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5 Ways Exercise Benefits the Skin…and 5 New Workouts to Try

Posted Mar 05 2009 4:32am


U.S. Marine running in water.  Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

The start of March means a lot of things: days get longer.  The weather starts to get a little warmer.  Spring is right around the corner…and a plethora of new diet and exercise books emerge.  Yet, not surprisingly, putting time and energy into a renewed exercise routine can benefit your skin.  Here are five specific ways I found, in research today:

1.  Exercise prevents stress-induced inflammation and aging.   Exercise reduces levels of insulin, cortisol, and other hormones that trigger stress and inflammation in the skin.  In turn, stress hormones trigger the activity of key enzymes, including matrix metalloproteinases, which can break down collagen.  Although UV radiation is associated with approximately 90% of the signs of aging, dermatologists describe this type of skin aging as “photoaging” and other forms (including stress-induced) as “chronological aging,” as described in Archives of Dermatology here.

It has been suggested that exercise with the greatest stress-reducing potential are types with the following four qualities:  aerobic, noncompetitive, predictable, and repetitive.  For suggestions, see below. 

2.  Exercise gives you a “glow”.   In this study fromPharmacology and Therapeutics, exercise is accredited with increasing the diameter of blood vessels (vasodilation), allowing for a greater blood volume to reach the organs, including the skin.  In normal, healthy individuals, this results in a fresh, healthy appearance, what we commonly refer to as a “glow.”

3.  Exercise reduces the appearance of acne.   According to a recent study in the Journal of Health Psychology, patients with severe acne reported being less likely to engage in sports or exercise, due to reported decreased self-esteem levels.  Yet, this could be one of the worst things that a patient with acne could do, as exercise may actually help to alleviate acne.  According to dermatologist Dr. Richard Fried, M.D. in this month’s Women’s Health magazine, “[Exercise] can save your skin…Exercise reduces levels of insulin and stress hormones, which when elevated, can trigger the production of breakout-boosting sebum.”  

4.  Regular exercise will preserve your collagen, keeping your skin firm long-term.   According to research published in USA Today, a Canadian study following 251 diabetic patients, aged 39 to 70, found that blood sugar was significantly reduced for the 126 patients who were assigned to regular exercise over the course of 22 weeks.  What does blood sugar have to do with the skin?  As you age, not only does your collagen production decrease, but collagen itself changes, becoming tough, stiffened, and inflexible. According to Ending Aging: The Revolutionary Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging, high blood sugar levels lead to increased amounts of   advanced glycation endproducts (via the Maillard pathway).  It is these advanced glycation endproducts that are responsible for the tough, aged state of collagen; in particular, for you science junkies, the advanced glycation endproduct called glucosepane  is the one responsible for aging collagen.  So by reducing your blood sugar levels with regular exercise, guess what?  Your collagen will not only be produced longer, but preserved!

5.  Exercise can help to reduce hair loss…Really.    Exercise has been found to lower the body’s production of “male” hormones, such as DHT and testosterone.  According to Dr. Audrey Kunin, Kansas City, Mo., dermatologist and author of The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual, “Anything that controls the amount of male hormones your body produces can impact not only skin, but also androgenic hair loss. Anything you can do to reduce the production of these hormones is going to have beneficial results on both skin and hair.”

So, what are some great workouts to try?

Here are some of my all-time favorites:
1.   Best Body Sculptor for Perfectionists: Gaiam Pilates  ($17.98 for two-DVD set; ).  Gaiam Pilates, and instructor Ana Caban in particular, truly changed my body.  I started doing Pilates when I was 19 years old, and I still swear by it (I’m 24 now).  Everything they say is true:  Pilates improved my posture, breathing, and stomach (no rice belly here!) :-)  I’m a huge fan, and I recommend it to anyone who cares to listen.    

2. Best Fun Time for Friends:   Hoopnotica  ($49.95 for hoop only, $17.99 for accompanying  workout ).  If you’re not competitive (you have to be able to laugh at yourself with this one!), like to try new and different things, and like to workout with a friend, this is a great one to try.  It feels sort-of like you’re on a playground, trying to master the moves, and by the time you’re done trying the moves down, the video’s already over.  Definitely a great one to use with the girls. 

3.  Best New Dance Video for Fashionistas: Bollywood Booty   ($12.99, ).  India is hot right now ( Slumdog Millionaire, anyone?) , and you will be too, after this workout.  ;-)  Okay, I know that was cheesy and punny and everything else, but all joking aside, this is seriously a great workout.  Even if you’ve invested in every other dance video known to man, I guarantee a unique experience with this one, with Indian music in the background and lovely Indian choreography.  If you always want to have the latest and greatest, you can’t go wrong with this one!

4. Best Calorie-Burner for Hardcore Exercisers: Billy Banks Tae-Bo Even though I consider myself to be in good shape, this workout still wears me out, every time.  There’s just something about this calorie-scorching, heart-pumping video (maybe the “double-time”?) that really does the trick.  At any rate, unless you are Anna Kournikova, I guarantee that you will be sore from this the next day (or maybe even the next, who knows).  I love it because I can feel that it works.

5.  Running.   I love to run, and am a lifelong devotee of it.  It has truly changed my life, giving me a chance to collect my thoughts and make small, personal, achievable goals everyday.  To get started, the best article I have ever read is from the ever-popular blog Zen Habits.  Try running a little (even 5 minutes) for just 21 days.  It’s the best!

Let me know your thoughts on exercise and your skin in Comments below!  :-)

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