Benefits of Exercise You May Not Know About
Most people exercise to improve their physique, since regular physical exercise is the best way to build muscles and burn fat. Exercise can benefit our bodies in many ways, from reducing our risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes to improving our muscle tone and keeping us in good physical shape. But did you know that exercise has many other awesome benefits? Here are some of them.
- Exercise can help improve our self-control
Temptation can find us anywhere, but new research suggests that regular exercise can help us resist devilish urges that may come in various forms, including extra helpings of dessert or shopping splurges. A recent study by researchers at the University of Kansas has revealed that exercising on a regular basis can help us achieve greater self-control and discipline. In order to measure self-control, the researchers used a measure called “delay discounting,” which quantifies the individual’s ability to put off immediate gratification for greater enjoyment in the future. It turns out that the volunteers who participated in the study and took part in a regular exercise training regimen developed significantly greater levels of self-control compared to study volunteers who did not exercise, and their improved levels of self-control stayed elevated even after the study finished. Most of us could benefit from extra self-restraint, and exercise could just do the trick to increase our willpower and help us avoid actions we may regret in the future.
- Exercise can increase our self-esteem
Exercise can also be a powerful tool to improve our self-esteem. Researchers from Norway have found that regular exercise significantly improved the self-esteem in children and young adults. It’s not surprising that exercise can build our self-confidence, since it is a natural mood-lifter, provides us with a sense of accomplishment, and makes our bodies look better than before.
In turn, a healthy level of self-esteem has many benefits, such as making us more emotionally stable and resilient to stress, and helping us stay motivated, in addition to helping us pursue difficult goals and to persist in achieving them. It seems that our society highly encourages aesthetically pleasing physical appearance, and exercise can make us feel better about ourselves by improving the way we look. However, the positive effects of exercise on our self-confidence go even farther than that, since improvements in strength level and competence contribute to the confidence boost.
- Exercise can improve our mental health
In the recent years, scientific research has revealed regular exercise can be one of the most effective ways to improve our mental health. How does it work? Scientists are currently working on several hypotheses to explain the way exercise exerts its benefits on our mental health.
Currently, the “endorphin hypothesis” is one of the most popular explanations of how exercise can make us feel good. During and following physical exercise, our brains release endorphins, the molecules responsible for the feeling of “runner’s high,” which can improve our mood and decrease the feelings of pain. Another popular scientific theory to explain the positive effects of exercise on our mental health is the “distraction hypothesis,” which proposes that physical activity serves as a distraction from worrying and negative thoughts. In fact, aerobic exercise has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety levels and depression.
- Exercise can improve memory and thinking skills
It turns out that exercise could keep the brain sharp. In a recent study, scientists have found that exercising four hours after a memory task significantly improved the study participants’ memory retention in comparison to the participants who did not exercise. In another recent study, researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada have found that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the brain region referred to as the hippocampus in older adults. The hippocampus is responsible for regulating the processes of learning and memory, and these findings could mean that exercise could be an effective way to prevent age-related brain volume loss and cognitive decline.
In addition, exercise increases grey and white matter volume in a region referred to as the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for abstract thinking and reasoning, in the brains of older adults. Scientists attribute the positive effects of exercise on the brain to its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation and stimulate the release of growth factors, which are molecules that play an important role in brain growth and development.
- Exercise improves sleep quality
Benefits of exercise include improved sleep patterns and circadian rhythms. In fact, physical activity can promote daytime alertness and increase total sleep time. A recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that individuals who exercise regularly reported greater sleep quality, compared to individuals who do not exercise. Moreover, individuals who practiced vigorous exercise were more likely to report having gotten a “good night’s sleep” the night before. In addition, regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia.
Eugenia Petoukhov is a Canadian-based researcher and scientific writer. She is particularly interested in the inner workings of the brain, as well as in molecular and experimental medicine.
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