11 New Reasons to Exercise (That Aren't About Weight Loss)
It does a lot more than make you a stronger, sleeker, better sleeper.
It'll Help Keep You Afloat
Your workout doesn't just make you feel better after a crummy day; it also protects you (specifically, your brain) against debilitating bad moods. Regular aerobic exercise boosts BDNF, a brain protein that's like a fertilizer for neurons, and appears to fortify parts of the hippocampus susceptible to depression, neuroscience has revealed. Swedish researchers recently found that exercising also keeps your brain safe from harmful substances (one is called kynurenine) that build up during stress. It does this by producing changes in skeletal muscle that can purge the blood of kynurenine before it has a chance to cause the brain inflammation that is linked to depression. The science behind exercise's mood-boosting benefits has become so persuasive that psychiatrists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have come up with an exercise "prescription" that they are testing to see how much exercise some people will need to get similar antidepressive effects as those achieved by taking medication. (In the meantime, talk to your doctor about the dose that's right for you.)
It'll Cure Whatchamacallits
Every time you have a tip-of-the-tongue moment or forget to buy milk, let this be a reminder—to go for a power walk. In a six-month study at the University of British Columbia, older women who exercised aerobically had markedly better memories—recalling more words and items in tests—than control groups that lifted weights, toned or didn't exercise. The regimen: 40 minutes of walking, twice weekly, working up to 70-80 percent of the target heart rate for their age. (Find yours here.)
It'll Strengthen Your Shot
Another thing to do before a workout: get your flu shot. Exercise may double its potency, as it did for volunteers in an Iowa State University study led by kinesthesiologist Marian Kohut. Those who jogged or rode bikes for 90 minutes post-jab had twice the antibody response a month later compared to those who relaxed. Two possible explanations: exercise boosts immune response and helps circulate the vaccine away from the injection site. "Exercise may have benefits for other vaccinations, too," Kohut says. (Stay tuned; research is ongoing.)
It'll Make New Skills Stickier
Here's the best advice for learning something new, especially if it involves "muscle-memory," like piano-playing, 16-wheeler-truck driving and all-butter-pie-crust rolling. Do it—then try running (or jump-roping, Aqua Spinning, Piloxing, whatever, as long as it's heart-racing). In a University of Copenhagen study, volunteers who had a vigorous 15-minute cycling workout right after learning a new computer skill retained it much better the following week than those who exercised beforehand or not at all. Exercise boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps "cement" memories.
It'll Offset Yesterday's Vices
No, this isn't a license to go hog-wild. But exercise may reverse cognitive decline caused by a longtime high-fat diet, found researchers at the University of Minnesota. When rats on the equivalent of a burger-stuffed-pizza diet exercised daily, their mental decline reversed itself after seven weeks. At four months, these fat-fed mice had better memory function than non-exercisers on a low-fat diet. Aerobics may also help compensate for alcohol-related brain damage, found a new study published in Alcoholism. Immoderate drinkers who worked out had far more white matter than their sedentary peers.
It'll Offer Two Kinds of High
We've all heard of a "runner's high" (endorphin rush). Now there's another inducement to get thee to the gym, found an Indiana University study: the "coregasm"—an exercise-induced orgasm (which may strike by surprise, apparently.) In case you're interested, "coregasms" happen most often when doing crunches (lifting legs toward the chest or at a 90-degree angle repeatedly), climbing poles or ropes, biking/spinning and weight-lifting.
It'll Be Your Secret to Self-Control
Make better decisions by exercising for 10-40 minutes first—that's the upshot of an overview of studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Kids and young adults who worked out right before test-taking showed better concentration and self-control than non-exercisers. During exercise, more oxygen-rich blood flows to the frontal lobes, the area responsible for "executive function"—thinking ahead, reasoning and keeping yourself in check.
It'll Save Your Hide
Angry, red, scaly skin—if it happens to you, it may be psoriasis, an effect of chronic inflammation (which afflicts about one in 40 of us). The good news: about two hours of vigorous exercise a week (walking doesn't cut it, sadly) may reduce your risk by up to 30 percent, find researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Exercises most associated with flake-free skin are running and calisthenics.
It'll Reverse Shrinkage
Yes, the brain shrivels with age, but losing our minds can be optional, found a study published in PNAS. When seniors exercised for a year, their hippocampus ("memory gateway") plumped up 2 percent—which sharpened recall and reduced dementia risk. In the inactive control group, that part of the brain shrunk and memory got fuzzier. The routine: 40 minutes of aerobic walking three times weekly, which increased oxygen flow to the brain and levels of the neuron-booster BDNF. (As a brain-saver, exercise even beats puzzles.)
It'll Get You More (Birthday) Cake
Work out just 15 minutes a day—and you get an extra three years of life, found a study at the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan of more than 400,000 people. (And more means more: 30 minutes daily gets you four years more than a couch potato.) Cancer rates among exercisers dropped by 10 percent; heart disease by 20 percent. Granted, these are just statistics, but they're inspiring—and they apply both to super-jocks and to those of us who only grudgingly break a sweat.
It'll Protect Your Last Nerve
Okay, we're not saying that nothing will bother you. But you'll likely find that your fitter self is more resilient to slights, pressure and disappointments. Aerobic exercise increases the "fight-or-flight threshold," says John Ratey, MD, in his exercise science book, Spark—by relaxing muscles, boosting mood-moderating neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) and reducing the body's stress response to the hormone cortisol.
Next: How your nose can control your brain
Next: How your nose can control your brain