Losing weight and leading healthier lifestyles rank consistently among the top New Year’s resolutions. While most people start strong right out of the gate, it doesn’t take long for the commitment to fade. In fact, only 46 percent of resolutions make it past the six-month mark, so staying motivated is crucial to transform a yearly resolution into a daily reality.
It might be easier to stay motivated when remembering all the healthy benefits that come from exercising. Whether it’s a physical boost, a mental recharge, or an emotional salve, physical activity has a whole range of positive effects that are great for the body, mind, and soul. With so many reasons to keep going, it’ll be impossible to quit this year.
This one seems kind of obvious, right? Of course exercise is good for the body. But the benefits don’t stop at just weight control (though that certainly is a great perk). Staying active also promotes healthier bodily processes and encourages important cell motility throughout the entire body. These are just a few of the positive physical side effects that come from regular exercise.
Put simply, metabolism is how the body turns food into energy. The body takes calories from the food and drinks we consume, combines that with oxygen, and releases energy that helps carry out normal functions.
Regular physical activity keeps metabolism going strong, mostly because of increased muscle mass. Muscles need plenty of energy to function properly, so they burn up a lot of calories, even when they’re not being used. In other words, the more you work out, the more muscles you will build, and the more calories you burn, resulting in a faster metabolism.
Affects good and bad cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that the body isn’t able to break down on its own. It can only be moved around the body, into the cells, blood, and eventually to the liver, where it’s filtered and eradicated.
Exercise is an incredible way to even out cholesterol levels. That’s because regular workouts both increase “good” cholesterol—or high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—and lower “bad” cholesterol, aka low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Bad cholesterol usually ends up in places it doesn’t belong, like along artery walls—and too much can lead to blood clots and heart disease. Exercise, however, releases enzymes into the blood that move LDL from the arteries and blood into the liver, where it turns to bile and gets excreted permanently.
HDL also acts like a vacuum that sucks up LDL and helps move it to the liver. Just an hour of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise during the week is all it takes to start increasing HDL levels, making the body a more efficient LDL-fighting machine.
Lowers the risk of heart disease
Part of what makes exercise great for your heart also circles back to cholesterol. With less nasty LDL sitting around in the blood and in the arteries, that means blood flows more smoothly and presents less risk of getting clogged around a cholesterol plug.
Workouts themselves can also make your heart stronger. The more the body exercises, the more capable the heart becomes in its responsibility to pump blood. More blood means more oxygen throughout the muscles, lungs, brain, and literally everywhere else internally. Oxygen is vital to keeping the body functioning properly, so you’ll want to keep working out to keep the body working.
Not only does the body get a boost from regularly working out, but so does the brain. All the endorphins that are released during physical activity can help stabilize brain chemistry, leading to better moods, better sleep, and even better social interactions (especially when you buddy up at the gym).
An exercise routine doesn’t just gear the body up—it also helps wind the body down. A recent study by the Sleep Foundation shows that 150 minutes of exercise per week (or about 20 minutes each day) greatly helps improve the quality of sleep, because it helps to regulate the circadian rhythm, so the body falls asleep faster and gets better sleep overall. And that can lead to a host of other benefits, like:
- Better concentration
- Less fatigue
- More mental clarity
Regular physical activity is also a fantastic way to stay social, especially when you team up with a workout partner. One study points to the connection between social exercise and greater feelings of satisfaction, both during a workout and extending to individuals’ personal lives. Group workouts or gym memberships can lead to:
- More motivation and more accountability to reach goals
- Skipping fewer workouts
- Greater satisfaction with exercise routines
People recommend gym buddies for a reason. They keep partners motivated, are there to acts as cheerleaders or tough-love fitness coaches (whatever the situation calls for). In the end, having a partner makes workouts less stressful and more fun.
Emotional health can also be stimulated with regular exercise. This is largely related to the release of endorphins and hormones that level out body chemistry and can lead to a host of important benefits.
Relieves anxiety and depression
While the body benefits from a great workout, exercise also works in the brain to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Studies show that people that exercise have lower rates of these illnesses that those that don’t. Experts say exercise helps the brain cope with stress better, in addition to:
- Increasing body temperature, which leads to feeling calmer.
- Releasing endorphins, which promotes a sense of well-being.
- Reducing inflammation in the brain, which can make symptoms worse.
- Providing habit. Exercise is a repetitive movement done in a structured environment where each move is planned. This nature of exercising helps relieve anxious feelings.
With roughly 40 million people currently diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorders, it’s vital to know how to cope with symptoms. Physical activity is motivating and raises self-esteem, helping to combat the isolating feelings that are often present.
Stress isn't good for the brain. It physically changes how the brain works, making individuals less level-headed. Prolonged stress hurts the brain by:
- Shrinking the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which control planning and rational thought.
- Expanding the amygdala, which controls how the brain processes threatening situations.
This means the brain is more prone to panicking, identifying common stressors as threats, and making the brain less likely to look at situations logically. Stress makes the brain more emotional and panicky, which is bad news for anyone hoping to have a relaxing day.
Regular exercise fights these changes, however, making the brain and body better prepared to handle stressors. Here’s how:
Repetitive actions have a calming effect
Exercise makes you focus on the task at hand. Whether running laps or counting reps on a weight machine, a good workout forces negative thoughts from focus. This lets the brain take a break from stressful thoughts, which then helps the body relax. It essentially takes away the fight-or-flight response to stress through distraction.
The release of endorphins combats stress
Endorphins are called feel-good neurotransmitters for a reason. Just like with anxiety and depression, working out releases endorphins so the brain feels better. Even a short group workout is enough to get the endorphins flowing, bringing on an instant mood boost and reducing stress levels.
Get started with some new workouts
Feeling motivated yet? Stick to your fitness resolution with these easy workouts:
For newbies, this is a great way to ease into a new year of fitness and stick with it. Follow along as the video demonstrates four key yoga poses that are great for beginners. Start with Mountain, a pose that keeps you on your toes. Or rather, your feet. It improves posture and keeps those back muscles strong. Transition into Downward-Facing Dog to stretch the hamstrings and shoulders. Move into Plank to strengthen the core and arms, and finish up with Cobra to get some flexibility through the back, abs, and chest.
Ready to tone? These moves will sculpt a new body in no time. A combination of squats, lunges, and kicks ensures the inner thighs feel just as much of a burn as the outer thighs and glutes. These moves also help to prevent injuries to knees and ankles and improve posture. All from the comfort of home. Talk about a win-win.
Burpees are the ultimate love-hate exercise: they work every major muscle group, so they’re extremely good for the body. They’re also just plain exhausting. Standard burpees will get your heart pumping in no time, and these variations will help target workouts for maximum efficiency. Pinpoint the glutes in the half-burpee to squat, or really getting that blood pumping with a knee-tuck burpee that ends in a cannonball jump. Either way these moves will work wonders on the body…after the fatigue wears off!
Great workout products to have on hand
From improving health to fighting anxiety, exercise is a great habit to make. You can stay further motivated with some great fitness products like these.
Manduka eKO Lite Yoga Mat
Lightweight and eco-friendly, this yoga mat keeps a solid grip on the floor while providing comfort throughout the workout. The natural rubber is non-toxic, so working out on this mat will be a breeze.
Banish germs and bacteria by wiping down that yoga mat post-workout. This cleaner not only sends dirt and odors packing—it also extends the life of your yoga mat.
Stay hydrated through every burpee and yoga pose with this sleek and health-conscious water bottle. The filter removes 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses, and heavy metals, so workouts are fueled only by clean, clear water.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho