Although the cardiovascular effects of exercise are partly related to inflammation, they still deserve their own category. Exercise is one of the best-illustrated things we can do for our hearts, and this includes markers like blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition the physical structure of the heart itself, and blood vessel function. Studies have suggested that 30 minutes per day is good enough to keep the heart in shape, while others have suggested we do more than this to get a real effect. Some have found that light activity is even enough to help the heart, but not all research confirms this, so it’s a little hard to tell how low levels of activity affect heart health over the long term. Additionally, too much exercise has also been shown to be stressful to the heart. So all this is to say that there’s probably a sweet spot somewhere in the middle for optimal cardiovascular health.
Maybe you exercise to tone your thighs, build your biceps, or flatten your belly. Or maybe you work out to ward off the big killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But how about sweating to improve your mind? "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. "Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." If you need a little extra incentive to lace up those sneakers, here are five ways that exercise can boost your brainpower.
“Inactivity is associated with increased risk for a number of cancers, including colon and breast cancer,” McCleary says. “Exercise has been linked with a decreased risk of developing cancer, death from cancer, and recurrence of certain cancers.” The suggested mechanisms at play include exercise’s beneficial effects on the immune and surveillance systems that detect and kill cancer cells, improved cardio-respiratory status, improved hormonal profiles, weight maintenance, and other beneficial metabolic effects, he says.
Ah, the push-up. While lunges are a unilateral exercise, push-ups are a compound exercise. Compound exercises use several muscle groups at once. This classic move engages your core, biceps, triceps, deltoids, and lower body—and that’s just to keep you stabilized. Using this many muscle groups at once causes your heart to work harder to get oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. So, in short, push-ups can also be a form of cardiovascular exercise that increases heart health.
While building strength will get those arms more defined, cardio is still king when it comes to shedding the fat that’s causing your arms to wiggle. Researchers at Duke University studying 119 overweight, sedentary subjects found that those who stuck to a cardio program lost twice the weight of those who did strength training, despite the fact that the cardio group spent 47 fewer minutes exercising every week than their weight-training peers. So, if you’re ready to get that upper body toned and tight, make sure you’re making time for cardio, too.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), being physically active can be “a natural Viagra boost”. “Men and women who exercise regularly are going to have increased levels of desire. They’re going to have enhanced confidence, enhanced ability to achieve orgasm and greater sexual satisfaction,” says Cedric Bryant, the council’s chief exercise physiologist.
Another study this month, from Mayo Clinic, found that exercise in older people who were formerly sedentary had at least as strong an impact as in it did in young people—at least in the kinds of genes that were expressed. The study also found that these changes were much more robust in response to interval training than to weight lifting or moderate exercise. Which may mean that for some things, the type of exercise we chose matters.
Lie on your back with the left leg extended and the right knee bent. Place the right foot on the floor and extend the right arm toward ceiling. Perform a crunch-like movement to lift the upper body, transitioning into a seated position, and continue to reach the right arm up. Place the left hand on the floor next to the left hip and push through the left hand and the right foot to lift the hips off the floor. Extend through the hips, reaching back with the right arm to perform a slight backbend. Slowly lower back down to the starting position. Repeat five to six reps on the right side before switching to the left.
Starting on the hands and knees, keep a flat back and engage the core. Raise the left leg straight back, stopping when the foot is hip-level and the thigh parallel to the floor. Balance for as long as possible, then raise the bottom right toe off the floor, tightening the butt, back, and abs (try to be graceful here!). Hold for up to 10 seconds, then switch legs.
Exercise has long been linked to better sleep, according to a review article published in December 2014 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Other research suggests exercise may improve sleep and mood in people with insomnia, too, according to a study published in October 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research. Conversely, poor quality sleep has been linked to a wide array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. Given the fact that getting adequate sleep is so crucial for good health, and that exercise is a low-cost, easily accessible solution that offers lots of other health benefits with no risk or side effects, giving exercise a try to improve sleep is a no-brainer.
Begin with a free weight in your right hand. Rest your left hand and bent left leg on the exercise bench. Your left hand should be directly under your left shoulder so it supports your body. Bend your right hand while holding the free weight, making sure your back is straight and your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Form a 90-degree angle between your forearm and your upper arm. Keep your head up and your neck straight.
But the idea that banging out a workout when you don't have access to your usual equipment or space is one that trainers are quick to debunk. Sure, they know their way around a gym floor and a smart workout program, but they also know that when you're traveling, ultra busy, or just don't feel like dealing with the gym, a routine of challenging bodyweight exercises will get the job done.
Though some people actually love physical activity and look forward to it, for many of us, exercising is a mighty drag. Exercise has also had an added PR problem in recent years: A growing body of evidence has shown that it’s not all that good for weight loss, which was probably many people’s reason for doing it in the first place. It may help with weight a little, especially for maintenance, but by and large, if you want to drop pounds, the most effective way is to eat less, not necessarily to exercise more. That said, research in recent years has also illustrated quite persuasively what exercise is good for—and it is actually good for a number of things, including some very profound things, like reducing dementia risk. Here’s what science tells us we should probably keep exercising for, even though we may not love every minute of it.
In case you’re curious, I’ll take a quick minute to share a little bit about who I am, my experience with struggling with my weight, what I did about it, and my purpose for helping folks all over the world do the same... I've found that what brings me the most happiness are the real people with real lives I've helped, as they email me about the success they've had using my techniques... read more