17 Health Benefits of Exercise That May Surprise You

Posted by Seraine Page on Thu, Sep, 16, 2021

HealthBenefitsFitnessYou have heard it for years — the health benefits of exercise can’t be denied.

Despite any dismay you feel toward sweating, research indicates regular sweat sessions are good for both your physical and mental health.

Other than looking good and feeling strong, the list of the benefits of regular exercise is quite long. Some of the perks may even surprise you — like delayed aging and reduced bodily inflammation.

If you’re looking for a reason to keep up your workout routine into the fall and holiday season, your list of exercise incentives is here.

Here are 17 surprising health benefits of exercise to get you excited to sweat — even if it’s just a little bit.

Weekly Exercise Improves Your Health in a Variety of Ways

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults mix up routines between strength training and aerobic activity for the best results.

To achieve maximum health benefits, fitting in 150 minutes of weekly aerobic activity should be the minimum amount you strive for. Or, 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. Pair that with strength training twice weekly, and you’ll be well on your way to better health.  

Make it feel more doable by setting a goal of 30 minutes of physical activity daily. That can even be split into two 15-minute sessions if you can’t carve out a full half-hour. The important thing is to make it a regular part of your healthy lifestyle choices.

Now, here’s a look at the health benefits of exercise:

1. May Delay Signs of Aging

Your skin — the body’s largest organ — can be negatively impacted by oxidative stress inside the body. Oxidative stress risk factors include obesity, alcohol consumption, and poor diets, all of which can damage cell structures. Luckily, regular moderate exercise is known to increase natural antioxidants to protect your body’s cells. Exercise also promotes blood flow which can give you a post-workout glow as well as delay the appearance of aging skin like wrinkles. Hello, natural facelift!

2. Minimizes Bodily Inflammation 

If you struggle with inflammatory diseases — like arthritis — exercise can help you lubricate your joints and feel better overall. Regular exercise is proven to reduce chronic inflammation, according to research. That’s because the body is forced to adapt to exercise challenges. Even a single moderate exercise session can act as an anti-inflammatory for issues like fibromyalgia, according to a University of California San Diego School of Medicine study.

3. Helps With Emotional Processing

If you’ve been neglecting your self-care, it’s time to invest in yourself. During stressful times, exercise can be an excellent form of self-care, especially when you’re in high-pressure environments. Heading out for a walk in nature, for example, is a great way to exercise and also allows space away from life obligations to simply process emotions. Research proves that spending at least 120 minutes weekly in nature is good for your overall well-being. Those benefits double when you spend it walking or exercising, too!

4. Gives You More Energy

Thinking exercise will make you feel even more exhausted? It’s unlikely, studies show. If you usually turn to soda or another energy booster during the day, opting for exercise can be a better choice for sustained energy. Consistent exercise is shown to reduce fatigue and improve energy levels overall. Even low-intensity exercise like walking has been shown to reduce fatigue symptoms by up to 65 percent!

Related: 52 Energy Boosters for Every Week of the Year

5. Improves Learning

Looking for a brain boost? Start exercising. Activities that require extreme concentration — like dance or tennis — challenge the mind and coordination. This causes growth factor brain chemicals to grow and expand to help us learn. Consistent exercise can also improve concentration and attention as well.  

6. Clears the Mental Cobwebs

Between remote work, family obligations, professional commitments, and more, life can feel like a never-ending to-do list. If you tend to be in the problem-solver mode most of the day, exercise can give you an escape for the moment. When you move your body, you’re focusing on just moving your body and getting into the present moment. Doing so reduces cortisol levels and offers some mental clarity that doesn’t involve “what’s next?” and allows you to settle into the present. 

7. Offers a Healthy “High”

If you’ve heard about “runner’s high,” then you likely know exercise is proven to offer a huge mental boost. Even if you don’t love running, other activities like hot yoga or power walking offer an endorphin release that provides a euphoric feeling. Those happy hormones can keep you feeling upbeat and peppy for the rest of the day, giving a natural, healthy “high” to those who invest in exercise time.

8. Lifts the Spirit

Sometimes you need a boost that can’t be found by just binge-watching your favorite shows. Exercise is a perfect way to build stress relief into the day as an opportunity to refresh your outlook and recharge mentally. Not only does the body physically benefit from exercise — whether it’s walking or kickboxing — but you’ll see overall mental and emotional health benefits, too.

9. Thirty Minutes is All it Takes for Good Health

As we know, sitting for too long each day is not good for your health. With remote work — and computer work — becoming the norm, that often means less physical activity. Aside from a sedentary lifestyle making you more prone to conditions like heart disease, it can also shorten your life. Researchers uncovered that just 30 minutes daily can reduce your odds of early death by up to 80% for those who sit for less than seven hours daily.

10. Weight Training Equals Calories Burn During Rest

Enjoy weight training? Other than feeling like a superhuman who can lift heavy stuff, the benefit of this exercise is clear: consistent weight training will help you burn more calories even during a restful state. The more calories burned during a workout, the more you burn after the workout as well! 

11. Exercise Benefits the Body Within Weeks  

If you’ve been a couch potato for the last 5 years, remember you won’t lose weight overnight. You also won’t be able to run a marathon the first day you step into your workout routine. As you exercise regularly, you gain more fitness benefits. Experts say within six to eight weeks you’ll notice health benefits — like it’s easier to climb that flight of stairs than before.

Related: 17 Easy Ways to Slay Your Exercise Goals For The Rest of the Year

12. Cardiovascular Disease Reduces Significantly

When conditions like heart disease run in your family, it’s essential to be continuously mindful of ways to stay heart healthy. Exercise and diet are the top two ways to keep your heart health in check, especially if you have a family history of heart conditions. One study found that those who do the most physical activity can lower their cardiovascular risk by 60 percent. Additionally, consistent exercise routines after age 60 can prevent stroke and heart disease.

13. Safely Reduces Blood Pressure

A new study from the University of New South Wales found a simple way to lower blood pressure — without meds — is isometric resistance training (IRT). IRT is a type of strength training where the muscles produce force but do not change length — like holding the plank position. Exercise physiologists found IRT to be safe for those with high blood pressure and quite effective at lowering it. According to the study, 1.13 billion people have high blood pressure globally. High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke or heart attack and exercise is a recommended management technique for those with the condition.  

14. Decreases PMS

For women who suffer from extreme irritation or bloating before their menstrual cycles, surprisingly, exercise can minimize both conditions. One New Zealand survey of 2,000 women found that those who worked out and then rested and journaled about their symptoms did better than those who took vitamins or used other DIY advice.

15. Catch More Quality ZZZs

Insomnia and sleep issues not only impact your energy but also impacts your quality of life. If you opt to regularly commit to an exercise routine, you’re more likely to improve your sleep quality. Moderate aerobic exercise increases slow-wave sleep, also known as deep sleep — an essential part of the sleep cycle that lets the body’s cells rejuvenate.

16. Specific Breathing Techniques Are a Workout

If the thought of getting sweaty grosses you out, start out with a simple yet effective exercise: strength training for breathing muscles. Not only does it improve blood pressure as well as aerobic exercise, but it is also shown to reduce inflammation markers. The breathing exercise known as Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training is shown to reduce blood pressure within weeks, the new University of Colorado at Boulder study shows. Learn more about inspiratory muscle training here.

Related: 4 Easy Breathing Exercises to Reduce Stress at Work

17. It’s Never Too Late to be Active

No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start benefiting from exercise. The immediate effects are noticeable and worth it, even for light exercise activities like yoga or tai chi. Loose muscles, lower blood pressure, and feeling a sense of accomplishment are instant gratifications you’ll get from exercise — no matter how old you are or how long it’s been since your last sweat session.

Find Your Reason to Like Exercise

You don’t have to love exercise. But finding an exercise activity you like enough to do consistently can help you reap the above health benefits.

Try a fun activity to do alone, with friends, or in a group to get the most out of your exercise routines. Anything from tennis to running groups or even power walking daily counts toward your exercise goals!

A few more interesting facts about exercise:

  • Chewing gum makes you walk harder - Gum chewing while walking can increase your energy expenditure and walking distance if you’re middle-aged, according to one study published in July 2021 in the Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness.
  • Chocolate may improve fat burn in women - Yep, you read that right. Brigham and Women's Hospital published a study that found postmenopausal women who eat a concentrated amount of milk chocolate during a specific time frame in the morning may help the body burn fat along with decreasing blood sugar levels. The small study found that eating 100 grams of milk chocolate within an hour of waking could reduce hunger and the desire for sweets. Additionally, for early morning workouts, an evening chocolate treat helped with next-day exercise metabolism.

There you have it — even more reasons than ever to keep your health in check and exercise scheduled on the calendar. As always, consult your physician before starting any fitness routine, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or medications that may impact your workouts or health.

Want to further improve your health? Exercise and diet go hand in hand. Check out our post Why are Vitamins Essential to Good Health? What You Need to Know.

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