8 Benefits of Exercise That Might Surprise You
Exercise does your mind and body good almost instantly. The moment you hit the pavement for a run, ace your first burpee or stretch your way into a yoga class, your body starts to reap the benefits.
As your heart rate increases and blood gets delivered to your muscles, you start burning calories for fuel, and all those wonderful endorphins flood your brain. Your body feels better, your brain feels brighter, and your self-esteem and confidence skyrocket.
Whether you’re starting to work out, or you have a regular routine, you’re probably familiar with the most common benefits of exercise, like increased cardiovascular health, better stamina, muscle strength and lowered blood sugar.
Here’s the good news: a good sweat session does all that – plus much more. Read on to discover eight pretty incredible benefits of exercise that often get overlooked.
- The health benefits of exercise
- The physical benefits of exercise
- The mental benefits of exercise
- The emotional benefits of exercise
The health benefits of exercise
It’s easy to focus on the physical benefits of exercise like toning and muscle mass, but there are loads of added health benefits of being regularly active.
You’ll improve the quality (and quantity) of your sleep
If you have trouble falling asleep or wake feeling lethargic, making exercise part of your regular routine could be your secret weapon to getting your sleeping habits back on track.
Exercise raises your core body temperature, which signals to the body clock that it’s time to be awake. After about 90 minutes, your internal thermostat will drop back to its natural range, which triggers feelings of drowsiness and helps you drop off to sleep.
Being physically active also means you expend more energy throughout the day, which helps you feel ready to rest at bedtime. Exercise can also work wonders at stablising your mood and decompressing the mind, which is important for naturally transitioning to sleep.
You’ll feel more energetic and alert
Feeling exhausted? It’s easy to think that a workout will leave you feeling worn out – especially when you’re already tired – but regular exercise can actually increase energy levels.
You may have noticed you breathe more heavily when you exercise. That’s because physical exertion increases your body’s need for oxygen and, over time, also increases lung capacity. This means your body is able to get more oxygen to your brain, helping you feel more awake, alert and ready to go.
As well as sending more oxygen to your brain, exercising gets your blood pumping, too! A sweaty workout helps your blood circulate more efficiently, which gets more oxygen to your muscles, which play a huge role in heightening energy production.
You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to reap the benefits of exercise either. All types of fitness, from high-intensity training (HIIT) and strength training at home to a gentle jog around the block can help shake off feelings of fatigue and exhaustion.
If you’re unsure, make a deal with yourself to get moving for just 10 minutes. Chances are that once you start, you'll feel so much better that it will be hard to stop.
The physical benefits of exercise
When we think of the physical benefits of exercise, we tend to focus on the shape and tone of our muscles, but regular exercise can also have a profound effect on the rest of our body, too.
Your skin will look brighter
Ever looked in the mirror after working out and been alarmed by the red face staring back at you? Don’t stress – this change in appearance is actually good for you!
Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the skin, which helps to feed the skin vital nutrients, hormones and oxygen. This can give the skin – especially our face – a healthy glow and plump experience. Do whatever exercise you like, but go hard enough so that your heart rate picks up. Cardio, high-intensity training (HIIT) or strength training are all great options.
Increased blood circulation also promotes healthy cell turnover, and can help remove the stuff our skin doesn’t need – like toxic substances, free radicals and cell by-products – from skin cells. Think of it as cleansing your skin from the inside.
If you suffer from breakouts or acne, there’s good news for you, too: aerobic exercise helps level out the ‘stress’ hormone cortisol and also reduces inflammation, both of which can trigger flare-ups.
You’ll stand up straighter
Slouching in our chairs, hunching our shoulders, staring too long at our screens… we’re all guilty of these bad habits but if your neck or back starts to cry for help, it could very well be connected to incorrect posture.
Sitting and standing with proper alignment not only keeps our spines strong and healthy, it also plays a big part in improving blood flow and supporting our muscles, ligaments and tendons. Exercise won’t magically fix neck and back problems overnight but keeping your body strong and flexible will absolutely help improve your posture over time.
A great place to start is with bodyweight back exercises that strengthen your upper and middle back muscles. This will help to balance out the front and back of your body, and release and lengthen the muscles around your shoulders, so that your body starts to pull your shoulders back rather than in.
As a bonus, you’ll also notice that better posture will help you get the most out of your workouts. That’s because proper head-to-toe alignment allows your muscles to work more efficiently, and when this happens, your body will find it easier to overcome fatigue. This may mean you’ll have more energy, lower blood pressure and better lung capacity – everything you need to smash out your next workout!
The mental benefits of exercise
Working out may be physically tiring for our bodies, but when it comes to our brains, it’s actually mentally relaxing – and can play a huge part in how our brain deals with pressure and stress.
You’ll be better placed to manage stressful situations
Exercise isn’t a magic wand that will zap your worries away but it will absolutely help you manage and process stress better on a day-to-day level.
One of the many wonderful things that happen when we exercise is the release of norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the brain’s response to stress. As you start to get your heart rate up, your system also gets flooded with three more feel-good chemicals: endorphins, serotonin and dopamine.
Endorphins are a particularly good chemical to have working on your side. Their main job is to block feelings of pain, but they can also produce feelings of euphoria, which can keep you buzzing long after your workout is over. And if that wasn’t enough, all this physical activity can also help to curb stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Almost any type of exercise will help, from cardio and strength training to cycling or walking. You may even find doing rhythmic, repetitive movements – like the short, intense circuits found in high-intensity training (HIIT) – particularly soothing. If you prefer moving at a slower pace, yoga and pilates also work wonders to relax your muscles and calm your mind.
You’ll boost brainpower and sharpen your memory
With every step, burpee or lap you complete, you’re not just working your body – you’re also stimulating your brain.
When you exercise, your heart rate increases. This sends extra blood to the brain, giving your cells double servings of oxygen, vital nutrients and nourishing proteins. All this good stuff keeps our brain cells (also known as neurons) happy and healthy, and also promotes the growth of new neurons, which we rely on for good brain health.
The benefits are also long lasting. A 2017 study led by researchers from Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University found that aerobic exercise can also improve memory function and maintain brain health as we age.
They looked at the effects of aerobic exercise on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, and found that regular physical exercise not only slowed down the deterioration in brain size, it also significantly increased the size of the left side of the hippocampus.
The emotional benefits of exercise
Breaking a sweat can positively impact your health and wellbeing in many ways, so it's not too surprising that exercise can also influence how you feel about yourself.
You’ll feel happier (yes, really!)
Countless studies have shown that all types of exercise – everything from walking and cycling to pilates and high-intensity training (HIIT) – can lighten our mood, make us feel relaxed and even relieve symptoms of depression.
In fact, a 2020 study carried out by researchers at Yale and Oxford suggests that exercise is more important for your mental health than money.
Published in The Lancet, the study looked at data collected from 1.2 million Americans, and found that those who exercised regularly had 42.3% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than those who didn’t exercise. The researchers also found that the physically active people feel just as good as those who don’t exercise but earn around US$25,000 more a year.
You don’t have to only focus on cardio to get these high frequency feels, either. Strength training has been shown to help reduce anxiety and depression, and more relaxed activities like yoga have the added benefit of quieting your mind. You’re far more likely to stick to something if you enjoy it, so it’s important to find something that works for you.
You’ll boost your self-esteem and self-confidence
It’s no secret that completing a goal or staying true to a resolution gives us a serious confidence boost, and smashing a tough workout is no different.
Knowing you’ve stuck to a plan and seen it through can make you feel on top of the world (especially when you’d rather stay in bed). As you continue to exercise and build stamina, you might find that your self image improves and you earn a renewed sense of pride, discipline and self confidence.
Seeing progress can also be a huge moral booster. Setting SMART fitness goals and seeing them through is incredibly addictive, and will help give you the push you need to keep going. When you perfect your first push-up or smash a personal best, you’ll know that you’re capable of anything you put your mind to.
Now you can sweat happy knowing you’re improving both your body AND mind
Turns out exercising isn’t just good for our strength and stamina – it also has a profound effect on our mood, our sleep patterns, our brain function, our posture and our energy levels.
The next step is to find the exercise that’s right for you, whether that’s cardio, strength training, high-intensity training (HIIT), pilates, yoga or a little bit of everything. After all, you’ll find it far easier to build a routine when it’s something you enjoy.
What’s your favourite benefit of exercising? Share it with us in the comments below – we’d love to know what gets you motivated.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.