By now, everyone knows exercise is a good thing. Most people even understand the specific ways that you and your body benefit from working out, like maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other illnesses and maybe even improving your mood. And for lots of people, exercise simply feels good. But beyond the obvious reasons, you might be surprised to learn what else exercise does for you.
Exercise has a dramatic impact on brain health, by reducing insulin resistance and inflammation and stimulating growth factors that impact brain cell health and longevity. Recent studies show that regular aerobic exercise elicits changes in the brain that improve memory and thinking, possibly due to an increase in the volume of the prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal cortex of the brain, the areas that control thinking and memory. Exercise is also critical for people dealing with memory afflicting illnesses, like Alzheimer’s disease. A recent JAMA study showed 18 months of modest cognitive improvement for memory impaired adults after a 6-month period of regular physical activity.
No more high-energy drinks required—you shouldn’t be drinking those anyway! Even though some folks have a tough time believing it, exercise does increase your energy level, in both the short and long term. Not a believer? Try this simple test. Take moment to notice how energetic you feel right now. Once you’ve done that, bounce up and down lightly for about 30 seconds. (C’mon, try it!) Now take note of your energy level again. Most people will feel a renewed sense of energy and improved mood after just those 30 seconds of movement. Imagine the impact of regular exercise on your daily energy level.
Research also shows that exercise may elevate energy levels for people dealing with fatigue, a common problem in today’s overwhelmed and overbooked culture. A University of Georgia study found that normally sedentary participants who took part in low intensity exercise, such as a leisurely walk or bike ride, reduced feelings of fatigue by 65 percent. This huge improvement in energy level is in addition to all the other health-promoting benefits of regular exercise. Ready to hit the gym yet?
If you deal with musculoskeletal discomfort, like lower back or neck pain, you may shy away from exercise. Recent research suggests you might not have to. A 2009 yearlong study showed office workers dealing with various types of musculoskeletal pain had a decrease in symptoms when participating in regular resistance training and other physical exercise. Of course, you should always discuss a new exercise program with your doctor, especially when dealing with pain or an injury. They’ll help determine the safest and most effective exercise to help you start feeling better soon.