I know it’s pretty much winter by now (at least, it will be officially in a week), and it’s probably cold and/or wet and/or dreary outside, but that’s no excuse. You need your exercise. Not just because your doctor said so. Not just because I said so. It’s because if there’s anything that can — and will — help you and your mood (especially on cold, dreary, wet days), it’s exercise.
Want to feel better, have more energy and perhaps even live longer? Look no further than old-fashioned exercise.
The merits of regular physical activity — from preventing chronic health conditions to promoting weight loss and better sleep — are hard to ignore. And the benefits are yours for the taking, regardless of age, sex or physical ability. Need more convincing? Check out seven specific ways exercise can improve your life.
1. Exercise improves your mood.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help you calm down.
Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed than you were before you worked out. You’ll also look better and feel better when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem. Regular physical activity can even help prevent depression.
2. Exercise combats chronic diseases.
Worried about heart disease? Hoping to prevent osteoporosis? Physical activity might be the ticket.
Regular physical activity can help you prevent — or manage — high blood pressure. Your cholesterol will benefit, too. Regular physical activity boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly by lowering the buildup of plaques in your arteries.
And there’s more. Regular physical activity can help you prevent type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer.
3. Exercise helps you manage your weight.
Want to drop those excess pounds? Trade some couch time for walking or other physical activities.
This one’s a no-brainer. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn — and the easier it is to keep your weight under control. You don’t even need to set aside major chunks of time for working out. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk during your lunch break. Do jumping jacks during commercials. Better yet, turn off the TV and take a brisk walk. Dedicated workouts are great, but physical activity you accumulate throughout the day helps you burn calories, too.
4. Exercise boosts your energy level.
Winded by grocery shopping or household chores? Don’t throw in the towel. Regular physical activity can leave you breathing easier.
Physical activity delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. In fact, regular physical activity helps your entire cardiovascular system — the circulation of blood through your heart and blood vessels — work more efficiently. Big deal? You bet! When your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you’ll have more energy to do the things you enjoy.
5. Exercise promotes better sleep.
Struggling to fall asleep? Or stay asleep? It might help to boost your physical activity during the day.
A good night’s sleep can improve your concentration, productivity and mood. And you guessed it — physical activity is sometimes the key to better sleep. Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. There’s a caveat, however. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you may be too energized to fall asleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you might want to exercise earlier in the day.
6. Exercise can put the spark back into your sex life.
Are you too tired to have sex? Or feeling too out of shape to enjoy physical intimacy? Physical activity to the rescue.
Regular physical activity can leave you feeling energized and looking better, which may have a positive effect on your sex life. But there’s more to it than that. Regular physical activity can lead to enhanced arousal for women, and men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than are men who don’t exercise — especially as they get older.
7. Exercise can be — gasp — fun!
Wondering what to do on a Saturday afternoon? Looking for an activity that suits the entire family? Get physical!
Physical activity doesn’t have to be drudgery. Take a ballroom dancing class. Check out a local climbing wall or hiking trail. Push your kids on the swings or climb with them on the jungle gym. Plan a neighborhood kickball or touch football game. Find a physical activity you enjoy, and go for it. If you get bored, try something new. If you’re moving, it counts!
What’s more, it can help reduce inflammation and add structure to your life. Things really started to turn around for me, job-wise and life-wise, when I began a regular daily exercise routine. Not a weekly routine, where I did something for 30 minutes a day, but a daily routine that is a minimum of 30 minutes and often lasts up to an hour.
How do I make time for it, you ask? Good question. I balked at the idea of exercising for years (despite the fact that I was once an award-winning athlete). I thought I just didn’t have time for it. Then I realized that if I exercised at the same time I did things other that I did daily — mainly, planning my day and thinking through my schedule ahead of time — I could easily fit in a full workout every single day.
As with most things in my life, it’s not enough for me to do them occasionally, or even frequently with some breaks between. I have to commit to things totally and give them my all, or I — and others — get no benefit whatsoever.
If you haven’t had any exercise today, get up right now and do something. Walk up and down stairs a few times. Or better yet, walk outside. Or do some stretches and light calisthenics. Anything — within reason — is better than nothing. And if you’re like me, you cannot afford the luxury of that nothing.
So, get on with it. Now. Stop thinking about it, and just do it. You’ll thank yourself later that you did.
As for me, I’ve had my daily dose, and I’ve had a pretty full day, by now.