By Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew
Most people hit the gym dreaming of their skinny jeans. But there are way better reasons to work out than that. With just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, your entire body benefits. Here are seven new reasons to break a sweat:
Build stronger bones
When you walk, run, or do aerobics, it puts stress on your bones — good stress. They respond to the challenge by producing more bone cells, which will make them stronger and denser. That means you will be less likely to suffer a fall or fracture as you age.
“You may not notice anything different day-to-day from your 50s to 70s, but when you are 80 or 90, you will be in much better shape,” said Dr. Karim Khan, professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, and researcher at The Centre for Hip Health and Mobility. “It’s like having money in the bank.”
Bonus: Exercising will also build up muscles and improve balance, ensuring that you stay sure-footed as you get older.
Fend off the flu
Raising your heart rate increases blood flow through the whole body. That means you’re also giving a boost your immune system. “It gets those white cells moving, wakes them up and tells them it’s time to start patrolling the border, so to speak, to keep us well,” said Dr. Eudene Harry, author of Live Younger in 8 Simple Steps.
Bonus: When you work up a sweat, your lymphatic system works overtime to flush waste and toxins from the body.
Relieve aches and pains
Increased blood flow helps flush out swelling and inflammation from the sensitive area. “People think if I’m in pain, I probably shouldn’t move. But with movement comes healing,” said Peggy Malone, a chiropractor in St. Thomas, Ont. “When people move more, they get past injury quicker, they heal faster, they get past pain.” People with back pain, for example, used to lie in bed — but now doctors recommend keeping up walking and daily activities to help them get better faster. Do make sure you’re not further injuring yourself; if in doubt, consult your doctor first.
Bonus: Work your core and back muscles and you’ll be less susceptible to lower back pain. Exercise also helps lubricate joints, and that will keep osteoarthritis and its painful symptoms at bay.
Brighten your mood
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, the chemicals give you a natural high. Studies going back to the early 1980s show that regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression, and that the effects lasted longer than those of antidepressants. “I tell people, give it two weeks,” Malone said. “When you just start an exercise program, often it just hurts and doesn’t feel good. It takes awhile to get into the rhythm.”
Bonus: Increased blood flow will get nutrients and more oxygen to the brain, which boosts your concentration and banishes that sleepy brain fog.
Exercise increases the contractions of the wall of the intestine, helping to move things along through the intestinal track more easily. It’s also associated with a better diet, which could benefit the bowel. Exercise stimulates the nervous system and helps the muscles and nerves in the gut to work better. Wait an hour or two after eating before exerting yourself, Harry said.
Bonus: Working out can improve symptoms of irritable bowel and inflammatory bowel syndromes.
Get better skin
The increase in circulation that comes with exercise carries oxygen and nutrients to working cells throughout the body, including the skin. It also helps carry away waste products, including free radicals. “The result is a healthier complexion,” Harry said. Take special care to protect your skin if you’re going for a walk or run on a sunny day.
Bonus: Exercise reduces stress, and that’s good for your skin, too.
One caution: don’t overdo it. If you’ve never exercised before, check with a physician who can advise you on the right activities and intensity level. And you can always start small: Walking is suitable for most people who are just beginning an exercise program.