If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you know that exercise should be an essential part of your routine. But the benefits of physical activity go far beyond just physical fitness. Increasingly, more and more research is showing that working out regularly can boost other aspects of your health as well, including cognitive function and emotional well-being.
One doesn't automatically associate regular exercise with a reduction in the number of colds people get. But researchers from the University of Carolina found that people who exercised regularly were 23% less likely to get colds than those who exercised less. And if those who exercised got colds, the symptoms disappeared more quickly than in the study participants who did little exercise.
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.
Start the clock, and immediately do 10 plank taps in perfect form. When you’re done with the plank taps, go straight into jumping jacks until the clock reads 1:00. Then move on to the next move, walkouts, and do 10 perfect reps of those. Jumping jacks again until the clock reads 2:00. When you get to single-leg deadlifts, do 10 of those perfectly — stay on the same standing leg throughout — and finish out the minute with jumping jacks until it’s time for the next move at minute 3. Finish the circuit with 10 perfect jumping lunges.
“Inactivity is associated with increased risk for a number of cancers, including colon and breast cancer,” McCleary says. “Exercise has been linked with a decreased risk of developing cancer, death from cancer, and recurrence of certain cancers.” The suggested mechanisms at play include exercise’s beneficial effects on the immune and surveillance systems that detect and kill cancer cells, improved cardio-respiratory status, improved hormonal profiles, weight maintenance, and other beneficial metabolic effects, he says.
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.
Really work on burning that fat by going as hard as you possibly can. None of these workouts are going to be as effective as they can be if you're not going at your maximum intensity. Don't worry about the person near you. Don't compare yourself to other people. Just go as hard as you possibly can and have fun doing the thing, ladies and gentlemen. Keep on killing it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The skin also serves as a release point for heat. (See “Why Does My Face Turn Red When I Exercise?” for more on that.) When you exercise, your muscles generate a lot of heat, which you have to give up to the environment so your body temperature doesn’t get too high, Hackney says. The heat in the muscle transfers to the blood, which shuttles it to the skin; it can then escape into the atmosphere.
A little healthy competition can motivate you to push yourself further in your workout regimen. There are apps like Zombies, Run! which turns your run into a video game, and MyFitnessPal which allows you to connect with others in the exercise community. Whether you’re directly competing with a friend, an online community, or against your previous self, setting goals is the key to reaching them. Running with no destination can feel like an impossible task, and it’s easy to get distracted.
If you're ready to move on from classic Bulgarian split squats, Swan's amped-up variation gets your upper body in on the action for a true total-body exercise. "This combination move works your legs, butt, chest, back, arms, and core," she says. "And it not only hits all the major muscle groups—it also lets you work on balance." Give it a shot and you'll see why.