Even when you have the best intentions, sometimes, it can be really, really hard to drag yourself to the gym. Whether your bed or brunch plans are calling your name, sidestepping workout plans is all too easy when you’re feeling tired, stressed, and your willpower is running dangerously low. Finding the motivation to work out doesn’t have to be about getting stronger or leaner. Sometimes those are goals, and sometimes they aren't, and there are a 1,001 other amazing reasons to lace up your sneakers or unroll your yoga mat that have absolutely nothing to do with losing weight. Here are 11 of our favorites.
FIT TIP: To trim your tummy, do fewer crunches and more planks: Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips, then lower forearms to floor and extend legs straight behind you, balancing on toes. Keeping abs engaged and back flat, hold for 30 seconds; do 10 reps three or four times a week. Limit crunches to no more than three sets of 15 at a time. Anything beyond that isn't doing you much good, experts say.
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.
Even very vigorous exercise—like the interval workouts Gibala is studying—can, in fact, be appropriate for people with different chronic conditions, from Type 2 diabetes to heart failure. That’s new thinking, because for decades, people with certain diseases were advised not to exercise. Now scientists know that far more people can and should exercise. A recent analysis of more than 300 clinical trials discovered that for people recovering from a stroke, exercise was even more effective at helping them rehabilitate.
Exercise has long been correlated with a longer life, but it’s only recently started to become clear why this might be. Studies, like a new one in the journal Preventive Medicine which found that exercise is linked to longer caps at the ends of chromosomes, have helped flesh this out a bit more. These caps, called telomeres, naturally shorten as we age, with each cell division. People who live a long time have telomeres that are in better shape than those who don’t—but there’s a lot we can do to affect the rate at which they shorten over the years. The team behind the new study looked at data from CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that for people who exercised regularly, their telomeres were 140 base pairs longer on average than sedentary people's. Which correlates to being years “younger” than their sedentary peers.
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Lovitt likes to combine two lower-body classics—a curtsy lunge and reverse lunge—into one creative exercise to mix things up. "It’s a fun, effective compound movement." Compound movements are exercises that engage more than one major muscle group, so you get more work done in less time—this one primarily works your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and inner thighs (and helps keep things fresh if you're bored of working your lower body with regular bodyweight squats or lunges). This specific combination goes like this: curtsy lunge, reverse lunge, hop (bonus!), reverse lunge, repeat.
"Losing weight, stopping smoking and doing more exercise are associated with better sexual health," says Dr Andrew McCullough, director of Male Sexual Health, Fertility and Microsurgery at New York University Medical Center in New York City. "We talk so much about treating, treating, treating. Here we're beginning to see an increasing body of evidence that we can modify the appearance of this by changing lifestyle."
This may be the most worthwhile reason for exercising there is. Studies have shown how people who exercise are at a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. And even for people who start exercising relatively late in life, brain volume can actually increase over time, as can scores on memory tests, compared to people who don’t exercise (their brains shrunk over time, which is normal part of aging).
It zaps anxiety. Ever notice that you can start a workout feeling stressed and anxious, and end it feeling good? It isn't in your head. Or, actually, it is: According to a new study from Princeton University, exercise appears to change the chemistry of the brain by causing the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps quiet brain activity and minimize anxiety. The study found that people who ran regularly had a low reaction to stressful situations, even if they hadn't run in more than 24 hours.
3. It strengthens the lungs. Working hard increases lung capacity, and their efficiency in moving air in and out of the body. As a result, more oxygen is drawn into the body and more carbon dioxide and other waste gases are expelled. Regular exercise helps prevent the decline in oxygen intake that occurs naturally with age or as a result of inactivity.
FIT TIP: If you exercised on an empty or almost-empty stomach, you're probably feeling light-headed or even nauseated or headachy. Your immediate food fix: A high-carb nosh, like a banana or half a bagel, will refuel you and kick-start your recovery. And don't forget to drink plenty of water with your snack. Intense or long workouts can leave you dehydrated.
If you are trying to lose flabby arms, it would help to include more protein in your diet. Protein rich food will help you build more muscle and help boost your metabolism, thus helping you burn more calories. Another reason to include more protein in your diet is that it will help you feel full for a longer time, making it easier to not cave into hunger pangs between meals. Remember, the aim is to just up the intake of protein, not limiting your entire diet to just protein. Include more of lean meats, beans, nuts, seeds, seafood and leafy vegetables to lose flabby arms.