We know exercise is good for us. Keeping active can help manage weight, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and make us feel better in general.
But it turns out that’s not all exercise can do. Scientists are still finding and proving additional benefits of exercise, and some of them are surprising. Here are nine lesser-known ways that exercise can keep you healthier and happier:
1. Less pain
In New York, researchers found that a low-cost exercise program significantly improved participants’ musculoskeletal pain. Staying active is also an effective way to reduce chronic back pain, one of the most widespread pain conditions in the world. Evidence has even shown that exercise can reduce nerve-related pain by controlling the amount of inflammatory compounds in the blood.
2. Mood disorder management
Treatments for mood disorders are becoming more effective all the time, but good old-fashioned exercise can make a difference, too. Not only is exercise an excellent complementary therapy to traditional treatments, but it can provide an effective treatment option for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to tolerate traditional treatment. And the benefits of exercise are immediate. Just a half hour of exercise can leave you feeling happier and more energized. Another plus: pain and mood disorders exacerbate each other, but because exercise can help improve both, exercise can make a big difference if you’re struggling with both chronic pain and a mood disorder.
3. Healthier brain
White-matter fibers in the brain are involved with learning and memory. Older people often have age-related damage to white-matter, which is associated with problems moving (like trouble walking). However, exercise and a less sedentary lifestyle have been shown to help maintain the integrity of white-matter. Even in people who’ve already experience white-matter damage, keeping active can reduce the mobility issues associated with white-matter degeneration. Also, exercise reduces the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment later in life.
4. Less cravings when you quit smoking
The cravings associated with quitting smoking can be intense, but exercise affects the brain in such a way that it reduces cravings for nicotine. The craving-curbing effect of exercise may be somewhat short-lived, ranging from a few hours to a couple days, but it just takes an additional burst of exercise to renew the effect. Just ten minutes of cycling can be enough to reduce cigarette cravings.
5. Cancer prevention (and treatment)
Exercise has been shown to lower the risk of some types of cancer, such as breast cancer. Additionally, for people who are survivors of or being treated for cancer, exercise might make treatments more effective, increase tolerance to chemotherapy, help control other symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment.
6. Chronic disease management
Exercise can help you manage a chronic disease by boosting your immune system. Evidence has shown that exercising can benefit people with everything from psoriasis to liver disease to chronic kidney disease.
7. Better sex
Exercise is associated with improved erectile and sexual function in men. A recent study notes that past research has looked mostly at white men, but it’s now been shown that the benefits of exercise can extend to men of other races, too. For ladies, exercise can reduce the libido-draining side effects of some antidepressants. Specifically, doing about 30 minutes of exercise just before engaging in sex can counter the sexual side effects of antidepressants. Also, if you’ve ever heard about “coregasms” (female orgasm without sex or fantasy) from engaging in core abdominal exercises, the science has spoken: they’re really possible. Exercises like weight lifting, cycling, or rope-climbing really can lead to exercise-induced orgasm.
8. Healthier pregnancies and kids
If you’re a woman planning on expanding her family soon, start exercising now. Exercise both before and during pregnancy can decrease the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. On top of this, exercising while you’re pregnant might improve your baby’s vascular health well into his or her adulthood. Current guidelines suggest about 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week for pregnant women, but every woman and pregnancy is different. It’s always a good idea to check with your physician and OB/GYN before starting any sort of exercise while pregnant.
9. Longer life
Considering all the benefits of exercise, it’s not surprising that staying active can reduce the risk of mortality, but the extent of these benefits is surprising. In some populations (such as elderly men), 30 minutes of exercise per day for six days a week can have just as profound an effect as quitting smoking.
If you don’t regularly exercise, starting a new exercise regimen might be confusing or intimidating. It doesn’t have to be, though. First, talk to your physician – especially if you have a health condition, disability, chronic pain, or are pregnant. Set a small, measurable goal, such as walking to the corner and back. Write it down when you meet your goal for the day.
Let a friend or family member know what you’re up to and report in on a regular basis, so that he or she can congratulate and motivate you. Reward yourself for reaching goals, such as going for a walk 20 days out of the month, with a special dinner out, a new article of clothing, coffee with a good friend, or whatever else you can think of to keep yourself motivated to exercise.
Does exercise help you feel better? In what way?
Image by USAG-Humphreys via Flickr