Though some people actually love physical activity and look forward to it, for many of us, exercising is a mighty drag. Exercise has also had an added PR problem in recent years: A growing body of evidence has shown that it’s not all that good for weight loss, which was probably many people’s reason for doing it in the first place. It may help with weight a little, especially for maintenance, but by and large, if you want to drop pounds, the most effective way is to eat less, not necessarily to exercise more. That said, research in recent years has also illustrated quite persuasively what exercise is good for—and it is actually good for a number of things, including some very profound things, like reducing dementia risk. Here’s what science tells us we should probably keep exercising for, even though we may not love every minute of it.


As little as 30 minutes of cardio three to five days a week will add six years to your life, according to research at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Do that plus a couple of days of resistance training and you'll not only live longer but also look younger, feel happier, have more energy, and stay slim. Ready for some inspiration for getting your move on? Keep reading for our timeline on the quick and long-lasting benefits of regular exercise.
At least 35% of all cancer deaths may be related to overweight and lack of activity, the Seattle Cancer Research Centre has found. Exercise is believed to speed the passage of food through the colon, thereby reducing the amount of time that any toxins are in contact with the body. Overweight people also tend to have more insulin, which promotes the growth of tumours. For women, exercise reduces the level of oestrogen, a hormone linked to breast cancer.

No matter what your age or shape, you should exercise daily. Not only does exercise tone your body so you can wear your favorite jeans, it strengthens your muscles, keeps your bones strong, and improves your skin. And there are more benefits of exercise -- increased relaxation, better sleep and mood, strong immune function, and more. Let's look at some of the incredible benefits of exercise then talk about how you can get started.
HOW TO DO IT: Assume a wide sumo stance with your feet farther than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out slightly. Drop your weight into your heels and lower your hips until your palms reach the box without rounding your lower back. Jump your feet back into a plank. Reverse the movement and repeat for 30 to 60 seconds. Add height to the box if the movement is too difficult.
Strength training, whether you’re lifting weights, doing bodyweight exercises or incorporating yoga moves, helps improve muscle strength and muscle mass, particularly important as we age. (8) It also keeps bones strong, thus serving as a great natural treatment for osteoporosis. Plus, increased muscle helps your body burn calories more efficiently long after your workout is over.
The benefits of exercise diminish within weeks after a person stops exercising. Heart strength, muscle strength, and the level of HDL cholesterol decrease, whereas blood pressure and body fat increase. Even former athletes who stop exercising do not retain measurable long-term benefits. However, people who were physically active in the past often can regain fitness faster.
The bent-over row exercise develops the biceps and posterior deltoids, and also strengthens the core. Stand up tall with a weight in each hand, palms facing your body and arms by your sides. Bend over from the waist, hinging from the hips, until you are at a 45-degree angle. Keep your back straight, bend your elbows to 90 degrees and drive your elbows back as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Contract your abdominals throughout the exercise to maintain stability in this position. Return to start and repeat 10 to 12 times or until fatigue sets in for two to three sets.
Arm-strengthening exercises alone will not give you fat-free arms. Rather, you need to lose excess fatty layers surrounding muscles with cardio. Cardiovascular exercise burns off calories for weight-loss all over the body, including the arms. Schedule five 45- to 60-minute cardio sessions per week of activities that raise the heart rate such as jogging, running, hiking, biking, swimming or step aerobics. Work out at a moderate pace such that you are working up a sweat but can still carry on a light conversation to avoid burning out 10 minutes into your session.
Most people end a tough workout with a hot shower, but maybe we should be breaking out the colored pencils instead. A heart-pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards Exercise enhances creativity independently of mood. Steinberg H, Sykes EA, Moss T, Lowery S, LeBoutillier N, Dewey A. The British Journal of Sports Medicine. 1997 September;31(3):240-245.. Supercharge post-workout inspiration by exercising outdoors and interacting with nature (see benefit #4) The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Berman, M.G., Jonides, J., Kaplan, S. Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Psychological Science, 2008 Dec;19(12):1207-12.. Next time you need a burst of creative thinking, hit the trails for a long walk or run to refresh the body and the brain at the same time.
Get out of the medicine cabinet and reduce your risk of heart disease the natural way. A meta-review of a variety of studies and trials conducted by researchers in 2013 ­— encompassing 305 trials with more than 339,000 participants — found that no statistically detectable differences existed between those who exercised and those who were given medications in the prevention of coronary heart disease and prediabetes. (4)
FIT TIP: To trim your tummy, do fewer crunches and more planks: Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips, then lower forearms to floor and extend legs straight behind you, balancing on toes. Keeping abs engaged and back flat, hold for 30 seconds; do 10 reps three or four times a week. Limit crunches to no more than three sets of 15 at a time. Anything beyond that isn't doing you much good, experts say.
Most people find they can't do a full minute of press-ups without their muscles giving in to begin with. If your muscles fail on you, don't think of it as a point of no return. Instead, take a moment to rest and continue with the exercise for as long as possible, just as you did the abdominal plank. Bit by bit, you'll find your press-up stamina improving.

Mediterranean diet: Traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, shown to reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and dementia. On the menu: Plenty of fruits, vegetables and beans, along with olive oil, nuts, whole grains, seafood; moderate amounts of low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese and poultry; small amounts of red meat and sweets; and wine, in moderation, with meals.


Try tennis or another racket sport. Racket sports like tennis or squash are great for building arm muscles and for a total body workout. Join a recreational tennis league in your area or take tennis lessons from the tennis pro at your gym. If a family member enjoys playing squash or racquetball, ask them to give you lessons and practice your skills. You should notice marked improvements in your arm strength and better arm muscle definition the more you play racket sports.

Now for the real solution: a 20-minute workout you can do at home. No commute to the health club, no traffic, no packing the gym bag, no waiting for the power rack to open up. Below is a great, quick workout you can do at home (or in a hotel room if you’re on the road) that focuses on the legs, chest and abs. It requires no equipment and, if done with purpose, is intense enough to give you a great pump and shock your system something fierce. Give it a try next time you’re trapped at home and have the training itch.
Could the key to being more productive and happier at work lie in exercise? One study thinks so. It found that those employees who worked out before work or during their lunch hour reported feeling less stress and being happier and more productive than days when they skipped a workout. (11) Not only that, but they also performed better on exercise days. It’s the perfect excuse for a lunchtime stroll or walking meeting.

Start the clock, and immediately do 10 pushups in perfect form. When you’re done with the pushups, go straight into jumping jacks until the clock reads 1:00. Then move on to the next move, spider lunges (total, not per side). Do 10 of those with good form, and then jumping jacks until the minute is up. Then move on to the next move — 10 perfect reps of the jumping lunges, and then do jumping jacks until the end of the minute. And finish up with 10 perfect walkouts.

Exercise acts as a temporary diversion to daily stresses and it improves self-esteem. Increased core temperature during exercise may lead to reduced muscle tension and favourable alterations in brain neurotransmitters. Mood improvements may also occur due to the increased secretion of endogenous (internal) opiates, e.g. endorphins. Psychological changes may occur because of changes in norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, all hormones which can affect mood and anxiety levels.
For the greatest overall health benefits, experts recommend that you do 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three or more times a week and some type of muscle strengthening activity and stretching at least twice a week. However, if you are unable to do this level of activity, you can gain substantial health benefits by accumulating 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity a day, at least five times a week.
Instead, focus on living the healthy, well-fueled and physically active lifestyle that you know you need to lead anyway. By doing that, you'll see far greater results in the arm department, anyway, Mendez says. Through a combination of balanced eating (hit all three macros at every meal!) and performing a combination of high-intensity interval cardio and strength training, you'll naturally shed fat all over, including around your arms, explains Lauren Williams, C.P.T., a trainer at PROJECT Equinox.

Whether it’s a pick-up game of soccer, a group class at the gym, or just a run with a friend, exercise rarely happens in a bubble. And that’s good news for all of us. Studies show that most people perform better on aerobic tests when paired up with a workout buddy Aerobic exercise is promoted when individual performance affects the group: a test of the Kohler motivation gain effect. Irwin, B.C., Scorniaenchi, J., Kerr, N.L. et al. Kinesiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2012;44(2):151-9.. Pin it to inspiration or good old-fashioned competition, nobody wants to let the other person down. In fact, being part of a team is so powerful that it can actually raise athletes’ tolerances for pain Rowers’ high: behavioural synchrony is correlated with elevated pain thresholds. Cohen EE, Ejsmond-Frey R, Knight N, Dunbar RI. Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Biology Letters 2010 February 23;6(1):106-8.. Even fitness beginners can inspire each other to push harder during a sweat session, so find a workout buddy and get moving! Two-playered partner exergame for obesity prevention: using discrepancy in players’ abilities as a strategy to motivate physical activity. Feltz, D.L., Irwin, B., Kerr, N. Department of Kinesiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology 2012; 6(4):820-7.


Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT500 is faculty in kinesiology and integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University and professor of yoga studies at MiraCosta College, where she helps to grow and mentor the next generation of health and wellness professionals. A dynamic speaker, respected educator, fitness industry veteran and featured wellness expert, Jessica is a trusted and recognized go-to media resource, regularly contributing to numerous publications and outlines on topics ranging from fitness and yoga, to health coaching and career development. Additionally, she serves as ACE’s senior advisor for health and fitness education, and is the lead editor and author of the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Handbook: The Professional’s Guide to Creating Memorable Movement Experiences. You can connect with her at www.jessica-matthews.com, @fitexpertjess (Twitter and Instagram) and www.facebook.com/fitexpertjess.
Begin in a plank position on the forearms. Press the hips up toward the ceiling while staying on the forearms (like an upside 'v') and gently press the heels to the floor. Hold briefly, then come back to your plank and push up onto the hands. Hold (back straight) for a few counts and then press back into a downward dog, stretching the heels to the floor and the chest gently through the arms. Come back into your plank, lower down to the elbows and repeat the entire series.
Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice. Mustroph ML, Chen S, Desai SC, Cay EB, DeYoung EK, Rhodes JS. Neuroscience Program, The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. Neuroscience. 2012 September 6;219:62-71. Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males. Griffin EW, Mullally S, Foley C, Warmington SA, O’Mara SM, Kelly AM. Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Physiology & Behavior. 2011 October 24;104(5):934-41.. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed. 
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