Maybe you exercise to tone your thighs, build your biceps, or flatten your belly. Or maybe you work out to ward off the big killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But how about sweating to improve your mind? "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. "Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." If you need a little extra incentive to lace up those sneakers, here are five ways that exercise can boost your brainpower.
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.
Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, toes angled out slightly. Keep your core engaged as you hinge at the hips, lowering into a sumo squat position while simultaneously keeping the hands positioned in front of the chest. Release the hands to the floor and jump or step back to a high-plank position; be sure to maintain a neutral spine. Reverse the squat thrust, jumping or stepping feet back toward the hands and rising up to the starting position. Complete a total of eight to 10 reps.
Get out of the medicine cabinet and reduce your risk of heart disease the natural way. A meta-review of a variety of studies and trials conducted by researchers in 2013 — encompassing 305 trials with more than 339,000 participants — found that no statistically detectable differences existed between those who exercised and those who were given medications in the prevention of coronary heart disease and prediabetes. (4)
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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.
Whether we’re fully conscious of it or not, we’re always looking for how to be happy. And exercise is one of the most obvious steps to take, as it’s not a coincidence that you feel better after a good workout: It’s science. A Penn State University study found that people who exercised, whether it was a mild, moderate or vigorous workout, had more pleasant feelings than those who didn’t. (1)
The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol (and more rarely, food and sex). On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery Aerobic exercise for alcohol recovery: rationale, program description, and preliminary findings. Brown RA, Abrantes AM, Read JP, Marcus BH, Jakicic J, Strong DR, Oakley JR, Ramsey SE, Kahler CW, Stuart GG, Dubreuil ME, Gordon AA. Behavior Modification. 2009 March;33(2):20-249.. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term) The acute effects of exercise on cigarette cravings, withdrawal symptoms, affect and smoking behaviour: a systematic review. Taylor AH, Ussher MH, Faulkner G. Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK. Addiction. 2007 April;102(4):534-43. Acute effect of a brief bout of exercise on alcohol urges. Ussher M, Sampuran AK, Doshi R, West R, Drummond DC. Department of Community Health Services (Psychology), St. George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London, UK. Addiction. 2004 December;99(12):1542-7.. Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. As a result, alcoholics find they can’t fall asleep (or stay asleep) without drinking. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, helping people hit the hay at the right time.
Bicep curls are a great way to get rid of pesky arm fat by burning fat and building the muscles underneath the fat. This is a crucial part of learning how to burn fat on your arm; you can’t just reduce calories b/c you’ll still have flabby, but smaller arms. For toned arms that you feel good about showing off you need strength training exercises like bicep curls to build lean muscles while you burn away the excess fat.
Another way lunges differ from traditional squats is that they train each leg individually. This is known as unilateral training. Rather than solely improving your strength, unilateral exercises increase your balance and coordination. This brings your core and back strength into play. Focusing on one leg at a time with lunges can even help with symmetry and muscular imbalances.
Rough day at the office? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So go ahead and get sweaty — working out can reduce stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!
Well, good (bad?) news: People who have dedicated their professional lives to defying Newton's First Law (you know them as "personal trainers") don't often have the luxury of skipping a sweat session. Next time you find yourself in need of a workout but without any of the things you think you need to get one, we got them to share the best workouts and circuits and exercises you can do anyway—no gear required.
HOW TO DO IT: Start in a high plank. Push your hips back without arching your lower back until your knees flex to about 90 degrees. Pause for a beat, then explosively extend through your knees, ankles and hips while also pulling with your upper back as you lower into the bottom of a push-up. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides to protect your shoulders. Skip the push-up and just maintain a hold if you need it to be easier.
And exercise stimulates the endocrine system and can improve reproductive function, explains Berger. The endocrine system is made up of glands that secrete hormones in the body; this system plays a key role in regulating metabolism, mood, tissue function, and sexual function. Bottom line: There are a lot of ways your sex life can get a boost from working out.
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.