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.
Exercise has been shown to lengthen lifespan by as much as five years. A small new study suggests that moderate-intensity exercise may slow down the aging of cells. As humans get older and their cells divide over and over again, their telomeres—the protective caps on the end of chromosomes—get shorter. To see how exercise affects telomeres, researchers took a muscle biopsy and blood samples from 10 healthy people before and after a 45-minute ride on a stationary bicycle. They found that exercise increased levels of a molecule that protects telomeres, ultimately slowing how quickly they shorten over time. Exercise, then, appears to slow aging at the cellular level.
It decreases PMS. Women often report feeling irritable and bloated before their periods, but exercise appears to minimize these conditions. In a survey of nearly 2,000 New Zealand women, researchers found that those who exercised, rested and wrote in a journal about their symptoms fared better than those who took specific vitamins or followed other DIY advice.
You're adding lean muscle. If you did a strength-training routine, your muscles are now starting to rebuild themselves and repair the microscopic tears that come with lifting weights, says Paul Gordon, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Physical Activity at the University of Michigan School of Medicine in Ann Arbor. Preliminary research shows that women respond to and recover from resistance training faster than men.
Exercise has long been linked to better sleep, according to a review article published in December 2014 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Other research suggests exercise may improve sleep and mood in people with insomnia, too, according to a study published in October 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research. Conversely, poor quality sleep has been linked to a wide array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. Given the fact that getting adequate sleep is so crucial for good health, and that exercise is a low-cost, easily accessible solution that offers lots of other health benefits with no risk or side effects, giving exercise a try to improve sleep is a no-brainer.
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!
Reduce your consumption of carbs, sugars, and animal fats. Consuming foods high in carbs and sugars will cause your body to secrete insulin, which is a main fat storage hormone in your body. When your insulin levels drop, this allows your body to burn fat. Lower insulin levels also help your kidneys shed excess sodium and water, which will help you reduce any water weight you are carrying.
Start the clock, and do as many squats as you can — while maintaining perfect form — for 30 seconds. Then rest for 10 seconds, and do as many single-leg deadlifts as you can (again, with perfect form) for 30 seconds. Stick to one leg with the deadlifts for the full 30 seconds. Then rest for 10 seconds again. Finish up with 30 seconds of glute bridges. Rest for a minute or two, and then start all over again.
The body uses both carbohydrates and fats as energy sources. But after consistent aerobic exercise training, the body gets better at burning fat, which requires a lot of oxygen to convert it into energy. “One of the benefits of exercise training is that our cardiovascular system gets stronger and better at delivering oxygen, so we are able to metabolize more fat as an energy source,” Hackney says. As a result, your fat cells—which produce the substances responsible for chronic low-grade inflammation—shrink, and so does inflammation.
We get it: You're busy! Career, family, friends, travel, that book club pick you still haven't checked out of the library (much less finished). With all that's going on, it can be tough to make time to hit the gym. Thankfully, you don’t need to go to the gym to achieve fabulously toned arms. Below are some of our favorite arm exercises for women that will help you tone your arm muscles and lose arm fat without weights — on your time. Say goodbye to flabby arms!
Additionally, make sure you stay active and keep moving to get your cardio up. When working out, focus on bigger muscle groups like the quads, glutes, back, and chest, rather than the smaller muscles like the triceps, or biceps. This will lead to a higher expenditure of energy, which will, in turn, lead to increased fat loss. Once you’ve achieved your desired approximate silhouette, the tips below will help refine your shape further.
Step forward with the left foot and lower into a lunge, keeping the front knee behind the toe. Push into the heel to step back and immediately step out to the left and into a squat. Press back to start and take the left leg back into a reverse lunge, again keeping the front knee behind the toe. Bring the left leg back to start and repeat for all reps before switching sides.
“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.
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.