We all know that participating in regular exercise is good for us – we've heard it from our PE teachers, our doctors, and our gym-obsessed work colleagues. But what does it actually mean – what is it good for?
Weight loss, fitness and strength might seem like the obvious perks, but they aren't the only ones. There are loads of ways exercise can improve your life and overall health, both physically and mentally.
We've listed ten of our favourites below – some might even surprise you. And you never know, they may even give you the push you need to dust off your trainers and get your body moving.
1. Reduces risk of heart disease
Whether you choose to pick up the weights, commit to a daily jog or find some fun HIIT workouts on YouTube, getting your body moving a few times a week can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Exercise improves your circulation, reduces cholesterol levels and lowers blood pressure. Exercising regularly also strengthens your heart and reduces risk of heart attacks.
These health benefits should be reason enough to get moving – it's much easier to help prevent disease than it is to treat it further down the line.
2. Reduces risk of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for adults who are obese, so controlling your weight is important. Participating in regular exercise and eating a healthy range of food can help you maintain a healthy BMI (body mass index).
Exercise can also help increase insulin sensitivity, meaning your cells are better at using the sugar in your bloodstream. If you do have diabetes, exercise is recommended to help regulate blood glucose levels.
3. Boosts your mood
Had a stressful day at work? Why not blow off some steam at a boxing class, go for a long bike ride, or try some relaxing yoga. Working out can be a great way to release negative energy and take your mind off your troubles for a while.
And although it may be difficult to find the motivation to work out when you're feeling low, exercise has been proven to release endorphins and improve your mood.
Even something as simple as walking can help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression and reduce levels of stress. Plus, the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a home workout, gym session or run can give you a real boost.
4. Helps manage your weight
Regular exercise, combined with a healthy and balanced diet, is the perfect way to maintain a healthy BMI, which can help prevent various diseases and illnesses as you age.
If you are overweight, incorporating more physical activity into your day should help you lose weight and get down to a healthy BMI.
Equally, if you are underweight, lifting weights is a great way to gain muscle mass - as long as you increase your calorie intake to support this.
5. Improves brain function, memory and judgement
One benefit that might surprise you is how exercise can improve your brain function, including memory, judgement and decision-making skills.
Physical activity stimulates the growth of new brain cells as well as chemicals that can improve the function of your brain.
Working out in the morning can make you feel more focused and energetic during the day, helping you perform better at work and during other tasks.
6. Improves sleep
Do you struggle to fall asleep at bedtime? Or find yourself waking up countless times, tossing and turning throughout the night? If you do, exercise could be the answer to a better night's sleep.
Many studies have shown exercising regularly can help you relax, sleep longer and sleep deeper. Even people with insomnia may find exercise helps them achieve a better quality of sleep.
7. Improves sex life
Not only does regular exercise boost your sex drive, it can also improve sexual function in both males and females.
Exercise promotes flexibility, blood circulation and can even improve your confidence in the bedroom. For older men, it can also help reduce symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
8. Improves self-confidence
The sense of accomplishment you get from completing a run, gym class or home workout can greatly impact your self-esteem and lift your mood.
On top of this, regular exercise makes you feel good about your physical abilities, strength and physique.
Team sports can help you feel connected to others and give you a sense of identity. Plus, the short-term buzz you get from working out is likely to make you feel more positive all day long – especially when you win!
9. Helps you stay young
As we age, we often have more problems with our muscles, bones and joints, particularly if we live a sedentary lifestyle. Working out regularly can reduce these issues by increasing strength, muscle mass and flexibility.
In terms of energy, you will feel much younger than somebody who is inactive. And you'll even have younger-looking skin.
10. Makes everyday activities easier
Whether you have children keeping you on your toes, a manual labour job or a busy social life, regularly exercising can make everyday tasks easier. From carrying heavy shopping bags to climbing flights of stairs, things feel much more manageable if you are physically fit and strong.
Exercise also helps with things like balance, which reduces the risk of falls and other accidents. And if you do get an injury, you're more likely to recover quickly if you're in good shape.
There are so many benefits to exercise, no matter how you choose to move your body. Whether you cycle, swim, try out a tai chi class or simply start walking more, you'll be doing your body, mind and soul a huge favour by living an active lifestyle.
But before you start a new exercise regime, it's important you know how to exercise safely to avoid injury.
You could book a few sessions with a personal trainer or use YouTube videos to educate yourself on how to use any equipment and perform exercises correctly. Classes are good because you always have the teacher to help correct your form or offer advice.
If you can't make it to the gym, why not consider creating a dedicated workout space at home – this could be in the garage, a spare room or even a custom-built garden gym.
Whatever form of exercise you choose, and wherever you choose to do it, stay safe and enjoy!
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