8 Benefits Of Exercise That Might Surprise You

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August 27, 2020

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Exercise does your mind and body good almost instantly. The moment you hit the pavement for a run, ace your first burpee or stretch through a yoga class, you start to reap the benefits. 

As your heart rate increases and blood flows to your muscles, all the wonderful endorphins flood your brain. Your body feels better, your brain feels brighter, and your self-esteem and confidence skyrocket. 

Whether you’ve just started working out or have a routine already, you’re probably familiar with some of the immediate brain benefits of exercise — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning and judgement skills sharp as you age, reduce your risk of anxiety and help you sleep better.

The good news is that a sweat session does all this — plus so much more. Here are eight incredible benefits of exercise you might not know about.

The health benefits of exercise

It’s easy to focus on the physical benefits of exercise like building strength and muscle, but there are many added health benefits of being regularly active.

You’ll improve the quality (and quantity) of your sleep

If you have trouble falling asleep or you wake up feeling lethargic, making exercise part of your routine could be your secret weapon to getting your sleeping habits back on track. 

While it is not exactly known how exercise improves sleep, Johns Hopkins Medicine in the US confirms that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow-wave sleep, or “deep sleep”, you get, which gives your brain and body the chance to rejuvenate. Charlene Gamaldo, M.D. from Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep says that exercise can also help to stabilise your mood and decompress the mind.    

According to Cleveland Clinic in the US, physical activity promotes more energy expenditure throughout the day, which helps you feel ready to rest at bedtime.

You’ll feel more energetic and alert

Feeling exhausted? You might assume a workout will leave you feeling worn out — especially when you’re already tired — but according to the American Council on Exercise, regular exercise can actually increase your energy levels. 

If you’ve noticed you breathe more heavily when you exercise, it’s because physical exertion increases your body’s need for oxygen. Over time, your lung capacity increases and they become stronger. Experts from the American Lung Association state that “as your physical fitness improves, your body becomes more efficient at getting oxygen into the bloodstream and transporting it to the working muscles.”. 

Australia's Better Health Channel also confirm that more oxygen gets transported to your brain, so you’ll feel more alert and concentrate better. 

You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to reap the benefits of exercise. All types of fitness — from high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training at home to a brisk walk around the block — can help shake off feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. 

Make a deal with yourself to get moving for just 10 minutes and chances are that once you start, you'll feel so much better for it.

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The physical benefits of exercise

The physical benefits of exercise are often associated with a change in body composition, but regular exercise can also have a range of other positive effects on your body.

Your skin will look brighter

Ever looked in the mirror after working out to see a red face staring back at you? This is a good sign!

Aerobic exercise like HIIT increases circulation and blood flow to the skin, and according to Cleveland Clinic, helps it to appear healthier and clearer.

You’ll stand up straighter

Slouching in your chair, hunching your shoulders and staring too long at your screen are familiar habits for many, especially if you sit all day in an office job, and can lead to postural issues if they’re not addressed. 

Harvard Health Publishing recommends practising bodyweight back exercises and upper-body and chest stretches throughout the day to help improve posture and promote proper alignment of the spine. 

Better posture can help you get the most out of your workouts and prevent injury by making it easier to maintain good form, such as when you engage your core and keep a neutral spine during a squat.

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The mental benefits of exercise

Training hard may be physically tiring, but when it comes to the brain, exercise can play a huge part in how it deals with pressure and stress.

You’ll be better placed to manage stressful situations

Exercise can help you manage and process stress better on a day-to-day level.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, “when stress affects the brain [...] the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So [...] if your body feels better, so does your mind.”  

A 2016 review published in Frontiers of Physiology discussed the difference between psychological (bad) stress and exercise-induced (good) stress, and interestingly found that aerobic activity increases the inactivation of the stress hormone, cortisol

While more research is still needed, aerobic exercise like running was also found to modulate hormone, neurotrophin (proteins that play a key role in memory and learning) and neurotransmitter levels. Neurotransmitters include the feel-good chemicals endorphins, serotonin and dopamine which are all released during physical activity. 

Harvard Health Publishing recommends almost any type of exercise to help manage stress, however a 2003 study by researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that a relatively high-intensity exercise is superior in reducing stress and anxiety, particularly for women.

You’ll boost brainpower and sharpen your memory

With every step or lap of physical exercise you complete, you’re not just working your body – you’re also stimulating your brain.

A 2017 study by Western Sydney University in Australia found that aerobic exercise can improve memory function and maintain brain health as you age. 

They found that regular physical exercise not only slowed down the deterioration in brain size, it also significantly increased the size of the left side of the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Research from UT Southwestern Medical Center in the US published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2019 also “found that people who had an accumulation of amyloid beta in the brain — a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease — experienced slower degeneration in a region of the brain crucial for memory if they exercised regularly for one year.”.

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The emotional benefits of exercise

Breaking a sweat can positively impact your health and wellbeing in many ways, so it's no surprise that exercise can also influence how you feel about yourself.

You’ll feel happier (yes, really!)

Countless studies have shown that all types of exercise — everything from walking and cycling to Pilates and HIIT — can lighten your mood and make you feel relaxed. A 2018 meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials including 1877 participants published on JAMA Psychiatry also found resistance exercise training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. 

A study published in The Lancet in 2018 looked at data collected from over 1.2 million US residents — researchers from the UK and US who conducted the cross-sectional study found that those who exercised regularly had 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than those who didn’t exercise. 

You don’t need to solely focus on cardio or strength training to experience the benefits of exercise either — gentler activities like yoga promote a range of benefits, such as quieting your mind. Find a training style you enjoy and you’ll begin to think of your workouts as less of a chore and more an important act of self-care.

You’ll boost your self-esteem and self-confidence

It’s no secret that completing a goal or staying true to a resolution can give you a serious confidence boost, and smashing a tough workout is no different.

Seeing progress can be a huge morale booster. Setting SMART fitness goals and seeing them through is incredibly motivating, and will help give you the push you need to keep going. 

When you perfect your first push-up or hit a personal best, you’ll know that you’re capable of anything you put your mind to.

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Now you can sweat happy knowing you’re improving both your body AND your mind

Turns out exercising isn’t just good for your strength and stamina – it also has a profound effect on your mood, sleep, brain function, energy levels and so much more. 

The key to achieving these amazing benefits of exercise is to find a training style that’s right for you. You’ll find it far easier to build a routine when it’s something you enjoy and that can fit perfectly into your lifestyle.

How has fitness changed your life? Let us know in the comments!

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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