The good news is you don’t have to be a gym rat or fitness fanatic, or spend a fortune on exercise equipment or club memberships, to reap the benefits. Finding simple, enjoyable activities that get your body moving can be enough to improve your health. No matter your age, health limitations, or fitness levels, there are enjoyable ways to use physical activity to make you feel better every day.
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise improves your health and your physique, but it has even greater benefits for your energy, mood, and brainpower. A study in the ACSM Journal of Health & Fitness asked long-term exercisers (those who had been regularly exercising for an average of 13 years) what motivated them to continue exercising. Rather than being motivated by building muscle or flattening their stomachs, for example, most exercisers cited the feelings of well-being they derived from exercise, along with increased pep and energy, and how exercise helped them sleep better and made them more relaxed.
The important thing to remember is that these benefits can be achieved without spending hours pumping weights in a gym or pounding on a treadmill. Regular mild to moderate exercise can improve your life by:
- Easing stress and anxiety. A twenty-minute bike ride won’t sweep away life’s troubles, but exercising regularly helps you take charge of anxiety and reduce stress. Aerobic exercise releases hormones that relieve stress and promote a sense of well-being.
- Lifting your mood. Exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. Exercise also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energizes your spirits and makes you feel good.
- Sharpening brainpower. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
- Improving self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful.
- Boosting energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energized.