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.
It zaps anxiety. Ever notice that you can start a workout feeling stressed and anxious, and end it feeling good? It isn't in your head. Or, actually, it is: According to a new study from Princeton University, exercise appears to change the chemistry of the brain by causing the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps quiet brain activity and minimize anxiety. The study found that people who ran regularly had a low reaction to stressful situations, even if they hadn't run in more than 24 hours.
A certain level of muscle strength is needed to function every day and do things such as walking and climbing stairs. Strengthening exercises increase this muscle strength by putting more strain on a muscle than it is normally accustomed to receiving. This increased load stimulates the growth of proteins inside each muscle cell that allow the muscle as a whole to contract.
The answer, then, is a short workout, right? Something that takes, say, 20 minutes tops. You’ll usually be able to squeeze that in between punching out at work and getting ready for your evening activities. But here’s the rub: It may only take you 20 minutes to train, but it takes 10-15 minutes (at least) to drive to the gym, five minutes or so to get in and out of the locker room, then 10-15 minutes to drive back home. You’re talking at least 45 minutes for the whole deal, but probably more like an hour-plus.
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Whether we’re fully conscious of it or not, we’re always looking for how to be happy. And exercise is one of the most obvious steps to take, as it’s not a coincidence that you feel better after a good workout: It’s science. A Penn State University study found that people who exercised, whether it was a mild, moderate or vigorous workout, had more pleasant feelings than those who didn’t. (1)