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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