The benefits of exercise go way beyond simple weight loss. Shedding a few pounds may be the main reason you decide to start a new workout regimen, but there are myriad physical and psychological benefits that have very little to do with the numbers on your bathroom scales.
They say knowledge is power, and when it comes to workout motivation, the saying couldn’t be more relevant. The more you know about the benefits of exercise, the more physical activity you’re likely to get, according to a study from Central Queensland University. Simply reading about the benefits of exercise is beneficial.
So, next time you lace up your trainers, forget about burning calories and focus on what matters. From improving your mood to bolstering your bones, we asked personal trainer Laura Williams to talk us through the lesser-known benefits of exercise:
1. Healthy bones
Over time, regular weight-bearing exercise promotes bone formation and increases bone density, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found. This includes day-to-day movements such as walking and stair-climbing, sports like tennis, and activities like running and jump training. ‘Resistance training also helps to stimulate bone growth, as well as prevent bone loss,’ says Williams.
✔️ Try this: Mix it up. Vary your weight-bearing activity so you’re getting a rounded routine of walking, resistance training, agility and balance exercise – the latter can help to prevent falls, she says. ‘Resistance training can be exercises using bodyweight moves,’ Williams adds. ‘It doesn’t have to involve the gym or weights.’
2. Immunity boost
Exercise is seriously beneficial for a well-oiled immune system. In the short term, exercise helps your immune system find and deal with pathogens, analysis published in the journal Exercise Immunology Review found. In the long term, a regular workout slows down ageing-induced immune system changes, which reduces the risk of infections.
✔️ Try this: Go for a walk. Fitting in 30 to 60 minutes of near-daily brisk walking – equivalent to at least 3.5 miles per hour, or a 17-minute mile – makes your body extra-vigilant against pathogens by improving the way your white blood cells, circulatory system and tissues communicate with one another, according to a review published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.
3. Improved mood
A cascade of mood-boosting hormones and neurotransmitters flood your brain when you exercise, including feel-good endorphins, the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, and dopamine, which plays a role in reward and motivation. At the same time, your workout suppresses hormones that cause stress and anxiety.
✔️ Try this: Join an online class or partner up with a friend to maximise the feel-good factor of your workout, suggests Williams. Buddying up increases the amount of exercise you’ll do, the University of Aberdeen found – especially if your gym buddy is emotionally supportive.
4. Increased energy levels
Feeling fatigued all the time? Exercise lifts you from a sloth-like state by improving your blood flow, which allows more oxygen and nutrients to reach your cells. Healthy-but-sedentary participants who engaged in 20 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercise just three times a week for six weeks found they felt less tired and more energetic, the University of Georgia found.
✔️ Try this: Focus on the less tough stuff. ‘While varying your routine to include both high- and lower-intensity workouts is an essential game plan for ticking most goal boxes, when it comes to energy the consensus is that low-to-moderate is best,’ says Williams. ‘You’ll get a good initial buzz from a high-octane session, but a lower intensity workout is less likely to leave you feeling depleted later on.’
5. Better sleep
Getting a solid night’s kip is one of the most important things you can do for your health – more important than finishing that Netflix marathon. If you struggle to drift off, exercise is a simple, inexpensive, drug-free route to a better night’s rest. People sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, Oregon State University found.
✔️ Try this: Time your exercise right. ‘This is really down to your own personal experience,’ says Williams. ‘If you find that home HIIT session leaves you wired at 11pm, try switching it to the morning.’ Intense training is the only type of evening exercise that can negatively effect sleep, researchers at ETH Zurich found, so if you plan on going all-out, be sure to leave a few hours to recover before you hit the hay.
6. A great sex life
Getting a sweat on at the gym can improve your between-the-sheets action. It supercharges your self-esteem, boosts your circulation – vital for a healthy sex life – and crushes libido-killing stress. Men who exercise more have better erectile and sexual function, according to a study by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. And among women, exercise itself can lead to an orgasm – sometimes called a coregasm, since it often occurs during abs workouts.
✔️ Try this: Don’t neglect your pelvic floor. ‘Pelvic floor exercises should form a crucial part of your fitness routine,’ says Williams. ‘Not only do strong pelvic floor muscles help to support everything from your weight training routine to a weak bladder, they also help to increase sensitivity and enhance orgasm during sex.’