There are a lot of great reasons to live an active lifestyle. Physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight, stave off lifestyle diseases, and keep a limber body so you can enjoy life to the fullest. However, that’s not all that fitness can do for you. If you have doubts about the value of physical fitness, just read these five surprising benefits of exercise.

It Boosts Your Brain Health

According to reporting from Harvard Medical School, regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of your brain responsible for forming new memories and helping you learn new skills. So, if you want to perform better at work, master that new hobby, or prevent dementia in old age, it’s time to lace up your running shoes.

It Lifts Your Moods

Feeling down? Try going for a run. Exercise is an excellent stress buster for moments when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and its effects on mental health last well after your workout has ended. While researchers don’t completely understand how physical activity affects mood and mental health, IFLScience reports that “strenuous activity stimulates the production of two key brain chemicals that are known to play a role in regulating mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.”

It Leads to Sounder Sleep

Tired of tossing and turning at night? You may need to be more active during the day. People who get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week report sleeping better and feeling more alert throughout the day than people who are less active.

It Fights Cravings

Whether you’re trying to cut out added sugar or kick a substance abuse problem, exercise is your secret weapon. Working out helps you curb cravings so you can make healthier choices. Along with its stress-reduction abilities, that makes exercise a powerful tool in the fight against addiction. Individuals recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, in particular, find personal strength through fitness.

It Gives You More Energy

Exercise increasing your energy sounds backward. After all, how could something that costs energy leave you with more of it? However, because of physical activity’s ability to boost endorphins — the hormones behind the “runner’s high” — as well as its effects on sleep quality, a workout might be just what you need when you’re too tired to move a muscle.

Despite the rich benefits of an active lifestyle, many people find it difficult to get the recommended amount of physical activity per week. Whether it’s a lack of time or a lack of motivation, it’s hard to add new habits into your life. However, there are some things you can do to promote habit formation:

  • Schedule It: By exercising at the same time on the same days, you ensure there’s time for your workout. After a period of working out consistently, tossing on your workout clothes and a pair of sneakers will feel like second nature.
  • Find Activities You Enjoy: It’s hard to find the motivation to exercise when you don’t enjoy the workout. Instead of letting yourself get bored on the treadmill, find a form of exercise you can get excited about. Remember that exercise doesn’t have to happen in a gym. Team sports, outdoor recreation, at-home bodyweight workouts, and fun fitness classes are all good ways to get active.
  • Track Your Progress: Progress in fitness is incremental, and it’s not always easy to notice when you’re shedding pounds, adding muscle, or building endurance. Setting fitness goals and tracking progress toward them keeps you motivated and lets you recognize when a routine is no longer working for you.

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but it’s not just about looking good and keeping your heart healthy — although those certainly are important reasons to exercise! When you incorporate physical activity into your everyday life, your whole self benefits. If you want to feel more refreshed in the mornings, less stressed after a busy day, or more empowered in overcoming your demons, exercise can help.

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Maybe a membership to a boutique gym or one-on-one sessions with a personal trainer would motivate you to stay in shape, but your budget and your schedule are even less flexible than your hamstrings right now. The good news is that there are ways to keep fit without investing a ton of time or money. Here are some suggestions for incorporating free or low-cost exercise options into your busy schedule.  

Finding the Time

  • Experts suggest scheduling exercise like an appointment. Actually entering a time to exercise in your electronic or pen-and-paper calendar will make you less likely to schedule something else during that block, and serve as a visual reminder to keep your commitment to yourself.
  • Settle for shorter sessions. You don’t have to carve out an hour or more a day for exercise. Devoting a little more than 20 minutes each day to moderate aerobic activity is enough to reach current recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You can break up your sessions into a 10-minute walk on your lunch break and a 15-minute weightlifting workout before dinner. An affordable set of dumbbells or resistance bands are really the only equipment you’ll need.
  • Wake up and work out. Try setting your alarm clock a little earlier at least a few times each week. Pop in an exercise DVD and sneak in a session before anyone else is up and about. If you don’t want to spend any money, you can check out copies from your local library or find free videos online.


Exercise Boosts Holistic Health  

Your modest investment of money and time will pay off in more ways than one. Regular physical activity helps people keep their weight in check, combats health conditions including heart disease and diabetes, increases energy levels, and promotes sounder sleep. Exercise, in general, has also been shown to help boost people’s moods.

When your body is under stress or experiencing discomfort, such as when you’re in the middle of a challenging run, the brain produces neurochemicals called endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and can even help lead to feelings of euphoria. Serotonin and norepinephrine, two other natural neurotransmitters produced by the brain during physical activity, have also been linked to lower levels of stress and depression. What’s more, exercise may give our bodies an opportunity to practice their response to stress in safe situations, which could improve our ability to handle less predictable anxiety-inducing events in everyday life.

Moving Meditation

And you don’t have to be a marathon runner to realize the benefits of exercise. In fact, alternative activities such as swimming and yoga can be particularly beneficial, especially if you’re in addiction recovery. This is because these activities allow you to focus your mind and can relieve stress and anxiety, both of which are triggers for relapse in many individuals who are in recovery. They also can increase the body’s levels of mood-boosting brain chemicals without causing as much wear and tear as running, rowing, or jumping rope. They’re also highly adaptable for people with injuries and other limitations, making them an excellent choice for someone recovering from injuries, illnesses, and even addiction to alcohol and other substances.

Indeed, yoga, meditation, and other mind-body practices can create a relaxation response that reduces stress and produces positive changes to immune function, energy metabolism, and insulin secretion, according to Psychology Today. Swimming can produce the same relaxation response, according to some experts, because the rhythmic nature of your movements and the sound of the water minimize outside distractions. In fact, yoga and swimming can combine the benefits of physical activity and meditation because they help you focus on the moment and tune out mental noise.

So, the next time you think about your exercise routine, consider adding some sessions on the mat or in the pool. You’ll reap rewards not only for your physical health, but also your emotional and mental well-being.

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Self-care plays an important role in one’s overall well-being. It requires you to make good decisions, demonstrate self-love, partake in regular physical fitness and make a lifetime commitment to a healthy routine. Since it’s your life, only you can control what you do and how you live.

To get back on track, here are some general tips about physical fitness, health and wellness.

Exercise Regularly

When you workout, you want to focus on two kinds of exercise: cardio and weight resistance. Cardio is the type of exercise that strengthens your heart and lungs. It can be anything from running to taking the stairs to swimming. Weight resistance on the other hand, is more about building and maintaining muscle. You can do this by using weight machines at a gym, or by using your own body weight with exercises including push-ups, lunges and squats. Independently, these exercises can improve your health, but according to a study conducted at Hunter College in New York, they’re more impactful if they’re coupled together, especially when it comes to weight loss.

While any exercise is a step in the right direction, the best exercises will depend on your own individual needs and goals. Running is probably the top choice for weight loss alone. It’s also great because it doesn’t require any equipment and you can do it anywhere, anytime. For someone with a knee injury or arthritis, however, running may not be the best exercise (at least not all of the time) since it can exacerbate the issues at hand. In this case, the better option may be swimming or low-impact exercises including cycling, coupled with body weight exercises, especially ones that strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings. This is only one example, which is why it’s important to take time to think about your specific needs or goals to find the right exercises for you.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

When stress piles up, it’s easy to return to old habits, whether it’s drinking, smoking, overeating or something else. To effectively deal with life’s little bumps, it’s important to find ways to manage stress in a positive manner. In case you’re out of ideas, here are a few that have been proven to work:

  • Exercise. As long as you’re moving, any kind of exercise will release endorphins, which in return, makes you feel good, or more importantly, relieved. Side note: Physical fitness is a wonderful way to facilitate recovery because it allows you to find a replacement for your former behavior.

  • Mediate. If you’ve never tried this before, keep in mind that there’s no right way. You can technically meditate anywhere, but it’s best to do it in a quiet place. The idea is to clear your mind and sit peacefully. Your goal is to not dwell on anything, but rather enjoy the stillness of the moment. It’s a true practice that teaches the beauty of letting go and finding inner calmness.

  • Practice yoga. Join a community class or use the web to learn the basics. Like meditation, yoga is about focusing on the present and quieting your mind. It not only exercises your mind but also your body since it includes repetitive movements and holding poses.

Maintain A Healthy Routine

People often use the expression that it’s about the journey, not the destination. When you’re considering how to maintain an all-around healthy routine for the long haul, it can’t be all-or-nothing thinking. You’re bound to slip up at some point, or life may just get in the way. Don’t let this deter you from moving forward. Based on research, it takes about 66 days for any action to become a habit. Beyond that, it’s a new lifestyle.

Whatever may happen along your health journey, it’s important to remember that you’re not perfect. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Above all, listen to your body and always challenge yourself.

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