“Body fat is structurally important,” explains Stefanie Mendez, R.D., co-founder of Matriarch, a women's fitness and nutrition service. “It cushions our organs and insulates our body for temperature control and also is our body’s source of energy reserves. Beyond that, fat is needed for the production of hormones and reproduction functions.” And that fat can show up in your thighs, your belly, and, yes, your upper arms. Where it goes is partly due to genetics; if your mom has arm fat, science says you have a 62 percent chance of inheriting that trait.
Exercise provides socialization opportunities. Exercising outside the home, whether in the great outdoors, at a gym or recreation center, in an exercise class, sport group, walking or running club, etc., all lead to encounters with other people who also enjoy working out. New acquaintances and friendships develop readily in such contexts. Over time, having the pleasure of one's exercise group's company becomes another reason to exercise.
A 2002 study examined three groups of people. Group one, the control group, was told to track how often each person exercised throughout the week. The second group, the motivation group, was given the same instructions, but also read a motivational speech. Group three, the intention group, added on to the previous groups by asking people to create a plan that set a specific day, time and place to exercise.
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.
And you don’t need to sweat buckets to see the benefits of exercise, either. According to the physical activity guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise with two days of strength training per week yields the same health benefits as 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise with two days of strength training each week — as does a combination of moderate- and high-intensity exercise, plus two strength training workouts.
Do 75-150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. A slow metabolism and lack of cardiovascular exercise can lead to weight gain, and this gets worse as you age. Fight unwanted flab by doing at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week to rev up your body and burn calories. Activities like bike riding, walking, swimming, skiing, jogging, and rollerblading are all good options.
Plyometrics are high-intensity bodyweight exercises that improve power, speed and physical performance. Think of burpees, jumping jacks, plank jacks and box jumps. These movements engage the whole body and raise your heart rate, sending your metabolism into overdrive. During a typical workout, your muscles are stretched and then contracted quickly to produce explosive force.
Emerging research suggests that it doesn’t take much movement to get the benefits. “We’ve been interested in the question of, How low can you go?” says Martin Gibala, an exercise physiologist at McMaster University in Ontario. He wanted to test how effective a 10-minute workout could be, compared to the typical 50-minute bout. The micro-workout he devised consists of three exhausting 20-second intervals of all-out, hard-as-you-can exercise, followed by brief recoveries. In a three-month study, he pitted the short workout against the standard one to see which was better. To his amazement, the workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control, even though one workout was five times longer than the other. “If you’re willing and able to push hard, you can get away with surprisingly little exercise,” Gibala says. (For more on the 1-minute workout read this.)
Inflammation (in-fluh-mey-shun): The redness and warmth around a cut or scrape is short-term inflammation, produced by the immune system to aid healing. But another type called chronic inflammation, triggered by compounds from abdominal fat, gum disease and other factors, lingers in the body. Research suggests this type increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, dementia and some forms of cancer.
Most people end a tough workout with a hot shower, but maybe we should be breaking out the colored pencils instead. A heart-pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards Exercise enhances creativity independently of mood. Steinberg H, Sykes EA, Moss T, Lowery S, LeBoutillier N, Dewey A. The British Journal of Sports Medicine. 1997 September;31(3):240-245.. Supercharge post-workout inspiration by exercising outdoors and interacting with nature (see benefit #4) The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Berman, M.G., Jonides, J., Kaplan, S. Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Psychological Science, 2008 Dec;19(12):1207-12.. Next time you need a burst of creative thinking, hit the trails for a long walk or run to refresh the body and the brain at the same time.
That’s bad news, but emerging evidence shows that there are plenty of compelling reasons to start moving at any age and even if you’re ill or pregnant. Indeed, scientists are learning that exercise is, actually, medicine. “There is no pill that comes close to what exercise can do,” says Claude Bouchard, director of the human genomics laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana. “And if there was one, it would be extremely expensive.”
“Exercise of various types can help prevent osteoporosis, thinning of bones, fracture risk, and falls that are associated with fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist,” says Larry McCleary, MD, retired acting chief of neurosurgery at Denver Children’s Hospital in Colorado, and author of Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly. “Types of exercise that help include aerobic exercise, resistance training, and even exercises that increase balance and agility.” Tai chi may also be beneficial when it comes to improving balance and muscle strength.
“Push-ups are a great exercise that can be done regressively or progressively. Adding things like shoulder taps, mountain climbers, or even negatives are great ways to add more effectiveness to push-ups done without weight,” explained Septh. Similarly, Barajas mentioned a change simple as switching up your hand placements (wide, narrow, etc.) will work different parts of the muscles.