Dogs. If you’ve ever thought about getting one, or perhaps already have one, you undoubtedly have a rough idea how to look after it. The rules for keeping a pup’s tail wagging are all but common sense. Feed it plenty of protein-rich foods—no breads or cakes. Give it plenty of water, not fizzy drinks or beer. And, most important, take it for plenty of long walks and runs. If you didn’t have time to walk your pooch, you’d feel pretty damn guilty and probably wouldn’t consider befriending man’s best friend in the first place. As you’ve probably heard, fat dogs beget fat owners.
Taking care of your body is no different from owning a dog: Feed it, water it and make sure it gets plenty of exercise. But you don’t need to work, well, like a dog to live a healthy, long life. All you need to do is clue in to the benefits of exercise. Exercise is better than the latest prescription drug, offers more pronounced results than the most expensive therapies and is the closest thing we have to a cure-all health elixir. Here are the top 10 benefits of exercise.
If one thing matters more than anything, it’s staying alive. We fortunately have evolved to link our longevity with the amount of sweat that passes our brows. Just how many years can exercise buy you? In a well-known study that examined mortality rates over 26 years in more than 17,000 men who had attended Harvard University, life expectancy was about 2 years longer in those who expended 2,000 calories per week during exercise compared with those who couch surfed (Paffenbarger et al., 1986). A fairly modest investment brings a large return when you consider that the extra years were full of a high-quality, active lifestyle, not just bingo halls.
2. Disease Prevention
Exercise fends off disease better than anything pharmaceutical companies could ever hope to sell. People have tried to bottle and sell it, but there’s simply no substitute for the real thing. The healing properties of exercise are so powerful that they strike fear into the heart of more ailments than anything else. They tackle diabetes, heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, liver disease, lung disease, lymphoma, migraines . . . well, you get the picture. Exercise is a powerful immunization against almost every disease.
3. Brain Health
When you exercise to keep your body in rude health, your control centre also gets an upgrade. Not only will regular exercise help you coast into your golden years, it’ll help you maintain your faculties and fend off dementia. What’s more, exercise keeps your brain and cognitive abilities razor sharp throughout your life. Research has found that regular exercise improves memory, multitasking and planning abilities. As you can see, dumbbells might not be so dumb after all.
4. Improved Sense of Well-Being
You’ve seen them: the sickeningly smiling people advertising gyms and fitness equipment on the home-shopping channel. Love them or hate them, they’re not faking it. Exercise really does lift mood, mostly because you’re doing something to take your body a step closer to improvement. Exercise is better than a jumbo box of antidepressants. And your body is kind enough to throw in a bonus: the exercise high. During and after exercise, you manufacture feel-good chemicals and hormones like a built-in motivational aquifer. Your body actually rewards you for looking after it. Talk about taking care of your own.
5. Better Joint Health
It’s true that sportsmen often injure themselves doing the things they love. Exercise can be risky business, but it’s less risky than not exercising because getting your body moving lubes up your joints. Research in Journal of Anatomy found that exercise does no harm to your joints, whereas being overweight and sedentary is more likely to make your knees and hips go rusty (Hunter and Eckstein, 2009). Every joint in your body follows one principle: Use it or lose it. Get moving if you want to keep moving. Keep in mind that exercise has some risk if you perform it improperly, don’t follow the principle of progressive overload or just have some bad luck.
6. Improved Self-Confidence
Looking in the mirror and seeing something you—and other people—like is a powerful ego booster. Just don’t take it too far or you’ll end up like one of the Jersey Shore crew. Whether you’re trying to impress the redhead in accounts, interviewing for a new job or convincing the hotel front desk to give you a room upgrade, more confidence comes in handy. Those with low confidence can gain confidence by simply doing a bit of light exercise, such as walking, jogging or even working in the yard. The simple act of doing something healthy and productive for yourself can ramp up your self-esteem. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a good strategy to run around your office just before you ask out the redhead.
7. Higher Bone Density
Exercise will help you develop a Wolverine-like skeleton. Well, you may not be challenging Logan to a fight after pumping iron, but your skeleton will be significantly stronger. Research at Indiana University (Warden and Fuchs, 2007) found that exercising while you’re younger makes you less likely to fracture anything when you’re older. You might not appreciate this every day, but you will be thankful if you ever fall off your bicycle and come away with no broken bones.
8. More Energy
Spending energy to get more energy. It’s a funny little conundrum. You’d like to tell yourself, ‘I don’t have the energy to exercise,’ but it really doesn’t work that way. Exercise will give you more energy than a coal mine. Regular exercise plays a consistent role in reducing fatigue and improving energy. Even if you work a 10-hour day and come home too tired to kick off your shoes, regular training will give you the oomph to tackle your job, health and private life with more vigour.
9. Better Sleep
Few things will ruin your day more than a terrible night’s sleep. Lack of sleep can make you feel as though you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders and can affect your performance at work, costing you cold hard cash. A study at Oregon State University (Loprinzi and Cardinal, 2011) found that people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. Consider a better relationship with the sandman to be a big reward for only a smidgen of effort.
10. Improved Sex Life
There’s a reason the gossip magazines feature the scandals of your favourite professional athletes: Being fit bolsters sex drive. (Hopefully this newfound drive won’t create the same trouble for you that came to your athlete.) A body that looks better will attract more attention, and if you’re in a relationship your partner will benefit from the added hormonal improvements that exercise creates. Regular sweating increases testosterone—your sex drive hormone—by dramatic amounts, found research in European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology (Kindermann et al., 1982). Skipping a workout before a big date could be one of the worst mistakes you ever make.
The biggest kicker is that exercise really is fun. Once you find something you enjoy doing, it won’t seem like a chore and will be something that you want to do. The advantages listed here aren’t available only to athletes and gym freaks. They’re right there waiting for you, even if you put in very little time. In fact, you can reap a host of health benefits in just one exercise session.