You know exercise is good for keeping you slim and in shape, but there are other reasons to hit the gym or head out for a walk, from feeling happy to fighting disease, improving cognition and even making you more money. If you weren’t motivated to exercise before, you will be now:
Makes You Happy
Want extra pep in your step? “Research shows that when people regularly exercise—whether aerobic or resistance training or yoga—they have better moods,” says Carol Ewing Garber, professor of movement sciences at Columbia University. Yep, one reason are endorphins, along with activation of the endocannabinoid system, thought be responsible for the “runner’s high.”
More than just keeping a positive mindset, a workout also battles the blues. “Exercise enhances feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine,” says Ewing Garber. Her 2012 study found that people who participate in 2.5 to 7.5 hours of physical activity weekly report better mental health. Other factors: exercise is a distraction from worries and is often done with friends, which also helps you feel good.
In a 2012 study in the Journal of Labor Research, frequent exercisers make bank, bringing home nearly 10 percent more than non-exercisers. Credit higher energy levels and more enthusiasm at work that boosts job satisfaction for the increase in earnings.
Keeps You Sharp
Being active helps you keep your wits about you well into older age. When UK researchers looked at the brain structure of adults in their 70s, those who were more active had bigger brains three years later—thought to be cognitively protective—than sedentary participants.
Dials Down Stress
When you get frazzled, you can feel your heart rate increase and blood pressure rise. That’s a result of an uptick in stress hormones. After stress, these measures decrease. When you’re chronically stressed, however, they stay high, which can be dangerous. Exercise, notes Ewing Garber, helps decrease your stress response and makes you less reactive to them in the first place.
If you have a child struggling with ADHD, signing them up for a team sport may be the ticket to easing symptoms. Why? Aerobic exercise may help boost brain structure and function, helping to treat behavioral problems, suggests a review in Current Psychiatry Reports.
The memory hub in your brain—the hippocampus—loses volume later in life, putting you at risk for dementia. However, exercise can reverse that loss by up to two years, suggests a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Strengthens Your Heart
In a meta-analysis in 2013 published in BMJ, researchers discovered that exercise performed as effective (or better) than many drugs that treat heart failure and stroke and prevent heart disease.
For migraine sufferers, a splitting headache can derail your entire day. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a regular exercise schedule. In a Swedish study in 2011, researchers found that people who exercised 40 minutes three times a week experienced fewer migraines—and treatment worked as well as prescription migraine drugs and relaxation exercises.
For an even bigger benefit, head to a local park or trail. A 2010 University of Essex study found that just five minutes of outdoor exercise produced positive changes in self-esteem. Green environments enhance well-being, researchers explain.
Lengthens Your Life
Want to live three years longer? Workout. Doing so for just 15 minutes a day was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of death from any cause compared to those who were inactive, suggests Taiwanese research.
Staves Off Diabetes
According to a position paper by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association, the combination of exercising and losing a modest amount of weight can cut your risk of diabetes by nearly 60%. Exercise improves insulin function and blood sugar control to prevent the progression of the disease.