Q: Who doesn’t want to feel strong and sexy in their body? A: Nobody I know! Fat loss and fitness are the two most obvious (desired) exercise benefits.
Problem: It takes time to lose weight. Many people get discouraged and give up before they’ve put in anywhere near enough effort to achieve their fitness goals.
The next time you’re tempted to skip a workout, remember these surprising benefits of exercise. They will help you stay encouraged when it feels like the pounds aren’t dropping fast enough.
1. Exercise makes you happy.
Feeling down? Don’t automatically reach for a pill bottle. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, aerobic exercise is just as effective as antidepressants. Here are three ways to maximize the mood-boosting powers of exercise:
A. Go outside.
The sun provides your body with a hefty dose of Vitamin D. Research suggests a Vitamin D deficiency is connected to mood and depression — which makes sense, given the prevalence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Vitamin D is important for other reasons. People with the lowest Vitamin D levels are two times more likely to die from heart disease (and other causes) than people with a higher amount of Vitamin D.
How much sunlight do you need? It depends on the season and varies from person to person. Take a 10-15 minute walk everyday for now. Work up from there at your own unique pace.
If it’s too cold to tolerate outdoor exercise right now (or you’re wearing so many layers that the sun won’t make much contact with your skin), supplement with Vitamin D.
B. Seek beauty.
Spending time in nature can improve your mood and mental clarity immediately, according to a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
You don’t have to run on a treadmill, where there’s nothing to see except sweaty people and depressing headlines scrolling past on a TV screen. Do a Google search for “(insert your city / state here) parks and hiking trails.”
Pay close attention to information about trail length and elevation gain. If you’re a beginner, start with short walking trails that aren’t too steep. As you gain experience, raise both the distance and incline of your walks to improve your endurance.
Last year, I followed my own advice. I looked up the state parks within a two hour drive and visited all of them (minus a few that didn’t have enough hiking trails to justify the trip). Here is a collage of my favorite pictures from those adventures.
C. Involve friends.
Exercise is always more fun when you treat it like an opportunity to connect with the people you love.
Take your dog, partner, and/or children on a run through the neighborhood when you get home from work.
Invite a co-worker on a walk every day after your lunch break and gossip about the people who drive you crazy.
Challenge some friends to a game of tennis, kickball, dodgeball, or (insert your #1 favorite sport here). Can’t round enough people up? Search for a pick up sports league near you. Everplay Tri-Cities is a good option for local readers.
2. Exercise raises your energy.
“I know exercise is good for me… but it’s hard to motivate myself to go to the gym after work, because I’m so exhausted!”
This is one of the most common excuses I hear from people who say they want to begin an exercise plan (but fail to act on their intention).
Remember: exercise does NOT lower your energy.
Unless you’re doing something ridiculously hard like Crossfit or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), exercise should raise your energy.
Low-intensity exercise reduces fatigue by 65%, according to a study by the University of Georgia. Examples of low-intensity exercise include yoga, walking, swimming, strength training, and riding a bicycle (or stationary bike),
What causes this energy boost?
“If a sedentary individual begins an exercise program, it will enhance the blood flow carrying oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissue, improving their ability to produce more energy,” said Pete McCall, who is an Exercise Physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Sounds rational… but when you’re at wit’s end due to a soul-crushing workday, logic goes out the window. All you want to do is go home, stuff your face, sit on the couch, and binge watch some quality television. It can be super difficult to motivate yourself to hit the gym when you feel so drained. Know the feeling? Watch this.
3. Exercise boosts your confidence.
To help you understand how exercise increases confidence, let’s take a trip down memory lane.
I became obese when I was 9-10 years old. (Note: I didn’t learn to love exercise until I was an adult.)
Gym class was the worst part of school. I always got picked last for sports and couldn’t do a single push-up.
When I discovered exactly how out-of-shape I was in comparison to other students, my confidence took a plunge.
Fat… slow… weak… lazy…
These are the words I began to associate with myself, which made a huge dent in my self-esteem.
I avoided physical activity like the plague, because it made me feel inadequate. This only led to poorer fitness and insecurity issues.
Avoidance is not an effective problem-solving technique. At some point, you have to embrace the suck and push forward in spite of it. That’s exactly what I did at age 21.
I joined a gym, read books about how to start a strength training plan — Starting Strength, for example — and lifted weights before work at least three days every week.
It was terrible at first.
The exercises felt awkward and unfamiliar. Exercising in front of other people made me feel self-conscious. I wasn’t a fan of being so sweaty and out-of-breath.
After a few weeks of practice, I stopped dreading my morning workouts and started looking forward to them. Why? It dawned on me: I never hated exercise. Instead, I hated the fact that I sucked at exercise.
The good thing about starting from a low place: there’s plenty of room for improvement. It was exhilarating to see how much weight I could add to my squat, deadlift, bench, and other strength training exercises in a month.
There was a noticeable impact in my daily life.
Opening jars, moving furniture, carrying grocery bags, and lifting heavy objects became easier. These scenarios used to remind me of how “weak” I was… and yet they became an opportunity to demonstrate strength.
As I added pounds to the barbell, I simultaneously melted pounds of fat. Muscles grew in their place, which resulted in a more appealing physique. Co-workers said: “Whoa!” Old classmates told me: “I didn’t recognize you!” For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my body.
Now I know it’s best to accept yourself for who you are — body type be damned — but that just wasn’t the case for me in the past. I needed to lose fat in order to gain confidence. Do you know the feeling? If so, I encourage you to begin an exercise plan today, because life is too short to feel bad about yourself.
4. Exercise develops mental strength.
Exercise isn’t about who can develop the best-looking midsection. It’s about improving every aspect of your daily life.
Is it fun to replace your fat with muscles? Sure! But let’s not forget about the most important muscle in your body: the brain.
Beginning an exercise plan today — and following it consistently — could help you prevent age-related cognitive decline for decades.
This becomes more and more important to emphasize as our population ages. The number of seniors in America will double by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
Imagine how painful it must be to forget the names and faces of people you love, not to mention the inconvenience of being unable to perform basic tasks like driving. Alzheimer’s is no laughing matter. It takes 700,000 lives every year.
There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but exercise is an effective preventive measure that costs zero dollars. Being physically active can reduce your risk by up to 50%, according to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.
Research suggests it’s best to strive for a balanced fitness plan that incorporates both cardio and strength training. Head injuries can lead to mental illness in the future, so I encourage seniors to add yoga to their exercise plan since it reduces the risk of trips and falls.
Most people skip workouts when they feel upset. That’s the exact opposite of what they should do, because exercise releases endorphins: chemicals that soothe stress and pain. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff,” said Michael Otto, PhD.
5. Exercise improves health outcomes.
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) advises adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. Strength and flexibility training are not included in this guideline, but should be a part of your fitness plan, too.
Note: this is a minimum recommendation. Exercising for 300 or 450 minutes would have an even greater benefit. ODPHP guidelines state: “Current science does not allow identifying an upper limit of total activity above which there are no additional health benefits.”
That might sound like a large time investment. In reality, it’s not. Physical activity has a better ROI than any stock, bond, or mutual fund on the market. Every minute of exercise adds seven minutes to your life, according to Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
This benefit isn’t limited to people of a certain age. A study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine discovered that exercise reduces mortality in seniors just as effectively as giving up cigarettes. Seniors who exercised for 30 minutes everyday reduced their risk of death by a whopping 40%.
CDC data reveals heart disease and cancer are the top two causes of death in the United States. These diseases killed a combined 1,206,047 Americans in 2014, which is heartbreaking since both conditions are completely preventable. Perceive exercise as your first line of defense against the Grim Reaper.
Aerobic exercise protects you from heart disease by improving circulation, lowering blood pressure, and reducing strain on your heart. Exercise also reduces stress and risk of diabetes, which are two primary causes of heart disease. If you could package exercise in a pill bottle, it would be the best selling pharmaceutical drug ever created.
Exercise can help you prevent 13 different types of cancer by up to 20%, according to a study by the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute. Medical experts believe this is due to the fact that exercise boosts immunity, prevents obesity, reduces inflammation, improves insulin resistance, and lowers the amount of time needed to digest food.
6. Exercise is excellent for your sex life.
Need a shallow reason to exercise? Here’s a good one. Exercise can have a huge impact on the quality of your sex life.
Missionary position is strikingly similar to plank pose for the person on top. Without a strong core and upper body, you won’t be able to please your partner for more than a few seconds at a time.
Yoga poses that open your hips serve as good practice for anyone hoping to expand their horizons in the bedroom. Like it rough? Lower body exercises like squats and butt lifts (bridges) can improve the power of your thrust.
Let’s not forget about the importance of endurance. It can be embarrassing to run out of energy before your lover has achieved climax. Cardio exercises like walking, running, and hiking develop stamina, which will carry over into your sex life.
Capitalize on these exercise benefits today!
Exercise benefits your life in so many ways that it would be insane to embrace a sedentary lifestyle. Please share this article with your friends. You might inspire someone to begin an exercise plan today.