Exercise provides socialization opportunities. Exercising outside the home, whether in the great outdoors, at a gym or recreation center, in an exercise class, sport group, walking or running club, etc., all lead to encounters with other people who also enjoy working out. New acquaintances and friendships develop readily in such contexts. Over time, having the pleasure of one's exercise group's company becomes another reason to exercise.
Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person's perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth Longitudinal examination of the exercise and self-esteem model in middle-aged women. Elavsky S. Department of Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 2010 December;32(6):862-80. A longitudinal assessment of the links between physical activity and self-esteem in early adolescent non-Hispanic females. Schmalz DL, Deane GD, Birch LL, Davison KK. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2007 December;41(6):559-565.. How’s that for feeling the (self) love?
This one is a big one, since inflammation may be an underlying cause of a wide range of diseases and disorders in both body and brain. Exercise is known to reduce a number of inflammatory markers, like c-reactive protein (CRP) and internleukin-6 (IL-6), which are linked to a number of diseases. “The thing about exercise is that it has a multitude of effects on many different organs and systems,” says Suzi Hong, who studies exercise and immune system activation at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, “so often it is difficult to pinpoint which organ systems are influenced and which ones are not with which specific effects for what conditions… The anti-inflammatory effects of exercise are likely one of the underpinnings of its effects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers, neurodegenerative conditions and more.”
It strengthens the brain. Studies have found that working out can lessen the severity of memory problems in older adults, and even decrease the risk of diseases like Alzheimer's. It can also have a positive benefit on the brain function of younger people. Research out of New Zealand shows that exercise improves executive function -- the general brain processes that include planning, memory, reasoning, problem-solving and more.
You’ll find planks among Ceasar Barajas‘, Jessica Muenster’s, and Amanda Murdock’s favorites exercises to do with no equipment. Murkdock (who recommends “planks all day long”— ouch) says that they work the entire body, can be done anywhere, and have a lot of variations. Muenster specifically favors plank jacks with palm-to-elbow movement because they also raise your heart rate.
Exercise improves self-confidence. One of the reasons many individuals do not attempt an exercise program is because they feel they are not very athletic or coordinated. Once an exercise program is begun, however, these same individuals discover that they are indeed able to work out successfully: gaining muscle tone and strength, improving their stamina, and improving how they feel emotionally. These revelations are very empowering. It is this increased sense of self confidence and improved sense of well-being that eventually becomes the sustaining force that helps people to continue their exercise program.
Maybe you exercise to tone your thighs, build your biceps, or flatten your belly. Or maybe you work out to ward off the big killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But how about sweating to improve your mind? "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. "Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." If you need a little extra incentive to lace up those sneakers, here are five ways that exercise can boost your brainpower.
A combination of aerobic workouts (which, depending on your fitness level, can include walking, running, swimming, and other vigorous heart-pumping exercise) and strength training (weight lifting, resistance training) is considered best for heart health. These exercises improve the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the circulating blood. That reduces the need for the heart—a muscular organ itself—to work harder to pump more blood to the muscles, whatever your age.
Complete sit-up pullovers. Sit-up pullovers will work your triceps and abs and help you burn fat. Hold a weight in each hand and lie on an exercise mat with your arms extended directly above you. With your knees bent and your feet flat, slowly curl your body up to lift your head, shoulders, and back off the ground. Keep your arms up and move them in a smooth arc-like motion towards your knees. Hold this position for one second, then lower yourself back down. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.
For those sticklers who object to this regimen as a violation of the no-equipment stipulation—what are you, trapped in a shipping container?—Okafor has a go-to airport circuit, too, no chair required: four rounds of 20 squats, 20 lunges (with each leg), and 30 bicycle crunches. Maybe you're thinking: the airport? But don't people give you weird looks? "Of course," Okafor says. "But they're usually out of shape." Spoken like a man who isn't one bit afraid to curl a chair with a towel.
Ever hit the hay after a long run or weight session at the gym? For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill, even for people with insomnia Effects of moderate aerobic exercise training on chronic primary insomnia. Passos GS, Poyares D, Santana MG, D’Aurea CV, Youngstedt SD, Tufik S, de Mello MT. Department of Psychobiology, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sleep Medicine. 2011 December;12(10):1018-27.. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep Effects of exercise on sleep. Youngstedt SD. Department of Exercise Science, Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA. Clinical Sports Medicine. 2005 April;24(2):355-65..
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, toes angled out slightly. Keep your core engaged as you hinge at the hips, lowering into a sumo squat position while simultaneously keeping the hands positioned in front of the chest. Release the hands to the floor and jump or step back to a high-plank position; be sure to maintain a neutral spine. Reverse the squat thrust, jumping or stepping feet back toward the hands and rising up to the starting position. Complete a total of eight to 10 reps.
Bend your knees to lower down into a split squat. Your left knee should ideally form a 90-degree angle so that your thigh is parallel to the ground, and your right knee is hovering above the floor. (Quick position check: your left foot should be stepped out far enough that you can do this without letting your left knee go past your left toes—if you can't, hop your left foot out a bit farther away from the bench.)
A 2002 study examined three groups of people. Group one, the control group, was told to track how often each person exercised throughout the week. The second group, the motivation group, was given the same instructions, but also read a motivational speech. Group three, the intention group, added on to the previous groups by asking people to create a plan that set a specific day, time and place to exercise.
Although the cardiovascular effects of exercise are partly related to inflammation, they still deserve their own category. Exercise is one of the best-illustrated things we can do for our hearts, and this includes markers like blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition the physical structure of the heart itself, and blood vessel function. Studies have suggested that 30 minutes per day is good enough to keep the heart in shape, while others have suggested we do more than this to get a real effect. Some have found that light activity is even enough to help the heart, but not all research confirms this, so it’s a little hard to tell how low levels of activity affect heart health over the long term. Additionally, too much exercise has also been shown to be stressful to the heart. So all this is to say that there’s probably a sweet spot somewhere in the middle for optimal cardiovascular health.
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Most people find they can't do a full minute of press-ups without their muscles giving in to begin with. If your muscles fail on you, don't think of it as a point of no return. Instead, take a moment to rest and continue with the exercise for as long as possible, just as you did the abdominal plank. Bit by bit, you'll find your press-up stamina improving.
Exercise stretches muscles and joints, which in turn can increase flexibility and help prevent injuries. Exercise may also improve balance by increasing strength of the tissues around joints and throughout the body, thus helping to prevent falls. Weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking and weight training, strengthens bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. Exercise often can improve function and reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis, although regimens must be developed specifically for each person, and exercises that put undue strain on joints, such as jumping and running, may need to be avoided.