Exercise and physical activity are a great way to feel better, boost your health and have fun. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Examples include running, walking or swimming. Fit in strength training for all the major muscle groups at least twice a week by lifting free weights, using weight machines or doing body-weight exercises.
Countless studies show that many types of exercise, from walking to cycling, make people feel better and can even relieve symptoms of depression. Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine—that dull pain, lighten mood and relieve stress. “For years we focused almost exclusively on the physical benefits of exercise and really have ignored the psychological and emotional benefits of being regularly active,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.
The biggest issue most people face in terms of the appearance of their arms isn’t a lack of muscle definition, it’s excess fat, meaning that what you’re eating is as crucial for fixing the problem as the amount you’re exercising. Instead of grabbing an electrolyte drink after your workout, try adding some grapefruit juice to your routine; researchers at Vanderbilt University found that obese study subjects who sipped a half-cup serving of grapefruit juice before meals significantly reduced their weight and BMI when compared to those who drank water instead. Fortunately, when you lose fat, it disappears all over your body, so a few sips of real grapefruit juice —the fresh, no sugar added stuff— can help you ditch those batwings for good.
One of the easiest ways to tone those arms fast is by incorporating some bicep curls into your routine. Simply raising and lowering a weight in a 180-degree range of motion, starting with your arm extended along your side, and bringing it up toward your shoulder, can yield serious definition in a hurry. Fortunately, this exercise doesn’t require a fancy gym membership or even special equipment; while it’s not hard to find a set of dumbbells for under $10, you can also use household products, like gallon jugs of water or soup cans to get the same result.
While a Bulgarian split squat isn't technically a zero-equipment move, they can still be done pretty much anytime, anywhere. "It activates many muscle groups and can be performed with any lifted surface, like a couch, bench, small table, or even an airport chair," says DiDomenico. The move is a major lower-body burner—you'll feel it in your quads, glutes, inner thighs, hamstrings, and even your calves.
Because exercise helps use up oxygen, it causes your body to burn stored fat and helps you maintain a normal weight. For instance, if you walk 4 miles a day four times a week, you can burn about 1,600 calories or nearly half a pound a week. If you don't change your diet at all and keep walking the same distance over six months, you'll lose 12 pounds. Walk the same distance for a year and you'll drop 24 pounds.
Exercise has long been correlated with a longer life, but it’s only recently started to become clear why this might be. Studies, like a new one in the journal Preventive Medicine which found that exercise is linked to longer caps at the ends of chromosomes, have helped flesh this out a bit more. These caps, called telomeres, naturally shorten as we age, with each cell division. People who live a long time have telomeres that are in better shape than those who don’t—but there’s a lot we can do to affect the rate at which they shorten over the years. The team behind the new study looked at data from CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that for people who exercised regularly, their telomeres were 140 base pairs longer on average than sedentary people's. Which correlates to being years “younger” than their sedentary peers.