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.
In addition to recommending exercise for general health and well-being, doctors may prescribe specific exercise plans in some situations. Before elective surgery, doctors may recommend people participate in exercise routines to enhance their recovery from surgery. Doctors also prescribe specific exercise programs to rehabilitate people after serious injuries or disorders such as heart attacks, strokes, major surgery, or injury (see Overview of Rehabilitation).
“Telomeres are a good index of cellular aging,” says study author Larry Tucker of Brigham Young University. “In short, because of lifestyle differences, some adults are older biologically than their chronological age, while others are younger. Given the same chronological age, adults who engage in high levels of physical activity have nine years’ less cell aging than sedentary individuals. That is substantial and meaningful.”
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)
“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.
In addition to its other benefits, regular exercise helps older people remain independent by improving functional ability and by preventing falls and fractures (see also Exercise in the Elderly). It can strengthen the muscles of even the frailest older person living in a nursing or retirement home. It tends to increase appetite, reduce constipation, and promote quality sleep.
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.