Exercise can have a number of emotional benefits. Stress can be caused by elevated levels of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Exercise lowers these hormones, and increases serotonin, otherwise known as the happy hormone, which helps reduce stress. Working out can help keep depression and anxiety at bay. Plus, coping with mood disorders that are often associated with stress can be a little bit easier when you are in good physical shape.
Strength training at the gym or taking a class at a fitness studio is great, but sometimes, you just want to get in your workout at home—or on vacation, or on a work trip, or wherever you may be. While most of us don't have round-the-clock access to a full gym stocked with weights and machines, the truth is that you really can work your entire body without them. Of course, equipment can help and is great for progressing and diversifying a workout program. But if you want to just get moving and do some strength and cardio work wherever you are, that's completely doable with a bodyweight workout.
Get down on all fours with your knees placed directly below your hips and palms placed directly below your shoulders. Now, raise your right arm forward and stretch your left leg backward at the same time. Create a tension in your back by flexing your foot. Hold the position for a few seconds and then come back to the starting position. Repeat the same using your left arm and right leg. Repeat 15 to 20 times on both sides.
You're protecting yourself against colds, flu, you name it. Exercise elevates your level of immunoglobulins, which are proteins that help bolster your immune system and ward off infection. "Every sweat session you do can help strengthen your immune function for about 24 hours," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise.
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.
Although the cardiovascular effects of exercise are partly related to inflammation, they still deserve their own category. Exercise is one of the best-illustrated things we can do for our hearts, and this includes markers like blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition the physical structure of the heart itself, and blood vessel function. Studies have suggested that 30 minutes per day is good enough to keep the heart in shape, while others have suggested we do more than this to get a real effect. Some have found that light activity is even enough to help the heart, but not all research confirms this, so it’s a little hard to tell how low levels of activity affect heart health over the long term. Additionally, too much exercise has also been shown to be stressful to the heart. So all this is to say that there’s probably a sweet spot somewhere in the middle for optimal cardiovascular health.
It’s happened to the best of us: We gear up, cue up a killer cycling routine, and head straight for the gym— only to find out it’s temporarily closed (curse you, maintenance!). With heavy hearts and glutes dying to feel the burn, we sullenly make our way back home. At this point, you may be tempted to give up for the remainder of the day, but don’t change out of your gym clothes just yet! You already have the only workout machine you need on you.
Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't talk about ultra-effective no-equipment exercises without mentioning burpees (especially when there's a push-up incorporated). "The burpee with push-up is a full-body exercise that works your core, arms, quads, glutes, and hamstrings," explains Harbison. "[They also] rapidly increase your heart rate, especially if you add an explosive jump at the end of the movement." Strength, check. Cardio, check.
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.
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.