Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin’ bod, but working out has above-the-neck benefits, too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level (yup, this includes everyone from mall-walkers to marathoners), studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Get inspired to exercise by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships, and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.
A study published in October 2017 in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggested that even just one hour of exercise of any intensity each week can help prevent depression. The study monitored levels of exercise and symptoms of depression and anxiety in 33,908 adults over 11 years and found that even small amounts of physical activity had a protective effect against depression, regardless of the person’s age or gender.
A 2002 study examined three groups of people. Group one, the control group, was told to track how often each person exercised throughout the week. The second group, the motivation group, was given the same instructions, but also read a motivational speech. Group three, the intention group, added on to the previous groups by asking people to create a plan that set a specific day, time and place to exercise.
But the idea that banging out a workout when you don't have access to your usual equipment or space is one that trainers are quick to debunk. Sure, they know their way around a gym floor and a smart workout program, but they also know that when you're traveling, ultra busy, or just don't feel like dealing with the gym, a routine of challenging bodyweight exercises will get the job done.
Challenge yourself with 2-2-2 push ups. If you feel comfortable with tricep push ups, you may want to try a variation on tricep pushups. The “2-2-2” push ups refer to 3 sets of 2 push ups using different hand placements: narrow, regular, and wide. The narrow push ups will work your tricep muscles and the wide push ups will work your chest muscles.[3]
“Body fat is structurally important,” explains Stefanie Mendez, R.D., co-founder of Matriarch, a women's fitness and nutrition service. “It cushions our organs and insulates our body for temperature control and also is our body’s source of energy reserves. Beyond that, fat is needed for the production of hormones and reproduction functions.” And that fat can show up in your thighs, your belly, and, yes, your upper arms. Where it goes is partly due to genetics; if your mom has arm fat, science says you have a 62 percent chance of inheriting that trait.
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.
Stand with your legs wide apart, toes turned out and arms at your sides. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor and you're low enough to touch it with your fingertips (A). Immediately jump up as high as you can, keeping your legs wide and extending your arms straight overhead (B). That's one rep. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
Ah, the push-up. While lunges are a unilateral exercise, push-ups are a compound exercise. Compound exercises use several muscle groups at once. This classic move engages your core, biceps, triceps, deltoids, and lower body—and that’s just to keep you stabilized. Using this many muscle groups at once causes your heart to work harder to get oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. So, in short, push-ups can also be a form of cardiovascular exercise that increases heart health.

Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor, approximately hip-width distance apart. Lift the left leg up so that the leg is straight and the thighs are parallel. As you exhale, keep the core engaged and lift the hips off the floor. Hold for one to two seconds, and slowly lower down to starting position. Complete 10 to 12 reps on the right side before switching to the left.
Borden is a fan of all types of glute bridges for activating your glutes, especially when you're on the road. "Traveling means sitting a lot," she says. "When we sit a lot, our hamstrings [and] hip flexors all shorten and tighten up." Over time, this can make it challenging for your glutes to engage the way they're supposed to, in the gym and in day-to-day life (this is also known as dead butt syndrome). Incorporating glute bridges in your routine can help combat this.
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.
You'll also build muscle to fill out your arms and firm them up. “Generally, when people are complaining about underarm jiggle, they’re usually referring to the area that is governed by the tricep,” says Williams. “If the jiggle or looseness in that part of your arm is due to a lack of muscle, then strengthening and building muscle in your tricep will also create some change in the aesthetic of that area.” She recommends performing triceps push-ups, extensions, and dips to hone in on that area and add some muscular definition to your arms.
You've cut your cancer risk. In a study of more than 14,800 women, those who had the highest levels of aerobic fitness were 55 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than those who were sedentary. Women considered moderately fit had about a 33 percent lower risk of developing the disease. Exercise may also help protect against endometrial, lung, and ovarian cancer, researchers say.
McAlpine's favorite on-the-go exercise is a classic for a reason: Push-ups are one of the most effective bodyweight exercises around. "Primarily, this move will target your chest, triceps, and your anterior deltoid muscles (the front of your shoulders)," says McAlpine. It also seriously works your core. Plus, there's something that just feels badass about working on push-ups and seeing yourself improve over time. "I personally love that feeling of strength that comes from this simple move," says McAlpine.
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