The skin also serves as a release point for heat. (See “Why Does My Face Turn Red When I Exercise?” for more on that.) When you exercise, your muscles generate a lot of heat, which you have to give up to the environment so your body temperature doesn’t get too high, Hackney says. The heat in the muscle transfers to the blood, which shuttles it to the skin; it can then escape into the atmosphere.
Reduce your consumption of carbs, sugars, and animal fats. Consuming foods high in carbs and sugars will cause your body to secrete insulin, which is a main fat storage hormone in your body. When your insulin levels drop, this allows your body to burn fat. Lower insulin levels also help your kidneys shed excess sodium and water, which will help you reduce any water weight you are carrying.
Though some people actually love physical activity and look forward to it, for many of us, exercising is a mighty drag. Exercise has also had an added PR problem in recent years: A growing body of evidence has shown that it’s not all that good for weight loss, which was probably many people’s reason for doing it in the first place. It may help with weight a little, especially for maintenance, but by and large, if you want to drop pounds, the most effective way is to eat less, not necessarily to exercise more. That said, research in recent years has also illustrated quite persuasively what exercise is good for—and it is actually good for a number of things, including some very profound things, like reducing dementia risk. Here’s what science tells us we should probably keep exercising for, even though we may not love every minute of it.
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.
Dr. Robert Sallis, a family physician at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California, has prescribed exercise to his patients since the early 1990s in hopes of doling out less medication. “It really worked amazingly, particularly in my very sickest patients,” he says. “If I could get them to do it on a regular basis—even just walking, anything that got their heart rate up a bit—I would see dramatic improvements in their chronic disease, not to mention all of these other things like depression, anxiety, mood and energy levels.”
While building strength will get those arms more defined, cardio is still king when it comes to shedding the fat that’s causing your arms to wiggle. Researchers at Duke University studying 119 overweight, sedentary subjects found that those who stuck to a cardio program lost twice the weight of those who did strength training, despite the fact that the cardio group spent 47 fewer minutes exercising every week than their weight-training peers. So, if you’re ready to get that upper body toned and tight, make sure you’re making time for cardio, too.
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.
Whether we’re fully conscious of it or not, we’re always looking for how to be happy. And exercise is one of the most obvious steps to take, as it’s not a coincidence that you feel better after a good workout: It’s science. A Penn State University study found that people who exercised, whether it was a mild, moderate or vigorous workout, had more pleasant feelings than those who didn’t. (1)