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.
Exercise helps people to lose and maintain weight. An exercise session burns calories and elevates metabolic rate both during exercise and then for hours after exercise is completed. It helps to preserve and build lean muscle mass. It works to suppress appetite. All of these benefits work together to make exercise vital for maintaining weight loss.
Endorphins are hormones in the brain associated with a happy, positive feeling. A low level of endorphins is associated with depression. During exercise, plasma levels of this substance increase. This may help to ease symptoms of depression. A recent National Health and Nutrition survey found that physically active people were half as likely to be depressed.
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.
That’s bad news, but emerging evidence shows that there are plenty of compelling reasons to start moving at any age and even if you’re ill or pregnant. Indeed, scientists are learning that exercise is, actually, medicine. “There is no pill that comes close to what exercise can do,” says Claude Bouchard, director of the human genomics laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. “And if there was one, it would be extremely expensive.”
If you're ready to move on from classic Bulgarian split squats, Swan's amped-up variation gets your upper body in on the action for a true total-body exercise. "This combination move works your legs, butt, chest, back, arms, and core," she says. "And it not only hits all the major muscle groups—it also lets you work on balance." Give it a shot and you'll see why.
Countless studies show that many types of exercise, from walking to cycling, make people feel better and can even relieve symptoms of depression. Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine—that dull pain, lighten mood and relieve stress. “For years we focused almost exclusively on the physical benefits of exercise and really have ignored the psychological and emotional benefits of being regularly active,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.
This is a particularly cool one. Neuroscientists used to believe the brain was the only organ incapable of growing new cells—which partly makes sense, since we need our brains to be relatively stable over time, to keep our memories intact and to keep us us. But in recent years, it’s become clear that the brain, too, can grow new neurons, in a process called neurogenesis. And what seems to spur the growth of new neurons, perhaps above other activities, is aerobic exercise. (Other things, like meditation and antidepressant medication, have also been shown to trigger brain new cell growth.) The area of the brain that seems most capable of growing new cells is the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. It's also the area that’s known to “shrink” in depression, and particularly in dementia—so the fact that we may have some control over its health is exciting.
FIT TIP: If you exercised on an empty or almost-empty stomach, you're probably feeling light-headed or even nauseated or headachy. Your immediate food fix: A high-carb nosh, like a banana or half a bagel, will refuel you and kick-start your recovery. And don't forget to drink plenty of water with your snack. Intense or long workouts can leave you dehydrated.
Exercise acts as a temporary diversion to daily stresses and it improves self-esteem. Increased core temperature during exercise may lead to reduced muscle tension and favourable alterations in brain neurotransmitters. Mood improvements may also occur due to the increased secretion of endogenous (internal) opiates, e.g. endorphins. Psychological changes may occur because of changes in norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, all hormones which can affect mood and anxiety levels.
Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice. Mustroph ML, Chen S, Desai SC, Cay EB, DeYoung EK, Rhodes JS. Neuroscience Program, The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. Neuroscience. 2012 September 6;219:62-71. Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males. Griffin EW, Mullally S, Foley C, Warmington SA, O’Mara SM, Kelly AM. Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Physiology & Behavior. 2011 October 24;104(5):934-41.. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.
You've cut your cancer risk. In a study of more than 14,800 women, those who had the highest levels of aerobic fitness were 55 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than those who were sedentary. Women considered moderately fit had about a 33 percent lower risk of developing the disease. Exercise may also help protect against endometrial, lung, and ovarian cancer, researchers say.
For urban runners and power-walkers, one of the biggest obstacles is other people. It’s difficult to get in your meditative zone and enjoy your music when you constantly have to dodge people. To resolve this vexing issue, Runbell, a startup in Tokyo, has developed the runner’s version of the bicycle bell. With this lightweight brass bell warning people you’re approaching from behind, you’re free to maintain your transcendental state while continuing your workout. Head to their Kickstarter campaign to pledge your support.
Exercise can have a number of emotional benefits. Stress can be caused by elevated levels of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Exercise lowers these hormones, and increases serotonin, otherwise known as the happy hormone, which helps reduce stress. Working out can help keep depression and anxiety at bay. Plus, coping with mood disorders that are often associated with stress can be a little bit easier when you are in good physical shape.
Rough day at the office? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So go ahead and get sweaty — working out can reduce stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!
Then, step your left foot directly behind you (about 2 feet) and bend both knees to lower into a reverse lunge, creating two 90-degree angles with your legs. In this positioning, your shoulders should be directly above your hips and your chest should be upright (not leaning forward or back). Your right shin should be perpendicular to the floor and your right knee should be stacked above your right ankle. Your butt and core should be engaged.
Heart Disease and Stroke. Daily physical activity can help prevent heart disease and stroke by strengthening your heart muscle, lowering your blood pressure, raising your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels (good cholesterol) and lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (bad cholesterol), improving blood flow, and increasing your heart's working capacity.
Commit to a 7-day meal plan. Create a 7-day meal plan that covers 3 main meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), scheduled at the same time of day, and 2 small snacks (between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner), scheduled at the same time of day. A set meal plan will ensure you eat at a consistent time every day and do not skip or miss a meal. Consuming about 1,400 calories a day, combined with exercise, can help you to achieve healthy weight loss.
HOW TO DO IT: Assume a wide sumo stance with your feet farther than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out slightly. Drop your weight into your heels and lower your hips until your palms reach the box without rounding your lower back. Jump your feet back into a plank. Reverse the movement and repeat for 30 to 60 seconds. Add height to the box if the movement is too difficult.
Get ready to win big at Go Fish. Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things. Getting sweaty increases production of cells in hippocampus responsible for memory and learning Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Erickson KI, Voss MW, Prakash RS, Basak C, Szabo A, Chaddock L, Kim JS, Heo S, Alves H, White SM, Wojcicki TR, Mailey E, Vieira VJ, Martin SA, Pence BD, Woods JA, McAuley E, Kramer AF. Department of Psychology, University of Pittsgurgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2011 February 15;108(7):3017-22.. For this reason, research has linked children’s brain development with level of physical fitness (take that, recess haters!). But exercise-based brainpower isn’t just for kids. Even if it’s not as fun as a game of Red Rover, working out can boost memory among grown-ups, too. A study showed that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults High impact running improves learning. Winter B, Breitenstein C, Mooren FC, Voelker K, Fobker M, Lechtermann A, Krueger K, Fromme A, Korsukewitz C, Floel A, Knecht S. Department of Neurology, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2007 May;87(4):597-609..