You undoubtedly have a hunch that exercise is beneficial to your health, and you’ve probably heard that it’s “heart-healthy.” But, if you’re like most people, that’s not enough to motivate you to work up a sweat regularly. Only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week, more than half of all baby boomers report doing no exercise at all, and 80.2 million Americans over the age of 6 are entirely inactive, according to my TIME cover story, “The Exercise Cure.”
That’s terrible news, but new research indicates that there are numerous compelling reasons to begin moving at any age, even if you’re sick or pregnant. Scientists are discovering that exercise is, in fact, medicine. Claude Bouchard, director of the human genomics laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, states, “There is no drug that comes near what exercise can do.” “And even if there were, it would be prohibitively expensive.”
For more information, read the entire tale, but here are some of the incredible things that may happen to a moving body.
1. Physical activity is beneficial to the brain.
It has reduced sadness, improved memory, and faster learning. Exercise appears to be the best approach to prevent or delay the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease, which is a big concern for many Americans.
Scientists aren’t sure why exercise alters the structure and function of the brain, but it’s a hot topic of study. Thanks to the protein BDNF, they’ve discovered that exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, feeding the formation of new blood vessels and even new brain cells (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF promotes the creation of new neurons and aids in the repair and protection of brain cells. According to a recent study, it may also help people focus.
2. You may get happy.
Numerous studies have shown that various forms of exercise, ranging from walking to cycling, improve people’s moods and can even alleviate depressive symptoms. Serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, and dopamine are brain chemicals that decrease pain, brighten mood, and relieve tension when you exercise. “For years, we have concentrated almost exclusively on the physical benefits of exercise, ignoring the psychological and emotional benefits of being physically active regularly,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.
3.It may cause you to age more slowly.
Exercise has to increase life expectancy by up to five years. According to a modest new study, moderate-intensity exercise may help cells age more slowly. Humans’ telomeres—the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes—get shorter as they age and their cells divide repeatedly. To determine how exercise impacts telomeres, researchers took a muscle biopsy and blood samples from 10 healthy adults before and after a 45-minute ride on a stationary bicycle. According to the researchers, the exercise raised levels of a chemical that protects telomeres, reducing the rate at which they shorten over time. As a result, activity appears to halt the aging process at the cellular level.
4.It will improve the appearance of your skin.
Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the skin, supplying oxygen and nutrients that assist skin health and wound healing. According to Anthony Hackney, an exercise physiologist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, “when people have injuries, they should get moving as soon as possible—not only to ensure that the muscle doesn’t atrophy, but also to ensure that there is excellent blood flow to the skin.” If you exercise for long enough, your skin will develop more blood vessels and microscopic capillaries.
The skin also acts as a heat release point. (For further information, see “Why Does My Face Turn Red When I Exercise?”) According to Hackney, when you exercise, your muscles produce a lot of heat, which you must release into the environment to keep your body temperature from rising too high.
5.Incredible things can happen in a matter of minutes.
According to new studies, it doesn’t take much activity to reap the benefits. “How low can you go?” is a question that has piqued our interest. Martin Gibala, a professor of exercise physiology at McMaster University in Ontario, agrees. He wanted to see how successful a 10-minute workout as compared to a traditional 50-minute workout. Brief recoveries follow three rigorous 20-second bursts of all-out, as-hard-as-you-can exertion in his micro-workout. He reached the short training to the usual program for three months to discover which was superior. Even though one activity was five times longer than the other, the workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood sugar control. “You can get away with minimal exercise if you’re motivated and able to push hard,” Gibala says. (Read here for more information on the 1-minute workout.)
6.It can assist you in recovering from a severe illness.
Even rigorous exercise, such as the interval sessions Gibala is researching, can benefit persons with various chronic illnesses, ranging from Type 2 diabetes to heart failure. Novel thinking, as people with certain conditions have been urged not to exercise for decades. Scientists now know that a much larger number of people can and should exercise. The exercise was even more helpful than medication in helping patients recover from strokes, according to a comprehensive analysis of more than 300 randomized trials.
Since the early 1990s, Dr. Robert Sallis, a family physician at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California, has recommended exercise to his patients in the hopes of reducing drug use. “It performed remarkably well, especially in my sickest patients,” he says. “I would see tremendous changes in their chronic condition, not to mention all of these other things like sadness, anxiety, mood, and energy levels if I could just get them to do it daily—even just walking, anything that brought their heart rate up a little bit.”
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7.The size of your fat cells will decrease.
Carbohydrates and lipids are both used as energy sources by the body. However, continuous aerobic exercise training improves the body’s ability to burn fat, which requires a large amount of oxygen to convert to energy. “One of the benefits of exercise training is that it strengthens and improves our circulatory system’s ability to supply oxygen, allowing us to metabolize more fat as an energy source,” Hackney explains. As a result, your fat cells, which create the chemicals that cause persistent low-grade inflammation, shrink, and inflammation, decreases.