5 overlooked ways exercise improves your life

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© Andrea Williamson (used with permission)

Human bodies need regular exercise in order to stay healthy. There are countless physical benefits to exercise, such as losing weight, getting stronger, building stamina, improving cardiovascular health, and enhancing flexibility, but the benefits don’t stop there. Exercise can positively affect many other aspects of your life that go beyond looking and feeling fit. Lifehacker has collected a list of reasons to exercise other than losing weight, and below you'll find my favorites.

1. Exercise is a great de-stresser.

While the cause of your stress probably won’t disappear during a workout, intense exercise can distract and hopefully give a fresh perspective on matters. From a scientific perspective, one study suggests that regular exercise actually rewires the part of our brains responsible for dealing with stress, making active people better able to cope with anxiety than sedentary people.

2. Exercise will improve your mood.

There’s nothing like a workout to burn away negative emotions. You will have accomplished something worthwhile, and you’ll boost personal confidence. Exercise also eases symptoms of depression, though it’s not clear exactly how it’s done. The Mayo Clinic suggests it’s either because the brain releases feel-good chemicals (neurotransmitters and endorphins), or it reduces immune system chemicals that worsen depression; it may also be that an increased body temperature from exercise has a calming effect.

3. Exercise is good for your brain.

Exercise actually “bulks up” the human brain. It gets oxygen flowing, releases hormones that encourage brain cell growth, and actually improves memory and learning capabilities in the process. Researchers at the University of British Columbia put together a group of women in their 70s and 80s with mild cognitive impairment and put them on exercise programs. The results were surprising:

“When we started these experiments, most of us thought that, at best, we’d see less decline” in memory function among the volunteers who exercised, which would have represented success. But beyond merely stemming people’s memory loss, “we saw actual improvements.”

4. Exercise can help you sleep better.

It stands to reason that working your body hard will make it more inclined to rest. One recent study, however, shows that, while aerobic activity improves insomnia in the long run, it takes about four months for the improvement to kick in. You won’t see immediate results after a single workout, but stick with it and you’ll reap the benefits later.

5. You'll be more energetic.

It may seem counterintuitive that after exhausting your body with exercise you’d have even more energy, but it’s true. Banish the afternoon ‘slump’ with a midday workout, or combat general fatigue (not associated with a medical condition, which plagues one in four Americans) with regular exercise. Researchers from the University of Georgia explain that exercise works on the central nervous system to increase energy and reduce fatigue. “A lot of people are overworked and not sleeping enough. Exercise is a way for people to feel more energetic.”

So whether it's running, CrossFit, or yoga, putting in some effort to exercise regularly can go a long way toward improving overall quality of life.

Tags: Health