Move it! The Seven Best Reasons to Exercise

Fitness // Rachel Smith // 28 February 2013

 Working out can do wonders for how you look on the outside, but that’s not all exercise is good for. Better mental health, stronger bones even easier orgasms, here are some of the other amazing benefits you’ll enjoy if you get your heart rate up more often.

1. Move it… for better memory

The effects of exercise on your brain have been well documented, but one of the most recent studies suggests it has many benefits for memory recall. Researchers at Dartmouth College in Hanover recently surveyed two groups: a sedentary group and an active group. The active group who’d exercised for the past month and on the day of testing performed better in memory tests, and improved their anxiety levels. Some researchers believe it may be partly due to a protein called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor) which acts like a ‘reset’ button for the brain – which is why we have greater clarity and are less stressed after exercise.

In The Memory Book, Judith and Janet Wiles discuss exercise and memory, saying the best thing to do to boost memory is getting regular exercise like walking. “It’s the key for getting more oxygen to the brain cells,” they write, “and providing optimum conditions for memory.”

2. Move it… for improved mental health

The same study at Dartmouth College also found that regular exercisers enjoyed reduced anxiety, compared to the sedentary group. And how about depression? Kate Carnell, CEO of Beyond Blue, says that if you’re a sufferer there’s absolutely no doubt that regular exercise should be a part of your treatment plan.

“It’s essential. We’re not 100 percent sure as to why regular exercise can help alleviate depression, but there are lots of theories,” explains Carnell. “We think exercise changes levels of chemicals in the brain, including serotonin – and also stress hormones. And, we know that endorphins are released with exercise which can help to lift mood. Exercise also helps you sleep better, and increases energy levels. Even regular exercise at a fairly low level helps quite significantly”.

3. Move it… to look younger

Exercise is one of the biggest anti-agers around. The natural glow you get after a good workout is a case in point. However, for the science buffs among you, there’s also the Telomere Theory of Aging.

Our cells divide a maximum number of times, and every time a cell divides, the ‘caps’ or telomeres on the end of the cells get frayed and damaged. But, a study of runners at the Saarland University Clinic in Germany found that the older runners had surprisingly youthful telomeres, only a bit shorter than those in the younger runners – which suggested to researchers that exercise at a cell-based level has an anti-aging effect. Dr Christian Werner, who collaborated on the study, said one could speculate that “any form of intense exercise regularly performed over a long period of time” could have a beneficial impact on telomere biology. Bottom line? Going for a run – or engaging in any kind of exercise – will boost circulation to your skin, flush out toxins and help you look younger on the outside. And the same workout may work on your DNA to keep your cells young. That’s a win-win.

4. Move it… for easier orgasms

True story – for women at least, according to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. It’s believed exercise boosts blood flow to the genitals, making it easier for you to hit The Big O in the bedroom. In particular, it’s thought interval training with a target heart rate of at least 70 percent bumps up your physiological sexual arousal.

Then, there are those lucky women who can orgasm WHILE exercising, says sex researcher Debby Herbenick, author of Sex Made Easy. “In the study I conducted at Indiana University, women wrote about a number of experiences having orgasms, often by accident, while doing sit-ups, pull-ups, yoga!” We only hope that if it happens to you in the gym, you can manage to keep a straight face.

5. Move it… to increase strength

It’s no secret that resistance training can give you muscles you never knew you had. Lifting heavy shopping bags, or your even heavier toddler … no problem. But did you know that different types of workouts can actually boost bone strength as well?

Doing weights and weight-bearing impact activities such as jumping jacks, tennis, basketball, skipping and aerobics with rapid movements in different directions are all really good for your bones, says Professor Daly. “There are little sensors in the bones that pick up when you undertake jumping and impact loading activities. These cells in the bone think, ‘Hang on, these loads are more than I am used to, if I don’t make the bones stronger they’re likely to fracture or break down’.

So as soon as you start jumping around, bones which are directly loaded will slowly add a bit more here and there to make them stronger. After some time, your bone will adapt to these new loads and so to increase bone strength further you want to try and make these activities progressively harder over time or change the direction of the movements so that the bone cells are challenged again.”

6. Move it… to combat disease

Freaking out about diabetes? Heart disease? High blood pressure? Get thee to a treadmill. “I suspect that exercise could ward off nearly all diseases and there’s no doubt it should be incorporated into everyone’s life because of the multitude of health benefits,” says Professor Daly.

Studies do show that losing 5-10 percent of your body weight can reduce bad cholesterol by 10 percent, plus lowering your risk of developing diabetes. In the case of heart disease, even small amounts of activity – like 10-15 minutes of brisk walking a day – can protect your ticker, according to researchers at Boston’s School of Public Health.

Regular workouts may also help women ward off breast cancer. The ongoing Nurses’ Health Study found that women who worked out regularly between the ages of 12 and 35 have a much lower risk of breast cancer before menopause, compared to young women who weren’t so into breaking a sweat.

7. Move it … to boost energy and ward off illness

While it may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re exhausted, countless studies show that a moderate workout can actually increase your energy and the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that enhance good moods.

And did you know that you can also use exercise to ward off winter bugs? “There is evidence that people who exercise regularly report fewer colds,” says Professor Daly. “One theory is that repeated bouts of exercise cause a short term increase in activity in the immune system, which leads to an increase in the numbers of white blood cells and antibodies in the blood, which fight infection. These then act to reduce your susceptibility to infection.”

However, if exercise is too intense it can have the opposite effect – suppressing your immunity and making you more susceptible to bugs. So aim to work out six days, but don’t go overboard!

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Meet the Author, Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith is a Sydney-based health journalist who covers sex and relationships, fitness and weight-loss, fertility, anti-aging and general wellness. When she’s not writing for magazines, newspapers and websites, Rachel moonlights as an advice columnist at her relationships and dating blog, Read author's full story here

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