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.
Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin’ bod, but working out has above-the-neck benefits, too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level (yup, this includes everyone from mall-walkers to marathoners), studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Get inspired to exercise by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships, and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you know that exercise should be an essential part of your routine. But the benefits of physical activity go far beyond just physical fitness. Increasingly, more and more research is showing that working out regularly can boost other aspects of your health as well, including cognitive function and emotional well-being.
Because exercise helps use up oxygen, it causes your body to burn stored fat and helps you maintain a normal weight. For instance, if you walk 4 miles a day four times a week, you can burn about 1,600 calories or nearly half a pound a week. If you don't change your diet at all and keep walking the same distance over six months, you'll lose 12 pounds. Walk the same distance for a year and you'll drop 24 pounds.
A study published in October 2017 in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggested that even just one hour of exercise of any intensity each week can help prevent depression. The study monitored levels of exercise and symptoms of depression and anxiety in 33,908 adults over 11 years and found that even small amounts of physical activity had a protective effect against depression, regardless of the person’s age or gender.
Begin in a plank position on the forearms. Press the hips up toward the ceiling while staying on the forearms (like an upside 'v') and gently press the heels to the floor. Hold briefly, then come back to your plank and push up onto the hands. Hold (back straight) for a few counts and then press back into a downward dog, stretching the heels to the floor and the chest gently through the arms. Come back into your plank, lower down to the elbows and repeat the entire series.
When it comes to these pushups, make sure your left and right hands are shoulder-width apart to keep proper form. Keep your left elbow and right elbow in as well so you can activate not only your triceps but also your chest. This exercise is great because it helps you protect your rotator cuff, which is upon your shoulders. Shoot for 15 to 20 reps in this 30-second set. Don't go for high speed, go for perfect form.
HOW TO DO IT: Start with your left leg forward and your right leg back. Place your left foot onto one end of a towel and grab the other end in your right hand. Pull the towel as hard as you can without holding your breath. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch sides and repeat. If you can’t maintain the hold continuously, break it up into shorter five- to 10-second bursts with brief one- or two-second rests in between.
That stubborn back-of-the-arm fat is some of the hardest to ditch, but making tricep presses part of your routine can help tone and tighten that area fast. While seated, extend a dumbbell over your head, holding it with both arms. Next, bend your elbows and bring the dumbbell behind you until it’s parallel with your shoulders, straighten your arms and lift the weight, and repeat.
Now for the real solution: a 20-minute workout you can do at home. No commute to the health club, no traffic, no packing the gym bag, no waiting for the power rack to open up. Below is a great, quick workout you can do at home (or in a hotel room if you’re on the road) that focuses on the legs, chest and abs. It requires no equipment and, if done with purpose, is intense enough to give you a great pump and shock your system something fierce. Give it a try next time you’re trapped at home and have the training itch.
FIT TIP: To trim your tummy, do fewer crunches and more planks: Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips, then lower forearms to floor and extend legs straight behind you, balancing on toes. Keeping abs engaged and back flat, hold for 30 seconds; do 10 reps three or four times a week. Limit crunches to no more than three sets of 15 at a time. Anything beyond that isn't doing you much good, experts say.