurs when the body isn’t able to use the insulin it produces. This is often a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Here, the body is able to produce enough insulin it needs. But, it also resists that insulin.

As a result, the insulin isn’t able to do its job.

When this happens, glucose (blood sugar) accumulates in the blood. This is what causes high blood sugar. Untreated, this can lead to full-blown diabetes.

Many studies, including this one, show that exercise improves insulin sensitivity. It helps by allowing our bodies to respond better to insulin.

Researchers also discovered that how much you exercise affects the improvement in insulin sensitivity.  They study used a 16 week exercise program.

It involved 55 healthy volunteers doing 45 minute workouts between 3 to 5 times to week.

Results show that exercise frequency wasn’t a big factor. But, the level of intensity was. Higher intensity improved insulin sensitivity more.

Its ability to use up the sugar from food and improve insulin sensitivity help keep us healthier.

 

30. It’s a Very Efficient Way of Burning Calories
exercise helps burn calories

One of the reasons that most of us skip exercise is that we don’t have enough time.

But if you’re looking to burn calories, exercise is about as good as it gets.

To give you an idea, a 150 lb. person:

  • Burns around 70 calories by sitting on a chair or couch. Doing nothing else.
  • Sleeping meanwhile, burns 60 calories.

We can thank our resting metabolic rate for this.

The exact number of calories burned varies a bit, though. Here’s where body composition and a few other factors come into play.

Here’s some comparison.

Walking 1,600 meters at a pace of 3 mph, which comes out to about an 18 minute stroll, burns around 111 calories. This is according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Running the same distance, which takes about 10 minutes, sheds 159 calories.

Either one definitely beats sitting around all day… at least if you’re looking to shed calories.

We can also compare aerobic exercise with other methods. Here, science tells us that HIIT or high-intensity interval training is the way to go.

Calories Burned by Exercise Type

Here’s data from a study. It compared the following exercises.

  • Resistance training session using 75% of 1RM.
  • Endurance cycling at 70% of max. heart rate.
  • Running on a treadmill 70% max. heart rate.
  • HIIT. Intervals of max. effort for 20 seconds. Then, followed by 40 seconds of rest on a hydraulic resistance system.

calories burned by types of exercises

Results tell us that in almost all parameters measured HIIT workout came out on top. These included calorie expenditure and average heart rate. Also factored in was perceived rate of exertion. Other forms of exercise didn’t differ much from one another.

  • HIIT burned 12.7 calories per minute.
  • Weightlifting burned 8.8 calories/minute.
  • Treadmill running burned 9.5 calories/minute.
  • Cycling consumed 9.2 calories/minute.

Do note that there are many other factors involved in calculating how many calories you burn. Some of which include your age, weight, intensity and duration of your exercise.

Here’s a chart from the Mayo Clinic. It should give you an idea of how many calories you burn doing different physical activity.

 

31. Ups Your Resting Metabolic Rate

Resting metabolic rate is the number of calories our body burns what you’re at rest. It does so to support its basic functions. These include breathing and blood circulation.

It also means that even when we aren’t doing anything, our bodies still use up calories.

Having a higher metabolic rate means that your body is able to burn more calories while at rest. So, you lose calories even when you’re away from the gym.

It’s a good thing.

Research suggests that exercise can keep our metabolic rate at higher levels.

It found that 45 minutes of intense exercise allows our metabolic rate to stay up for 14 hours. As such, participants burned an extra 190 calories in the 14 hours after their 45 minute workout.

In the end, they used up 519 calories during the exercise session. Then burned up an extra 37% more calories the next 14 hours.

Now that’s a bonus!

 

32. It Cuts Body Fat
lower body fat

Losing weight is often the first thing we do when trying to get healthier.

But, not all weight loss is equal.

Also, more important than seeing the pounds come off is getting rid of body fat.

Now that that’s clear… the question is, how much exercise do we need to do before seeing fat go away?

Science has the answer.

Four times a week is a good number to shoot for.

This is according to a study in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

That figure is based on an 8 week experiment that tracked 80 men and women between the ages of 22 and 74.

Thirty minutes of exercise 4 times a week produced the biggest reduction in body fat mass. The study compared this frequency with less than twice a week and exercising 3 or 4 times weekly.

While the other 2 frequencies produced fat loss, 4 times a week at half an hour per session proved better.

Aerobic exercise, resistance training or both?

If you had to choose… Research tells us you have two choices. They are:

  • Aerobic exercise (AE) only.
  • Or, combine aerobic and resistance training (AT/RT).

Aerobic training beat out AT/RT in total weight loss by a small margin. But, doing both aerobic and resistance training produced the biggest fat loss. It also resulted in the largest reduction in waist circumference.

That said, the researchers did note that AT/RT requires a bit more time and commitment. This resulted in a lot less compliance in the AT/RT program.

So, don’t get too enticed by the bigger gains of doing both cardio and resistance training. Figure out whether you’ll be able to see the program through.

If you can’t or aren’t sure, then going with aerobic training may be a better alternative.

 

33. Stronger Lungs & Respiratory System

During exercise, our lungs supply our body with the oxygen it needs.

This gives us energy as well as lets us get rid of carbon dioxide, the waste product that’s created by the energy we use.

This is how it works.

Our lungs deliver oxygen to the heart. Our hearts, in turn, supplies our muscles with fresh oxygen via the hemoglobin in our blood.

Meanwhile, exercise causes our muscles to produce more carbon dioxide. This is a result of burning up more energy. The carbon dioxide is then expelled by our lungs when we exhale.

During exercise, we breathe harder due to the increased demand for oxygen and the need to get rid of more CO2.

As a result of all the breathing, regular exercise not only works our muscles but also our lungs and heart. Our respiratory system becomes more efficient as well. It is able to get more oxygen into our blood to be transported to the muscles and organs.

Research in the National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology has some data. It compared the pulmonary profiles of athletic and sedentary individuals. The data reveals that athletes had better respiratory function.

These included higher levels of forced vital capacity (FVC), FEV1, FEV3, peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) and FEV1/FVC ratio. All of which measure our respiratory system’s function.

 

34. Better Blood Circulation
healthy blood circulation

Our body’s circulatory system consists of:

  • The heart which pumps the blood.
  • Our blood vessels, which is a network that carries the pumped blood to all parts of the body.

Together with the heart, our lungs play an important role. They supply oxygen to the blood before the hearts sends it out to the body.

  • Blood leaves the heart through our arteries. From there, it goes into our organs, cells, and tissues where it’s needed.
  • Our body’s cells then use up the blood’s oxygen and nutrients.
  • Now low in oxygen, blood returns to the heart (and lungs) to be “refilled” with nutrients and oxygen.

This makes good blood circulation vital for us to be healthy.

Without it, the tissue and cells in our body don’t get the nutrients and oxygen they need. Thus, they won’t function properly. Lack of oxygen to our organs ultimately results in damage.

Studies show that exercise increases the amount of blood circulated through the body. Regular exercise also improves our heart and lung function. It allows them to work more efficiently even when we’re at rest.

 

35. Slows Down Aging

What’s better than living longer? Staying young.

Unfortunately, we can’t stay young forever.

But, science tells that regular exercise helps slow down the aging process. This lets us look and feel younger.

As a bonus, it also benefits our muscles, organs, and brain. This makes us healthier and feel better.

A study notes the link between being fit and telomere length. In this case, fitter individuals having longer telomeres.

Telomeres are like small caps at the end of our chromosomes. Their main function is to protect the integrity of the chromosomes. They work like the tips on shoelaces, preventing the strands from fraying.

Unhealthy lifestyle, poor diet, and sedentary activity shorten telomere length.

When these caps become too short, they run out. As a result, it exposes the chromosome to damage. This can eventually lead to making it stop functioning properly.

By preserving telomere length, regular exercise keeps our body’s chromosomes healthy. This allows our cells to stay young and undamaged. This way they can keep dividing properly.

A related study also mentions that moderate exercise has the ability to increase telomere length by up to 10%.

 

36. It Increases Your Red Blood Cell Count
red blood cells

Red blood cells are a vital part of human existence. Our body’s cells and tissues need them to survive.

Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout our bodies. They bring oxygen and nutrients to our cells and organs.

On average, our red blood cells live around 100 to 120 days. So the body needs to keep making more.

This is where exercise comes in.

Research links exercise to red blood cell production. It suggests that a single exercise session changes the body’s red blood cell parameters.

Samples taken right after exercise proved this. Hemoglobin, hematocrit, lactate levels, and plasma volume all increased significantly.

Interestingly, blood antioxidant levels were also up. This tells us that exercise increases our body’s defenses against free radicals.

Scientists still aren’t sure why red blood cells increase during exercise. But they have a few hypotheses. One is that growth hormones released during exercise may be the cause.

Research tells us trained athletes often have increased levels of red blood cells. Due to this, they call it “sports anemia”. In this scenario, hematocrit level will look low because of the higher plasma volume.

 

37. Boost Fertility

One more good reason to be physically active is it helps with fertility.

The National Center for Health Statistics’ 2013 report seems to show we need it. It notes that fertility levels are at an all-time low.

The changes in our lifestyle and diet over the decades have affected these numbers for the worse.

Both men and women are equally affected.

This is according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Fertility issues affect both men and women almost equally when trying to conceive. Statistics show that around:

  • 1/3 is because of the female’s infertility.
  • Another 1/3 the male.
  • And, the final third from a combination of problems in both partners or an unknown source.

In Men

Research in the Journal of Sports Medicine puts some blame on TV. It notes that reducing TV time and increasing exercise improves sperm concentration. It also increases sperm count.

In the study, Harvard researchers compared men who exercised with those who didn’t.

Men who did 15 hours a week of moderate to vigorous exercise had 73% more sperm concentration over those who exercised less than 5 hours weekly.

TV time produced the opposite effect. Men who watched over 20 hours of TV a week had 44% less sperm concentration compared to those that didn’t watch TV.

In Women

Exercise has a similar effect on women.

This is from a study by The Fertility Society of Australia. They discovered that women who regularly exercised had better fertility. These women also experienced lower rates of miscarriage and better chances of implantation. The study analyzed 26,955 women who exercised at least 3 times a week for at least 1 hour per session.

Note is that regular exercise is good. But, too much is harmful. This goes for both men and women.

Studies suggest the too much exercise negates its positive effects on fertility. In fact, it actually lowers fertility.

This is from a 2010 study that analyzed sperm parameters of top level water polo players and triathletes. It found that the athletes had worse numbers compared to regular individuals who were physically active.

From the results, the researchers concluded that too much exercise can be bad. The same goes for very high levels of exercise. This was the case seen in elite athletes. It hampers fertility.

 

38. Better Cardiorespiratory and Cardiovascular Function
better cardiovascular health

You’ll notice that you breathe deeper during exercise. Your heart also starts beating faster.

Like our muscles, our heart and lungs get stronger when we give them a good workout.

Regular exercise improves our heart and lung functions. It does this in the following manner:

  • It increases the amount of blood pumped every minute.
  • Exercise increases the amount of blood pumped with every heart beat.
  • It increases oxygen transport and blood volume to all parts of the body.
  • Exercise also reduces the work done by the heart when we’re faced with simpler tasks.

This is why athletes, or very fit individuals, have very low heart rates.

Their heart and lungs are very efficient. Due to this, these organs produce more than enough oxygen with less work. Here are a few extreme example:

  • Five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain’s heart only beats 28 times a minute.
  • In his prime, legendary Swedish tennis player Bjorn Borg’s resting heart rate was 35. Borg won 5 straight Wimbledon titles and 6 French Open crowns.

Meanwhile, the average heart rate for a normal individual runs between 60 and 100.

Texas A&M researchers observed this in a 20 week training program. They recruited 631 healthy, sedentary participants from varying ages, races and genders. The goal was to see how different people responded to the program.

In the end, 20 weeks was enough to improve cardiac output and stroke volume.

Results showed that age, race, and gender didn’t affect the participants’ gains. They all saw improvements in cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory function.

 

39. It Lowers Your Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase our risk of early death.

Many studies including one from Queen’s University in Canada offer proof. It notes that exercise helps prevent and treats symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

The research used data from the HERITAGE Family Study. This included 621 individuals who were sedentary and healthy. They also noted that 105 of the participants or 17% had metabolic syndrome.

Results revealed that exercise helped reverse metabolic syndrome.

The participants went through 20 weeks of aerobic exercise. In the end, 31% of the individuals who had metabolic syndrome no longer met the criteria.

In these individuals, exercise lowered:

  • Blood pressure by 38%.
  • Fasting blood sugar by 9%.
  • Triglycerides by 43%.

And, it increased HDL cholesterol by 16%.

So what exactly is metabolic syndrome?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is made if you have 3 or more of these symptoms.

  • A big waistline. Measure at the belly button. A “big waistline” for men is 40 inches or higher. For women, it is 35 inches or more.
  • High blood pressure. Blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or above. Or, if you’re taking blood pressure medication.
  • High triglycerides. Levels over 150 mg/dl.
  • High fasting blood sugar. Fasting blood glucose above 100 mg/dl. Or, if you’re taking medicine to keep blood glucose down.
  • Low HDL cholesterol. If your HDL cholesterol is below 40 mg/dl for men. And, under 50 mg/dl for women.

The problem with the items listed above is that they often don’t present any symptoms. At least, not until they’ve become serious. As such, you won’t feel anything even if you have them.

This makes it important to regularly have these levels checked.

The reason is, metabolic syndrome can lead to a series of very serious diseases later on. These include:

  • Damage to your coronary arteries. And eventually, heart disease and stroke.
  • Damage to your kidneys. This can lead to them deteriorating or even failing.
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Blood clot formations. These can lead to blockages that cause strokes or heart attacks.

This in itself is worth the extra time spent working out. Which makes it all the more important to be consistent with exercise.

 

40. Fight Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

We’ve all experienced inflammation before. It may have been from a bruise, gash or sports injury.

Inflammation is our body’s response to infection or other threats to it. This process works to protect the injured area. And, help it repair later on.

Like stress, inflammation is designed to be short term. It is there in response to a certain situation.

But, chronic inflammation, or when inflammation stays for the long term, can damage our health.

In this case, inflammation isn’t limited to just one site like when it occurs on a bruise or a sprained ankle. Instead, it affects many internal organs and our blood vessels.

Chronic inflammation is often associated with oxidative stress and free radicals. This is because it causes cell and tissue destruction over the long term.

According to 10 year study, exercise helps reduce inflammation. Participants who did 2.5 hours or more of physical activity had lower levels of inflammation markers.

return to table of contents

 

Psychological Benefits of Exercise

psychological benefits of exercise

41. Boost Your Self-Confidence

A lot of our self-confidence comes from what we can do and how we look. It also takes into account how we feel about these things relative to other people.

Exercise is one of the quickest self-confidence boosters. The reason is it enhances our body image.

When you look good, you’ll feel good. Or, at least feel better.

As we lose the belly fat, look slimmer, and have toned muscles we feel better about ourselves. The extra energy and positive feeling brought about by exercise also make us want to do more and succeed.

No matter what age or fitness level, exercise has a way of helping us overcome some of our insecurities.

A 2 year study shows that lower BMI from exercise improves self-perception. The study involved 143 middle aged women. In the end, the decrease in BMI gave the women a higher perception of self-attractiveness and health.

 

42. Exercise Improves Self-Esteem

Want to feel better about yourself and look better at the same time?

Get some exercise.

Research in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine shows this fact. After a 20-week exercise program, sedentary adults had more physical self-worth and self-esteem. They also had felt better about their physical condition and attractiveness.

Its effects aren’t limited to adults. Kids benefit too.

This according to a review of data in Norway. The review spanned 23 studies covering close to 2,000 children.

They learned that exercise boosts self-esteem in kids in the short term. And because it doesn’t have negative effects, it’ something easy all parents can do.

Interestingly, choosing the right environment is also a factor. It influences how exercise affects self-esteem.

Biologists at the University of Essex observed this. Those working out in green surroundings, like parks, experienced better self-esteem. They also benefited from better blood pressure and mood.

Here, researchers showed participants 30 different sceneries. The sceneries were projected on a wall as they worked out. Scenes from pleasant environments produced better overall results in all aspects. Unpleasant surroundings did the opposite.

The results also give us a few insights to think about.

  • One. choosing a good environment to workout in is important.
  • Second. If you can’t go out, simulating a pleasant space indoors works. It is enough to elicit the positive results.

 

43. Help Deal With or Control Addiction
exercise helps control addictions

What makes vices and bad habits hard to break is the pleasure we get from them.

Our minds are wired so we feel pleasure. This is because our brain’s reward system releases chemicals. These chemicals make us want us to seek out that thing over and over.

This is why alcohol, smoking, and drugs are so addictive. They create sensations that make us feel good.

As a result, our brain keeps telling us to get some more.

The more we get of it, the more we’ll need later on to match that initial pleasurable feeling.

Exercise works as a way to help distract us from whatever addictions we have. In the short term, it helps our minds focus on something else other than craving for these things.

On smoking

Research in the journal Psychopharmacology indicates that exercise helps control nicotine addiction.

It used fMRI scans to see how the brains of smokers behave. Results show that exercise reduces the brain’s addiction to nicotine.

  • Without exercise, there was a lot of activity in brain’s visual attention and reward processing regions.
  • After exercise, the scans didn’t show activation in these regions. This reveals lower levels of cravings for cigarettes.

On alcohol

A study from Brown University’s Medical School also shows exercise’s effect on alcohol addiction. The team used a 12 week exercise program on sedentary alcohol dependent patients. The goal was to help them beat their addiction.

With exercise, patients were able to abstain from drinking longer.

 

44. Gives You a More Positive Mindset

Aside from the physical benefits, exercise also offers positive psychological gains. One is a better mindset.

Exercise boosts our mental disposition. It makes us feel better. This is thanks to the hormones released in the brain when we start working up a sweat.

Studies also tell us that those who are active take a more “glass is half full” perspective. Individuals who aren’t active often do the opposite.

Better yet, a single exercise session can quickly lift your mood.

Research suggest that one session of treadmill running reduced mood disturbances in all participants. It noted that regular exercisers benefited twice as much as those who didn’t regularly workout.

Incidentally, the single workout session increased vigor in ultra-marathon runners. It did the same for those who regularly exercised. Plus, it reduced their fatigue.

But, that treadmill session didn’t do the same for non-exercises.

 

45. Exercise Helps You Control Cravings & Resist Temptation
cravings for sweets

We’ve all got our cravings.

It may be that piece of chocolate cake. Or, a drink. These temptations can be difficult to resist.

Exercise gives us a way of fighting these urges. It works even when the urges are strong during stressful situations.

The reason, physical activity releases endorphins.

The good news is, it can be anything.

Even simple things like a brisk walk outside. Or, a short jog. They all work.

These hormones lift our mood. And, they give us that natural high. This is what athletes refer to as “runner’s high”.

Also, our bodies also release endocannabinoids. Thes chemicals affect the brain like marijuana does. They do this by enhancing the high we feel from the endorphins.

Together with other brain chemicals, they help us cope with cravings and temptation.

A study in the U.K. shows us how exercise affects alcohol consumption. Ten minutes of cycling was enough to reduce the craving in alcohol-dependent men and women.

Scientists from Yale’s School of Medicine noticed another active chemical during exercise. Galanin is a brain hormone that helps reduce cravings in times of stress.

When stressed, the urge to comfort ourselves becomes greater. This is when we look for food, alcohol or a smoke. We like them as they help bring short-term stress relief.

 

46. You Learn More About Your Body and Appreciate It More
self appreciation

Sure, regular exercise gives you the six pack abs, a toned behind and sleek beach body.

What’s more important is using our muscles gives us a better appreciation of what our bodies can do.

Research suggests that body image and satisfaction is very important. It goes deeper than looking good on the outside.

The study discovered that weight and appearance were not good motivations to exercise. Doing so will likely leave you dissatisfied with your body.

The same was true for those whose motivations were fitness, and health. But, to a lesser effect.

It did show that working out regularly does reduce this state of dissatisfaction.

This tells us that our motivations for working out play an important role in how we feel about ourselves.

A related study tells us that de-emphasizing appearance and weight is the way to go. It lets us achieve a better positive body image. Here, researchers reached the same conclusion as the study above. Exercise improves body image.

It also increases your appreciation for your body. You get a better internal perspective of your body. And, become more satisfied with its abilities.

 

47. Exercise Reduces Depression

Many studies suggest regular exercise fights depression.

Researchers at the University of Toronto compiled and reviewed them. The goal was to confirm a link between exercise and depression.

In total, they looked at 6,363 citations and 30 studies. Findings showed that physical activity was negatively associated with the risk of depression. It also reduced the risk of future depression for those who have experienced it before.

The best thing the analysis uncovered was that any level of physical activity works. Even less than 150 minutes a week of walking helped prevent future depression.

Psychologists at the Duke University Medical Center did a related study. They discovered that exercise works like antidepressants do in patients with depression. The study ran for 5 years and involved over 200 patients with major depression.

return to table of contents

 

General Health

general health benefits of exercise

48. You’ll Live Longer

Next to happiness, living longer is probably the thing everyone wants.

According to the CDC, life expectancy hit a record high in 2012. It reached 78.8 years. The report also mentions that women, on average, lived until 81.2 years. Men reached the age of 76.4 years.

Want to live till 100?

Scientific evidence shows that exercise, or being physically active is important.

Of course, living longer isn’t the only thing that matters. You need to be healthy as well. Otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy all those years either.

Exercise and Life Expectancy

A 2012 study reveals that regular, moderate exercise increases life expectancy. The great news here is it works regardless of your age, weight, sex or health condition.

This was a large, long-term study with almost 700,000 individuals. It also spanned a median of 10 years. What they found was:

  • For Normal weight individuals. Those who exercised 2.5 hours a week or more lived around 4.7 years longer than those who didn’t exercise.
  • For those who were overweight, but not obese. Those who exercised 2.5 hours or more a week lived 3.9 years more than those who didn’t.
  • For obese individuals. Those who spent 2.5 hours or more a week exercising lived 2.7 to 3.4 years longer than their counterparts. In this case, the length of life extension varied depending on how obese they were.

Even a little counts.

  • Those who did 75 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly added 1.8 years to their lives on average. Seventy-five minutes comes to around 15 minutes a day for 5 days a week.

Also, more was better.

  • Those who did 450 minutes of exercise each week lived 4.5 years longer.

Do note that losing weight or keeping a healthy BMI was essential.

  • Normal weight individuals who exercised 2.5 hours per week lived 7.2 years longer than those who were obese and inactive.

 

49. Reduce Your Stress Levels

Chronic stress is harmful to our health.

The problem is, we often experience this type of stress on a regular basis. This is because so many things are going on in our lives.

On the physical level, exercise helps fight stress in many ways.

  • It helps calm and relax us. While this is temporary, the immediate relaxing feeling lasts for about 90 to 120 minutes. This gives us a time to settle down and refocus.
  • Exercise reduces our anxiety levels. Anxiety is closely linked to stress in many instances. Often, one can trigger the other. Physical activity lowers the electrical activity of our tense muscles. This helps reduce our jittery feeling.
  • Working out makes us feel better about ourselves and what we’re doing. This helps relieve stress. It also gives us more confidence and self-esteem.

Greek researchers found that stress has profound effects on the body. These include our metabolism, insulin response and immune system. Ultimately, it can lead to serious diseases like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

Another important point was stress affects our brain’s hippocampus in a bad way. This is the part that handles long-term memory, cognition and mood regulation.

The study notes the regular exercise reduces the harmful effects of chronic stress. Also, it increases our resistance to stressors.

 

50. Helps You Relax
relaxing by the pool

Exercise affects our brains in a complex way. It does so in a neurochemical manner.

During exercise, our body’s level of stress hormones decrease. These include cortisol and adrenalin.

At the same time, the body releases positive hormones like endorphins.

Endorphins cause that “runner’s high” in athletes. It is what gives us a feeling of motivation or optimism to power through our workouts.

This hormone also reduces our body’s pain level while boosting mood and helping us feel more relaxed. So, it lets us release tension, not only physically but mentally as well.

As a result, exercise helps us sleep better.

Now working out right before bedtime isn’t recommended. But, regular exercise lets us relax and sleep better. This is according to University of South Carolina researchers.

The study notes that no daytime activity is more associated to sleep than exercise. In part, because it does the opposite of what sleep does to the body. It depletes our energy stores, break down tissue and elevate body temperature.

 

51. Improves Overall Well-Being & Quality of Life

Summing up all the benefits of exercise above, what we end up with is being and feeling better.

It’s ability to affect our physical, mental and emotional states makes it valuable.

Science agrees.

A 2012 study saw that physically active people were better off. They had more vigor and enthusiasm during days they worked out.

Here, the students noted down the amount of sleep, exercise and how they felt each day. The study then cataloged diaries kept by each of the 200 students over an 8 day period.

Those who worked out regularly were happier. They also had a better sense of well-being.

Meanwhile, a review of a larger set of studies came to a similar conclusion. They found many studies showing that exercise brings better quality of life. Working out also improved the health for most individuals.

 

52. Exercise Helps Moms Have a Healthy Pregnancy
healthy pregnancy

Until not so recently, working out wasn’t something expecting mothers did. Even today, it’s something that isn’t recommended for all pregnant women.

While working out during your pregnancy does have its benefits, it also comes with some risks.

Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise routine while pregnant.

A study in the journal American Family Physician says pregnant women can keep exercising. Doing so helps shorten labor and reduces discomfort. It also provides a better sense of well-being. Plus, leads to fewer obstetric interventions.

But, it warns that exercise shouldn’t be too vigorous. Also, expecting moms should stay hydrated.

Avoiding any contact sports is a must. There should also be no activities where there’s a risk of falling or abdominal trauma.

 

53. Smarter Kids too…

It isn’t only mommy who benefits from exercise during pregnancy.

Working out during pregnancy reduces the risks for both mom and child. Reports tell us that it improves baby’s verbal IQ too.

Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences discovered this. Kids whose moms did more physical activity while pregnant scored higher in verbal tests.

 

54. Counteract the Negative Effects of Alcohol
drinking beer

In moderation, alcohol offers many health benefits.

But because it is addictive, most people end up drinking too much.

Too much alcohol harms our brain. It damages our brain and kills brain cells.

Meanwhile, a study discovered that exercise protects the brain from the negative effects of alcohol.

Here, scientists used a modified MRI imaging technique to watch the brain. This allowed them to follow the path and movement of water molecules in the brain.

They noticed that heavy drinkers who exercised a lot didn’t have a lot of damage to their brain’s white matter.

But, heavy drinkers who didn’t exercise had white matter in several areas of their brains “compromised”.

White matter, as opposed to gray matter, is made up of nerve cells. These cells act as pathways where brain messages pass. Damage to them means that signals aren’t passed efficiently between different areas of the brain.

While exercise acts as a protective barrier for our brains, it generally isn’t good to mix it with alcohol.

a. For one, it hampers your fitness goals.

A can of beer contains 154 calories. A glass of wine ranges from 140 calories for some white wines to 200 calories for pinot noirs. If you don’t stop at one drink a day, it adds up.

b. Also, alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to burn fat even through exercise.

The body isn’t designed to store alcohol and knows it’s something that isn’t good for it. So, it tries to get alcohol out of its system as fast as possible.

As a result, the body makes expelling alcohol a priority. In the process, this slows down the fat burning and nutrient absorption functions.

c. Finally, there’s the issue of safety.

As a rule, don’t go to the gym if you’ve had a few to drink. This is a recipe for disaster. You or someone else can end up getting hurt.

 

55. Better Vision and Eye Health
good eye health

Like me, you may spend a lot of time in front of your computer screen.

We all know it’s not good for us. But, we do it. It can be because of work. Or, we can’t stop ourselves.

Vision problems stem from staring at the screen all day. Often, this happens almost every day. This is why Computer Vision Syndrome is so widespread.

Yes, that’s what you call eye problems caused by your computer.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), symptoms include:

  • Dry eyes
  • Eyestrain
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Due of its prevalence, the AOA recommends using the 20-20-20 rule. This will help you avoid Computer Vision Syndrome. 20-20-20 stands for:

  • 20 second break
  • 20 feet away
  • Every 20 minutes

This is a simple guideline we can all follow.

Additionally, aging does a number on our eyes. This is why we don’t see as well as we used to when we get older.

Regular exercise helps keeps our vision and eyes healthy.

A 7 year study tells us that higher amounts of vigorous exercise reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

In this case, running reduced the likelihood of AMD. The longer the distance the better. The results seem to suggest. Each kilometer added to your daily run lowers risk by 10%.

Compared to those who ran less than 2 km a day, those who logged:

  • Between 2 to 4 km daily had a 19% less chance of AMD.
  • At least 4 kilometers a day cuts risk further down by 42% to 54%.

 

56. Better Hearing

No. Unfortunately, exercise won’t give you super hearing.

But, working out regularly indirectly helps our hearing ability. This is according to a study in the American Journal of Audiology.

Why? Our cardiovascular fitness is linked to our sense of hearing.

The study analyzed data from the 1999–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Here, they found that good cardiorespiratory fitness from regular exercise improves hearing. Also, it affects both high and low frequencies.

To explain…

Researchers believe there is a link between cardiovascular fitness and our ear’s cochlea. So, being in better shape improves the neural integrity in your ear. This leads to better hearing.

This stems from the good amount of blood flow provided by a healthy heart. Due to this, there is more oxygen-rich blood that goes into the ear. This lets the organs to function well.

 

57. It Boosts Immune Health
immune shots

Being physically active helps ward away illness. And, it boosts our immune health too.

A review of 17 previous studies tells us this. It observed that exercise offsets chronic inflammation. It also diminished adaptive responses.

The researchers did note that exercise that’s too stressful can be bad. It can cause immunologic changes that make some people more prone to infection.

This makes it important to recognize when your body’s telling you to slow down.

Another study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine gives more proof. It notes that adults who are fit and active have less risk of upper respiratory tract infections. This means they’re less likely to get colds, cough and runny nose.

Of the 1,000 participants, those who did aerobic exercise 5 or more days a week had better immunity. They had a 43% less likelihood of having an upper respiratory tract infection.

Exercise also affected the severity of the infection. The effects were 32% to 41% less in active individuals.

Here are a few ways exercise helps our immunity to illness.

  • During exercise, blood circulation increases. This lets the immune system’s cells move through the body better. Due to this, they find irregularities better.
  • Breathing helps clear our lungs and airways. This helps get rid of bacteria that’s hiding there.
  • Exercise increases our body temperature. This makes the environment less suitable for bacteria to grow. It is like when our bodies warm up when we have a fever. This environment allows it to fight infection better.
  • Exercise reduces stress hormone levels. This helps decrease the likelihood of more serious, long-term diseases.

 

58. Reverse the Effects of Stress

Stress, specifically chronic stress, brings with it a host of harmful effects on the body. These include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and even brain shrinkage.

This is where the health benefits of exercise come in. They help counter or reverse the negative effects of chronic stress.

So, its effects aren’t just short-term.

Evidence shows that regular exercise restores our body chemistry after stress. This includes our metabolism and insulin sensitivity. As a result, it helps prevent disease.

Thanks to it, we avoid problems like hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Aside from protecting the body, exercise also protects our minds. It prevents our brains from shrinking. Plus, it combats cognitive decline.

Stress reduces the size of our hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory. It is also the part that handles learning, stress regulation, and spatial ability.

MRI imaging studies on middle-aged and older individuals give us concrete proof. Regular exercise protected their hippocampus volume and memory against a lifetime of stress.

The opposite was true for those who had low exercise levels over the years. They showed higher amounts of stress-related decline in this area of the brain.

 

59. Helps You Age More Gracefully

Independence is something everyone wants. Unfortunately, as we get older and our bodies slow down.

Exercise give us the luxury of being able to go about doing what we want even as we age. This is much better than being in a wheelchair or needing someone else’s help.

A study involving 3, 075 elderly men and women between the ages of 70 and 79 shows us what can happen. Twenty to 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week reduced their functional limitations. It also gave them better physical function compared to those who were inactive.

The regular exercisers were less likely to be hospitalized or die. The didn’t get chronic diseases. And, they were able to live on their own.

The best part was, they were able to easily perform day to day tasks independently better than non-exercises.

It Protects Brain Function

If that isn’t enough, how about better brain function as well.

Canadian researchers tell us that the benefits of exercise extend to our thinking. Along with its physical benefits, it also helps with our cognitive ability.

Working out or being physically active wards away age-related cognitive decline. Better yet, it prevents neurodegenerative diseases.

Exercise also helps keep us safe from falls and unnecessary accidents as we get older.

According to the CDC, 20% of falls result in serious injury. This means a fall leads to a 1 in 5 chance of a head injury or broken bone.

Statistics from the National Council on Aging also tell us that 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 65 fall each year. Worse, falls are the leading cause of fatal injury in the elderly. In fact, it is the number one cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospitalization for the demographic.

Exercise improves strength. And, , it provides better balance to help us avoid falls. Even when we get tripped or stumble, it gives us a better chance of recovering thanks to faster reflexes.

 

60. It Speeds Up Digestion

digestive system

Exercise helps digestion. It does this by improving blood circulation throughout the body. This includes the digestive system.

Increased blood flow to this area stimulates the muscles in the GI tract. This makes the organs in our digestive system work more efficiently.

Moving around also helps reduce heartburn, constipation, and gas.

A German study found that taking a brief walk after a meal, even 15 minutes helps improve digestion.

The study compared various types of beverages. The goal was to see if one of 4 drinks would speed up gastric emptying. The 4 were water, brandy, flavored liqueur or espresso.

Results showed that the beverages didn’t have an effect. Instead, it was walking after a meal that sped up digestion time.

The bonus, light exercise after meals helps glucose processed from food move from our bloodstream to the muscles. This not only supplies us with energy but also helps regulate blood sugar levels.

 

61. Exercise Helps with Constipation

One of the causes of constipation is sedentary behavior. Being acti helps ease the condition.

Hong Kong researchers link constipation to being sedentary and having insufficient physical activity. The study ran in 42 secondary schools covering close to 33,700 students. Researchers gauged students’ levels of activity and gathered data on their frequency of constipation.

They found that those who were sedentary were more prone to constipation. To explain, the study defined sedentary as more than 4 hours of inactivity daily.

The same was also true for students who had less than 1 hour of physical activity daily. Researchers categorized this as insufficient physical activity.

Why is exercise important here?

Exercise reduces the time it takes for food to travel through our intestines. This cuts down the amount of water absorbed from the stool into the body. The dryer the stool, the harder it is to pass.

Also, working out ups our heart rate and breathing. This helps contract the muscles in our intestines. In doing so, making them more efficient in moving stools out faster.

Stronger gut muscle contractions also mean more blood flow to the region. An increase in digestive enzymes happens too. Together, they make for better passage through our intestines.

return to table of contents

 

Social Benefits of Exercise

social benefits of exercise

62. You Can Serve as Motivation for Others

Among the great things about exercise is you get to achieve goals you set out for yourself. Along the way, you may inspire and help others. That’s the bonus.

This is one of the reasons CrossFit is so popular.

Like other sports, it’s an activity where you push yourself to be your best. Though much more grueling.

One unique feature of CrossFit is the camaraderie it fosters among athletes. This includes motivating others to do well.

If you’ve even been to the CrossFit Games, you’ll know what I mean. These games are an annual event. Here, the best CrossFitters compete to be the “Fittest Man and Woman on Earth”.

In the games, you’ll quickly notice that the loudest cheers aren’t for the winners. Instead, they are for the last one who crosses the finish line.

On our end, it offers motivation. Seeing athletes succeed after all the hard work and sacrifice. This makes you feel like working harder to achieve your own goals.

study by Michigan State University tells us something about this. It notes that working out with a partner significantly enhances exercise performance.

To test its theory, the study recruited 58 women. It assigned the participants to either:

  • A coactive condition. Each works out independently alongside another person.
  • A conjunctive condition. Performance determined by which partner stops first.
  • No partner. Each person exercised individually.

The results revealed that the 2 cases where a partner was involved significantly increased time on the stationary bike.

In the conjunctive condition, time spent on the machine was close to 22 minutes. Next was the coactive condition at almost 20 minutes. Lagging behind were the individual workouts at only 10.6 minutes.

return to table of contents

 

Benefits of Exercise on Performance

effects of exercise on performance

63. Improved Stamina & Endurance

Regular exercise builds stamina and endurance.

This helps you get up a few flights of stairs or walk a few miles without huffing and puffing.

Exercise lets you increase your fitness level. It gives your heart, lungs and circulatory systems a good workout. This makes them healthier too.

Studies show that aerobic exercise is optimal in building endurance. It is also needed for cardiovascular fitness. Both of which are linked to a person’s ability to be independent throughout life.

Sure. Cardio exercises are obvious for increasing stamina.

But what about resistance training?

During this kind of workout, it may not seem like you’re doing any cardio work. But, strength training actually helps build endurance as well.

Danish researchers ran an experiment on elite top-level athletes. They discovered that strength training boosts short-term (under 15 minutes) and long-term (over 30 minutes) endurance capacity.

This is due to the increased proportion of type IIA muscle fibers and gains in maximal muscle strength. Type IIA is a type fast twitch muscle fiber that is high force and medium endurance.

 

64. It Increases Speed
increase speed

Young or old, we all can benefit from being faster.

On regular days, being able to walk faster lets us save time. Speed becomes more essential during emergency situations. It lets you save time when you’re rushing somewhere.

For athletes, speed makes the difference between winning and losing.

We’re all aware that sprinters and elite athletes do special speed training workouts. For the weekend warrior, it can boost your personal times. All you need is add other exercises to the mix.

Finnish researchers found that explosive strength training helped improved 5 km. times of endurance athletes. The 9 week workout program also improved the participants’ running economy.

For walking purposes, choosing the right type of exercise is also important.

A study performed by Dutch researchers seems to agree that resistance exercise is the way to go.

To do this, they analyzed available data between 1990 and 2013. Results showed that progressive resistance training at high intensities yielded the best results.

Progressive resistance training involves increasing the weight or resistance gradually. Here, the resistance goes up as the individual gets stronger. This method works well for improving gait speed.

It did better compared to balance training or workouts that focused on endurance. In the end, researchers concluded that muscle strength is an important factor for increasing speed.

 

65. Better Coordination

Whether you’re an athlete or work behind a desk all day, having good coordination is important.

Physical coordination is the ability of the body to smoothly function as one. This means being able to move and control different parts of the body in a coordinated manner to complete a movement.

Exercises like jumping jacks and burpees are a couple of examples. They make you move your hands, torso, and legs at the same time in coordination.

The more coordinated you are, the smoother and fluid your movements are. Plus, you also become more efficient.

Then there’s hand-eye coordination. This is a skill that’s enhanced through sports and physical activity.

Building one’s coordination is important no matter what you do.

Athletes, for example, can improve performance by employing the proper training techniques. A study on 27 youth soccer players found this out. For them, adding trunk exercises to their workouts boosted speed and jumping ability.

At first glance, trunk exercises don’t seem to directly affect the lower torso. So why did the players’ speed and jumping improve?

It was the increased neuromuscular control and coordination developed from the stability exercises. This allowed them to run faster and jump higher.

In another study, swimming was beneficial for eye-hand coordination.

Taiwanese researchers observed regular swimmers had better upper extremity motor control. They had better reaction times, coordination, and balance as well.

 

66. Better Flexibility & Range of Motion
stretching

The saying “use it or lose it” is one that applies to our flexibility.

Most types of exercise help improve our mobility and range of motion.

  • Movement helps stretch muscles and allow our joints to move further.
  • Moving around also increases our body’s temperature which helps relax our muscles.

As you’d expect, there are certain kinds of exercise are better are improving flexibility. Among them are yoga, Pilates, and stretching.

With so many kinds of stretching, researchers sought to analyze which one is best suited for specific situations.

What they found was all types of stretching was effective for increasing range of motion (ROM).

But, they believe that PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching is the best. PNF is a method that involves both stretching and contraction of the muscle. It was more effective for immediate improvements.

Static stretching, while it does help with flexibility, hampers performance. So it’s best not to use it right before competition or a workout. Instead, use dynamic stretching during your warm ups.

 

67. Better Spatial Awareness

Closely related to balance is spatial awareness. It is how we sense our own body relative to other things around us.

This gives us an awareness of what’s around us. It also lets us avoid obstacles and solve puzzles as well.

Spatial awareness includes orientation and visualization skills. They let us see and perceive where we are. It also lets us create and manipulate images in our minds when solving new problems.

Fast-paced workouts and sports can improve this. But, trying something more subtle may help you appreciate this skill better.

Research found that tai chi is a great way to improve spatial orientation. Tai-chi a non-contact, slow movement form of martial arts. You’ve probably seen older people doing it in the park.

It includes slow turns and twists in different directions. This allows practitioners to have better ankle and knee movement perception. Compared to runners and swimmers, those practicing tai-chi had better feedback from their knee movements.

This results in better balance and stability.

If you prefer more conventional types of exercise, go to the gym. Resistance training helps with spatial awareness.

We see this in a study involving 25 older adults, ages 60 and above. Here, six weeks of resistance training improved their spatial awareness. It also boosted their visual motor and physical reaction times.

 

68. You’ll Be More Agile
improved agility

According to Wikipedia:

“Agility or nimbleness is the ability to change the body’s position efficiently, and requires the integration of isolated movement skills using a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance.”

It’s a bit harder to explain compared to strength or stamina. This is because it combines a few things. Some of these include speed, balance, and coordination among others.

However, you may define agility, being physically active helps you get there.

Sports is especially is well known for making us more agile. It requires us to do many things well to play. Basketball, for example, involves running, turning and zigzagging. You also need to know how to dribble, jump and pass.

We turn to a Norwegian study to see how this works. Here, the team recruited a group of 11 to 12 year old boys to 6 weeks of 1 hour a week high-intensity exercise. Results show that short burst sprinting significantly improved sprint times and agility performance.

The good news is that being active allows you to stay agile even as you age.

U.K. researchers found this out with 55 to 79 years olds who cycled on a regular basis. These individuals performed as well in agility tests as much younger individuals. The cyclists also had the metabolic health, reflexes, and balance of people much younger.

 

69. Improves Oxygen Utilization

Studies show that regular exercise increases our maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max). VO2max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen the body can take in and actually use at maximum exertion.

This allows you to run, swim or bike faster.

Olympic athletes, especially those in endurance events, measure this.

Research proves that exercise improves maximal oxygen consumption or aerobic capacity. But to get the most benefit, you also need to focus on intensity.

Old Dominion University researchers note this in a study. Maximal intensity produces higher VO2max improvements than vigorous or moderate intensity exercise. The gains also decrease as intensity goes down.

 

70. Stronger Muscles
stronger muscles

Next to losing weight, this is the reason most men exercise.

For the most part, gym goers are those looking to lose fat and those who want to gain muscle.

A toned, lean physique makes you look better in front of the mirror and on the beach.

Research shows that working out for as little as 1 month lets you increase muscle mass and strength.

As cool as looking good is, exercise helps builds strength. Strong muscles help our posture, let us lift objects easily and burn more calories.

The more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body burns at rest.

Research suggests that each extra pound of muscle burns 35 to 50 more calories each day. So packing in an extra few pounds of muscle lets you burn off 100 to 200 calories a day without doing any extra work.

The good news is, it’s never too late to start working out to see benefits.

A study involving 46 healthy elderly individuals proves this. All the participants were between the ages of 65 and 79 years old.

In the end, they gained muscle strength had better neuromuscular performance. The results came by working out only once or twice a week.

 

71. It Slows Muscle Loss

Sarcopenia, or the body’s loss of muscle tissue as it ages, is something we all have to deal it.

It’s why the different parts of our bodies start sagging as we get older. It’s also to blame for our lack of suppleness and firmness as we age.

More importantly, losing muscle strength means that we are more prone to falls. It also reduces your mobility, makes you frailer and slows metabolism.

Research reveals that exercise helps slow down muscle loss. Meanwhile, being sedentary or inactive speeds up the process.

An analysis of top level recreational athletes also confirms this. The study looked at master level athletes between the ages of 40 and 81 years old. These individuals trained 4 to 5 times weekly.

Body composition tests and MRI imaging scans show that these athletes maintained lean muscle mass and strength even as they aged. The findings contradict the belief that we lose both strength and muscle mass as we get older.

 

72. Improves Balance
better balance

Balance is an important aspect of life.

It keeps us from falling and helps us move more efficiently.

For anyone who plays sports, it’s vital.

Balance is key to getting the most out of your muscles. A strong stable foundation is what allows a runner to push off with more power on each stride. It’s what lets a basketball player get squared up for the winning shot.

As we age, balance can be the difference between life and death. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among older individuals. It also increases your likelihood of ending up with a fracture.

Studies reveal that as we age, our balance deteriorates. Also, our ability to recover our balance with a single step decreases too.

Findings tell us that we can adjust our bodies during falls when we’re young. This helps us avoid getting seriously hurt even when we fall.

Problem is, we aren’t able to do that anymore as well as we get older.

So where does being active come in?

The study discovered that runners have superior single step balance recovery. Also, running allows these individuals to preserve their motor skills as they age.

It offers dynamic stability during forward falls. And, allows you to restore balance more often with a single step.

 

73. Better Academic Performance

Here’s something for all parents.

Research shows that exercise improved kids’ grades at school.

The study was performed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana. It showed a link between children’s aerobic fitness and their reading and math abilities. These are the two subjects often covered by standardized tests.

  • There’s evidence in reading ability and comprehension. Kids who had better fitness had higher levels of semantic information processing. It also took them less time to go through the sentences. The same kids performed better in the analysis of language structure. Plus, they were able to find syntactic violations more efficiently as well.
  • Kids who had better fitness also did better in math. Scientists observed a link between having good cardiorespiratory fitness and arithmetic cognition. These kids did better in large arithmetic problem solving and symbolic processing.

Being physically active extended further than grade school reading and math.

A study in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion notes this. U.S. nursing and kinesiology students who exercised generally did better in college. The study included 740 students from various universities.

Here, students who did aerobic exercise had better GPA (grade point averages). These activities included running, walking and biking.

But, there was an exception. Weightlifting. Higher weightlifting activity was linked to lower GPA.

Other information gathered from the data noted that:

  • More time spent studying resulted in higher GPAs.
  • Meanwhile, increased time spent on video games resulted in lower GPAs.

return to table of contents

 

On Injury & Disease Prevention

exercise prevents injury and illness

74. Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease & Stroke

Heart disease occurs when blockages occur in our coronary arteries.

This is often caused by the buildup of cholesterol and plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. As a result, the passageway narrows.

This makes it difficult for blood to get through. As a result, these blockages cause a lack of blood to the heart.

Even worse, it reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients our organs get. Left untreated, our organs become weak and can get damaged.

In a review of studies on the topic, Belgian researchers found that exercise helps. It lowers cardiovascular risk by improving many things. On average it:

  • Reduced waist circumference by 3.4 cm.
  • Lowered blood pressure by 7.1/5.2 mmHg.
  • Increased HDL cholesterol by 0.06 mmol/L.

exercise lowers cardiovascular risk

In related research, the Harvard School of Public Health found similar benefits. In this case though, it looked at results produced by different kinds of exercise. Here, all were beneficial. But, how much they lowered cardiovascular risk differed.

  • Running 1 hour or more weekly: -42% risk.
  • Weightlifting 30 minutes or more each week: -23% risk.
  • Rowing for 1 hour or more per week: -18% risk.
  • Walking 30 minutes or more a day: -18% risk.

 

75. Exercise Reduces Back Pain

If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you know how bad it can feel.

Back pain can be something as little as a minor discomfort. Or, it can be something that keeps you off your feet for days.

Exercise may be the last thing on your mind when your back is acting up. But, movement, even in slow motion, helps reduce the pain.

Studies show that exercise helps reduce and manage back pain. It helps our muscles move and be more flexible.

Also, exercise increases our pain threshold. So, we’re less bothered by it.

To prove this, the Spine Center at the New England Baptist Hospital reviewed past studies. Results show that exercise reduces the risk of future back injuries as well.

It notes prescribing exercise to patients with chronic lower back pain. They did this with 3 goals in mind.

  • To get rid of impairments.
  • To improve issues related to strength, endurance, and flexibility.
  • Reduce the intensity of the pain. And, decrease disability related to back pain.

This helped patients overcome their fears, concerns, and attitudes toward the pain.

Most studies analyzed showed a decrease in pain levels thanks to exercise. The decrease ranged from 10% to 50% after exercise treatment.

Besides pain relief, regular exercise helped prevent back pain from happening.

Here, doing core exercises showed the most benefit.

Strong core muscles help support the spine. Due to this, it bears less of the brunt of sitting all day. Movement also keeps our spine’s discs healthy. It does this by allowing fluid to bring nutrients to the discs.

 

76. Reduce Your Risk of Getting Injured
first aid kit

Regular exercise helps our muscles and bones stay strong.

It also improves our reaction time, flexibility and balance. Together, they help us avoid falls and injuries.

Being physically active keeps our tendons and ligaments healthy too. It makes them less likely to tear or damage when we slip or carry heavy loads.

Building up the right muscles and tissues wards off injury. It also helps bring relief from any pain in those areas.

Exercise is especially important for anyone with low mineral density. Research shows that exercise helps reduce falls. It also reduces the number of fractures related to falls.

These facts come from a review analyzing 23 studies on the topic. Its benefits included improved balance and increased muscle strength in the lower extremities.

With exercise, there is less prevalence of falls. And, when the individuals did fall down, they were less likely to fracture a bone. As a bonus, exercise also improves activity after injury.

Australian researchers note exercise is good for injury therapy as well. It helps people recover range of motion and function after upper limb injuries.

 

77. Improve Asthma Symptoms

Most people with asthma avoid exercise. This is because it has the tendency to trigger asthma attacks.

While true, studies show that regularly exercise reduces the number of asthma attacks. It also cuts the amount of medication. The best part is, when attacks do occur, they’re milder.

A 2011 study saw this is 21 asthmatic individuals. Researchers noted that a 24 week exercise program helped improve asthma symptoms.

To check this, they gave participants an Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ).

After the first 12 weeks, ACQ scores improved. And, subjects also reported improved quality of life.

In the end, the individuals had fewer asthma symptoms and better aerobic fitness.

 

78. Lowers Your Risk for Diabetes
spin class

Diabetes happens when the body can’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes.

As a result, high amounts of glucose is left circulating in the bloodstream. And, the body can’t use it for energy.

Here’s where exercise comes in.

It helps burn off the excess glucose.

To see its effect, Finnish researchers recruited 487 men and women. All participants had impaired glucose tolerance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

The goal of the study was to introduce physical activity to the subjects. Then see whether it reduced their likelihood of getting the disease in coming years.

In the end, those who increased their exercise levels were 63% to 65% less likely to develop diabetes. The study also showed that low-intensity exercise and walking helps.

Another study in China reached similar conclusions. It saw that even modest changes in exercise help reduce the chance of getting diabetes.

The study observed that:

  • 20 minutes of mild or moderate exercise, or
  • 10 minutes of strenuous exercise, or
  • 5 minutes of very strenuous exercise

Done once or twice a day lowers diabetes risk by 46%.

Meanwhile, there was a 43% risk reduction with diet plus exercise. And, a 31% drop when using diet only.

 

79. Less Risk of Hip Fractures

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are 350,000 hip fractures that occur in the U.S. every year.

Almost all are a result of falling. With most falls happening at home.

Young people are good at recovering from this injury. For those 50 years or older, it becomes very serious. Statistics show that:

  • Around 33% of people who have a hip fracture spend a year or more at home after.
  • 40% of people who suffer hip fractures are also unable to walk on their own 1 year later.
  • 60% aren’t able to take care of their day-to-day necessities, like getting dressed.

Being physically active and exercising regularly helps reduce the risk of fracturing your hip.

  • Research shows this in men ages 50 or above. Walking 4 or more hours a week lowered hip fracture risk by 43%, compared to walking 1 hour weekly.
  • For women, a similar long-term study backs this up. It found that walking 4 or more hours a week reduced the risk of hip fractures by 41%.

Walking is the simplest form of exercise that almost everyone can do.

Of course, you can kick it up a notch and hit the weights. This lets you get that extra weight bearing exercise in. This will help build bone density.

 

80. Reduce Your Risk of Certain Cancers
cancer sign

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world.

The National Cancer Institute estimates close to 1.7 million new cases in 2016.

The most common types of cancer include breast, lung, prostate, colon and rectal cancer. These 5 account for almost 800,000 of the new cases.

Research tells us that a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight cause about a quarter of cancer cases.

Many studies also suggest doing 30 to 60 minutes a day helps a lot. Of course, you need to exercise 5 to 6 days a week for it to be effective.

This amount cuts the risk of certain types of cancers, including breast and colon.

Among the data provided:

 

81. Helps with Rheumatoid Arthritis Management

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for it. Nor is there a way to prevent it.

With RA, the body’s immune system attacks healthy joint tissues. This results in inflammation of the joint lining. If you have this condition, you’ll likely experience pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Over time, it can cause the joint to lose movement and its normal shape.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are around 1.5 million people in the U.S. who have RA.

Exercise helps manage symptoms related to this disease.

A study by U.K. researchers found that exercise helps patients manage their RA better. It improved overall function and helped reverse the weakness caused by the illness.

Regular exercise helps by:

  • Improving flexibility to prevent stiffness and give joint pain relief.
  • Making muscles stronger to support the joints.
  • Build denser bones. This combats the effects of arthritis-related inflammation and some medication on the bones.
  • Provide aerobic activity. This prevents cardiovascular disease, which is often linked to RA patients.

 

82. It Lowers the Risk of Osteoporosis
resistance training

Osteoporosis is a disease caused by weak bones.

This occurs when the body breaks down bone faster than it builds new ones.

This results in weak, brittle bones that can easily break or fracture.

As the disease progresses, the symptoms can get worse. Simple bumps or even sneezing can cause bones to break.

Weight-bearing exercise is one of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis.

Research also notes that physical activity during childhood and adolescent years are important. A More active childhood means a better chance of avoiding osteoporosis later in life.

One explanation is that our bones get denser from childhood until the ages of 18 to 25 years old. Around this time, most people reach their peak bone mass. That’s the most amount of bone you’ll have in your lifetime.

By the time we get to our 30s, the opposite is true. The rate at which bone breaks down now outpaces the amount of bone built. As such, we start losing bone.

Having a higher peak bone mass reduces the risk of osteoporosis later on.

So we know exercise is important.

Exercises to Strengthen Bones

But for bones, an analysis of prior studies tells us not all exercise is equal. Different kinds of exercise help different bones to get stronger.

  • Walking improves femoral (thigh) bone mineral density. But, it isn’t as effective for the spine.
  • Spine bone mineral density benefits most from a combination of exercises. These are resistance, aerobic and impact.
  • Researchers also believe that balance exercises and building muscle strength are important. Both help prevent falls that can cause injury to bones.
  • There are various exercises that are effective to help strengthen bones. Among them are weight lifting, jumping, running, walking and step climbing.

There’s an important point to note here.

The workout program needs to provide moderate to high intensity. This means doing it at around 70% to 90% 1RM, 2 to 4 times a week.

 

83. Helps Prevent and Treat Osteoarthritis

Close to 50% of people over the age of 85 have osteoarthritis (OA). The good news is science tells us that doing light intensity exercise helps prevent OA.

This is based on research presented by the Radiological Society of North America. It reveals that light exercise and avoiding frequent knee bending activities help prevent the onset of OA.

Researchers compared knee MRI scans of people who did different intensities of exercise.

  • Those who did light exercise and minimal strength training had the healthiest knee MRIs.
  • Individuals who did strenuous exercise had more degenerated collagen architecture in the knee.
  • The imaging studies showed that knee bending activities is linked to worse results. Those who bent their knees a lot had more water content and cartilage abnormalities in the knee. Knee-bending activities included squatting and lifting objects weighing more than 25 pounds. Walking 10 flights of stairs daily is another example.

Their conclusion: high impact activity increases the risk of osteoarthritis.

Running more than 1 hour a day at least 3 times a week is one example. The high impact causes more cartilage degeneration.

For those with osteoarthritis, studies show land-based aerobic and strength exercise helps. They bring relief from symptoms and improve joint function.

 

84. It Helps with Allergies
allergies

According to Thai researchers, running for 30 minutes helps relieve allergy symptoms.

The study asked 13 allergic rhinitis patients to run 2 different programs. One to exhaustion, and another at moderate intensity.

Researchers observed that both running programs helped relieve allergy symptoms. The congestion, sneezing, runny nose and itching were significantly lessened.

The results showed that moderate-intensity running was more effective than running to exhaustion. It offered better allergy symptom relief.

Other studies suggest that regular exercise helps since it improves blood flow in the body. This helps remove allergens that cause the symptoms.

They also note that while working out isn’t a cure, doing so regularly helps cut the symptoms.

 

85. Helps ADHD Patients

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, results in difficulty in paying attention. Those with ADD often have restless behavior and are fidgety. It also makes them exhibit a lack of focus, impulse behavior, and poor social skills.

Being active is one way people with ADHD are able to spend this excess restless energy. It lets them have a release and let off steam.

Brazilian researchers note that simple exercise helped kids with ADHD. In this case, a 5 minute relay race improves their ability to concentrate.

The study gave the kids a computer game after the race to test their concentration.

Results show that the kids who did the relay race showed a 31% improvement in tasks that required paying attention.

One explanation for this is that exercise promotes the release of brain chemicals. One of these chemicals is dopamine. This hormone helps give us clearer thinking ability and better attention.

Incidentally, studies have shown that those with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine compared to most of us.

 

86. Helps Manage Chronic Pain

Chronic pain not only gets in the way of being able to do normal everyday tasks, it can also be debilitating.

It’s difficult to get yourself to exercise when you don’t feel right. But doing it helps you manage the pain. Both in the short and long term.

Research in The Clinical Journal of Pain notes this. It tells us that exercise is an effective treatment for chronic back pain. Even better, it has lasting effects of up to 1 year after treatment.

The review does note that data for chronic neck pain and soft tissue shoulder issues is limited.

Meanwhile, a 2008 study presented in the American Academy of Pain Medicine has similar findings. It mentions that pain deters patients suffering from chronic pain from exercising. But, those motivated enough to do so saw benefits.

An exercise program as short as 3 weeks has good effects. It is enough to reduce the symptoms of chronic pain, making it more manageable.

Exercise was also effective in reducing depression and anxiety in the patients.

 

87. It Reduces Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Fibromyalgia is a condition where one experiences chronic pain and muscle tenderness. It can also cause sleep disturbances, fatigue and mood problems. Because of its widespread effects, it can wreak havoc in one’s day to day life.

Exercise is proven to lower fibromyalgia symptoms.

Further, a review in the journal Current Opinion in Rheumatology says aerobic exercise is a good choice. Doing cardio, promotes better well-being, reduces symptoms and improves function in patients.

Low-intensity exercises like walking, pool exercise and qigong are also effective. They cut down the symptoms and reduced distress in study participants.

 

88. Regular Exercise Helps Prevent Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease
running

In 2015, there were almost 47 million people in the world with dementia. This is according to Alzheimer’s Disease International.

By 2030, they expect the figure to double to 74.7 million.

There’s good news, though. We can protect our brains from this neurodegenerative disease through exercise.

Physical activity seems to protect our brain’s hippocampus from damage.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that converts short-term to long-term memory. It’s also where our long-term memories are stored.

Finnish study tells us that high levels of leisure time physical activity cuts the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, moderate and low levels of midlife physical activity increased the risk.

Their data also shows that you can always tilt the odds in your favor. Increasing your physical activity levels after mid-life lowers the risk.

In related research, scientists discovered it’s something that exercise does to the body. During exercise, the body releases CRF or corticotrophin-releasing factor. This stress hormone protects the brain from the memory loss effects of Alzheimer’s.

Moderate levels of exercise meanwhile, help maintain regular the levels of CRF.

 

89. Prevent Migraines

If you’re on of the 12% of Americans suffering from migraines, here’s a bit of good news.

Exercise helps reduce migraine frequency.

And, it prevents it from happening in some individuals.

So the next time you’re feeling a migraine coming on, skip the medicine cabinet and go for a walk instead.

Swedish researchers discovered that exercise works as well as pills in preventing migraines. The data comes from a 3 year long experiment.

The group that did 40 minute workouts 3 times week, reported fewer migraine symptoms. They even had fewer symptoms than those who took medication.

In the end, the researchers reached one conclusion. Exercise doesn’t cure migraines. But, it is a drug-free way of reducing migraine effects and frequency.

 

90. It Reduces the Risk of Kidney Stones

hikingAccording to a recent survey, around 9% of people in the U.S. have kidney stones. This is a big jump from 5% back in the mid-1990s.

The survey notes that men were more likely to have them. Around 11% of men have kidney stones. Only 7% of women do.

The American Urological Association also says around 12% of people will have at least one stone in their lives. The worst part is, this condition has a 50% chance of recurring within 10 years.

Kidney stones are awful.

They’re very painful and can be downright debilitating. This gets in the way simple day to day things we regularly do.

They can lead to hospitalizations. And, can even damage our kidneys. This is why avoiding them is important.

An analysis of data shows walking and jogging help prevent kidney stone formation. Walking 75 to 150 minutes a week, or jogging 30 to 60 minutes weekly, lowers the likelihood of kidney stones by 22%.

If you exercise, don’t forget to hydrate.

More research suggests exercising without proper hydration ups the chance of these calcifications. So, drinking water is crucial in preventing kidney stone formation.

The body loses water during exercise. This and other changes in the body makes you more prone to stone formation.

 

91. Gallstones too…

Gallstones meanwhile are crystals that form in our gallbladder and bile ducts.

Like kidney stones, they can be very painful as well. And, cause hospitalization.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, around 10% of people have gallstones. This puts it around the same prevalence as kidney stones.

Unlike kidney stones, gallstones occur more often in women. It’s also more common in overweight individuals. This makes sense since 80% of gallstones are cholesterol gallstones.

A long-term study observed that physical activity was inversely related to gallstone symptoms. Done in the U.K., it followed over 25,000 participants over a 14 year period.

Data shows that the groups that did the most exercise had 70% lower risk of gallstone issues after 5 years.

Meanwhile, Italian researchers discovered a link between BMI and refined sugar to gallstones.

But, the following are inversely related to gallstone formation.

  • Physical activity
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Monounsaturated fat consumption
  • How much fiber you get

 

92. Speed Up Nerve Regeneration and Recovery

Our nerves play an important role in allowing us to do the things we do.

Nerves play the part of pathways. They are where signals from our brain pass to different parts of our body.

Thanks to them we’re able to control our fingers, run and jump.

Nerve damage not only results in potential disability but can also be very painful. It can occur from injury, trauma or disease.

Research suggests that after repairing damaged nerves, exercise helps reduce recovery time. The study used aerobic exercise done on a treadmill. One hour daily, 5 days a week was enough to help speed up nerve regeneration.

The study also notes that exercise and repetitive movement seemed to help the nerves regenerate. It also improved their signaling ability.

While the experiment we done on rats, it seems to be effective in humans as well.

This is why the American Stroke Association recommends patients to use the affected areas as much as possible. They explain that the repeated movements help neural pathways reconnect.

 

93. Cuts Men’s Risk of Enlarged Prostate by 25%

The prostate is a small gland located near the male’s sex organ. Its job is to secrete fluid that protects and nourishes sperm. One problem with this walnut-sized gland is it grows as men age.

As a result, most men will have an enlarged prostate when they get old.

An enlarged prostate is also known as Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). It is found in about:

  • 20% of men over the age of 50
  • 60% of men over the age of 60
  • 70% of men over the age of 70

As the prostate gets bigger, it can cause a few problems.

It will press against the urethra which is the tube carrying urine from the bladder and out the penis. This results in difficulty urinating. Some symptoms are a weak stream, incomplete emptying and difficulty urinating. You’ll also get up at night to go to the bathroom more often.

Good news is exercise helps prevent this.

This is according to research done at the Harvard School of Public Health. They found that men who were active had lower chances of having an enlarged prostate.

In participants, those who walked between 2 to 3 hours each week had a 25% less chance of developing BPH.

Also, regular physical activity may help reduce the effects of an enlarged prostate. A study found that physical activity helps reduce nocturia, one of the side effects of BPH.

The study showed that those who exercised 1 hour or more each week had 13% less nocturia. They also had a 34% lower likelihood of severe nocturia.

Thanks to exercise they didn’t get up as much to go to the bathroom.

return to table of contents

The Takeaway

Exercise, a balanced diet, and healthy lifestyle are important in life.

These are the 3 most important things we can do to be healthy. It will make us feel better. And, we get to be the best we can be.

It’s not always easy, though. There’s often so many the things happening in our lives it can be challenging.

But, if you want to live longer and enjoy it to the fullest, it’s a good place to start.