Reviewed by: Anthony Johnson, MD
Written by: Abbi Havens
Anytime you head to the gym, your local yoga studio, or the track, you’re likely to observe people from all ages and walks of life exercising to achieve one common goal: to look good. Weight loss and muscle toning are often healthy goals, and while there’s nothing wrong with caring for your body to feel confident in your own skin, the benefits of exercise far exceed your physical appearance. At every age, regular physical activity is key to health, wellness, and happiness.
Although your five-year-old probably won’t be interested in attending your spin class with you, regular exercise for children is critical to development. Whether it’s riding their bike, playing pirates outside with their friends, or being enrolled in soccer or dance, regular exercise decreases children’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, develops strong muscles and bones, controls body fat, and encourages a positive outlook on life from a young age.
As young adults, it’s easy to skip out on exercise. You’re busy with friends, your career, your relationships, the list goes on. And hey, you probably look good naturally anyway! But exercise is not just about physicality. For young adults, exercise helps to manage feelings of anxiety and depression, improves self-esteem, continues development of healthy bones and muscles, and develops healthy habits that will keep you active later in life.
For older adults, regular exercise may mitigate some of the less desirable effects of aging. Exercise can maintain and even improve balance, increase mobility, reduce the chance of disease, and increase flexibility (gardening, anyone?). Studies show that exercise leads to an increase in brain volume for people over the age of 60, and exercise keeps your mind sharp and active and provides an opportunity to break from routine.
No matter what stage of life you find yourself in, you benefit from the invisible effects of a healthy routine:
Improves memory and brainpower. Exercise has both long and short-term benefits to your brain. In the hours following a workout, you may notice a heightened sense of concentration due to the increased flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. This increased flow can have positive effects on your long-term memory and cognition in as little as four months.
Gives your body a dose of natural happy pills. Contrary to what the ever sought-after “runner’s high” would lead you to believe, the effects of mood enhancing chemicals released in your brain as a result of exercise can last for up to 12 hours after your workout. Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine flood your brain bringing you that happy-go-lucky feeling for hours.
Lessens the symptoms of PMS. Studies show that regular exercise and adequate rest relieves symptoms of PMS including bloating and irritability. Yes, please!
Boosts immunity and decreases risk of disease. Because exercise increases your body’s white blood cell production, it’s a lot more beneficial to your immunity than your daily glass of orange juice. Additionally, regular exercise decreases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer including colon, breast, endometrial, esophageal, and stomach cancers.
Gets you in the mood. It’s true! In addition to improved mental stimulation, regular exercise can lower the risk of erectile dysfunction in men and increase libido for both men and women.
Increases bone density. Certain types of exercise are known to increase bone density, encourage bone growth, support overall bone health, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The ability of any exercise to improve bone health depends on the amount of muscle strain caused by the exercise, the rate of muscle strain, and the frequency that it occurs. Weightlifting and high-impact exercises like tennis or gymnastics and running or sprinting are excellent ways to improve bone health.
Elevates body image and self-esteem. We are lucky to live in an age that is becoming more inclusive of all shapes and sizes. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to build self-esteem and love the skin you’re in. Studies show that regular exercise improves the way you feel about yourself and your body regardless of visible physical change.
Relieves anxiety and improves sleep. It’s proven that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of “slow wave sleep” your body gets, meaning sleep that allows the brain and body to restore itself. However, the time of day you exercise might matter. Exercising right before trying to fall asleep may be detrimental because your body releases endorphins during exercise, and increased blood flow to the brain can keep your mind running a mile per minute. When it comes to the best time of day to squeeze in your workout to optimize sleep, there is no one right answer. Test it out to see what works for you.
Raises life expectancy. Regular physical activity is linked to longer life expectancy regardless of weight, age, or existing health conditions. While a causal relationship between exercise and life expectancy is yet to be confirmed, regular exercise does help people maintain physical function as they age, improves cardiorespiratory health, lowers cholesterol and prevents many diseases, all of which contribute to longevity.
It’s not always easy to incorporate regular exercise into your busy routine, but trust us, the benefits to your health are astronomical. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring. Look for a form of exercise that feels like fun. Search for new ways to continue to get exercise to keep it exciting and motivating. Now get out there and get moving! If you’re new to exercise or haven’t been active in some time, you may want to visit your medical care provider before beginning a new exercise regimen. If you encounter a sports-related injury, consider visiting UT Health Austin’s Sports and Injury Clinic.