Even when you have the best intentions, sometimes, it can be really, really hard to drag yourself to the gym. Whether your bed or brunch plans are calling your name, sidestepping workout plans is all too easy when you’re feeling tired, stressed, and your willpower is running dangerously low. Finding the motivation to work out doesn’t have to be about getting stronger or leaner. Sometimes those are goals, and sometimes they aren't, and there are a 1,001 other amazing reasons to lace up your sneakers or unroll your yoga mat that have absolutely nothing to do with losing weight. Here are 11 of our favorites.
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.
FIT TIP: If you exercised on an empty or almost-empty stomach, you're probably feeling light-headed or even nauseated or headachy. Your immediate food fix: A high-carb nosh, like a banana or half a bagel, will refuel you and kick-start your recovery. And don't forget to drink plenty of water with your snack. Intense or long workouts can leave you dehydrated.
If you struggle with a touch of fatigue, exercise might be just what the doctor ordered. According to a study from the University of Georgia, the blood flow benefits from exercise help carry oxygen and nutrients to muscles, which helps them produce more energy. They found that even low-to-moderate intensity exercise for just 20 minutes a day, three days a week for six weeks can help with that can't-keep-my-eyes-open feeling.
In addition to its other benefits, regular exercise helps older people remain independent by improving functional ability and by preventing falls and fractures (see also Exercise in the Elderly). It can strengthen the muscles of even the frailest older person living in a nursing or retirement home. It tends to increase appetite, reduce constipation, and promote quality sleep.
Lovitt likes to combine two lower-body classics—a curtsy lunge and reverse lunge—into one creative exercise to mix things up. "It’s a fun, effective compound movement." Compound movements are exercises that engage more than one major muscle group, so you get more work done in less time—this one primarily works your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and inner thighs (and helps keep things fresh if you're bored of working your lower body with regular bodyweight squats or lunges). This specific combination goes like this: curtsy lunge, reverse lunge, hop (bonus!), reverse lunge, repeat.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your feet together and hold both arms straight in front of you, palms together. Jump your feet apart, push your hips back, bend your knees and lower into a squat while pulling your arms apart and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Shift your weight over your right leg, and then your left leg, then right and left again before returning back to center and standing back up. Gradually increase your speed and range of motion throughout the set.
HOW TO DO IT: Assume a seated position with your palms loaded, hands underneath your shoulders and knees bent at 90-degrees with your feet underneath your hips. Raise your hips so your butt hovers above the ground, and then move your right hand and left foot forward. Continue this opposite-hand, opposite-food pattern as you crawl for 30 to 60 seconds. You can add difficulty by traveling backwards or side-to-side.
Exercise has long been linked to better sleep, according to a review article published in December 2014 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Other research suggests exercise may improve sleep and mood in people with insomnia, too, according to a study published in October 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research. Conversely, poor quality sleep has been linked to a wide array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. Given the fact that getting adequate sleep is so crucial for good health, and that exercise is a low-cost, easily accessible solution that offers lots of other health benefits with no risk or side effects, giving exercise a try to improve sleep is a no-brainer.
Protein and fat loss go hand in hand. This nutrient supports muscle growth and raises your metabolism, making it easier to slim down. It also promotes satiety and reduces hunger, so you'll eat less without even realizing it. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that high-protein diets can positively impact appetite, cardiometabolic risk factors, body weight and other factors.
But here’s the most important thing to remember about arm fat: It’s totally normal. So many women have it because, thanks to our higher estrogen levels, we store more fat than men. On average, women carry 6 to 11 percent more body fat than men do, according to Australian research. After all, women need a certain amount of fat to be healthy—a minimum of 12 percent of their total weight, to be exact, should come from essential fat, which is found in your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines, muscles, and tissues of the central nervous system, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
• Boosts energy and brainpower. College requires a fair amount of energy and lots of brainpower to keep up with classes and other activities. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to the brain and various tissues. This means you can concentrate better and think clearly. Plus, because exercise helps your lungs and heart, you have more energy to do other things.
Stand with your feet placed shoulder width apart and arms extend straight to your sides, raised at shoulder height. Now, do 50 small circles with your hands by rotating them in the forward direction. Then switch to 50 small backward circles. The backward and forward arm movement tones all the muscles of the arms including the triceps, biceps, shoulders and back muscles as well.
It boosts immunity. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of certain serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. It can also decrease your chances of developing -- and getting stuck with -- more common illnesses, such as flus and colds. (According to one recent study, colds lasted 43 percent longer for people who exercised once a week or less.)
Additionally, make sure you stay active and keep moving to get your cardio up. When working out, focus on bigger muscle groups like the quads, glutes, back, and chest, rather than the smaller muscles like the triceps, or biceps. This will lead to a higher expenditure of energy, which will, in turn, lead to increased fat loss. Once you’ve achieved your desired approximate silhouette, the tips below will help refine your shape further.
Begin in a forearm plank position. Press the right hand into the floor and then the left hand, rising to a high-plank position. Rotate your body to the right and extend the left arm toward the sky for a side-plank variation, allowing the left leg to scissor over the top of the right, with the inner edge of the left foot and the outer edge of the right foot touching the floor. Return to plank position. Release the right forearm back down to the floor and then the left forearm to return to the starting position. Repeat the sequence, this time starting with the left hand and coming to a left side-plank position. Continue the movement pattern without pausing, alternating sides. Complete a total of 10 to 12 reps (five to six reps per side).
And perhaps one of the best new findings about exercise — especially if you, like many people, struggle to find the time to fit it into a busy day — is that all those benefits of physical activity can be had even if you only squeeze in a few minutes of exercise a day. While doctors used to think that we needed to engage in 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, new research is finding that we can see benefits with shorter bursts of physical activity. “As little as 15 minutes a day of high-intensity activity that leaves you breathless, like swimming, can kick start your metabolic rate and reduce body fat and increase muscle mass,” says Dr. Berger.