1. Lessen Your Anxiety
Exercise has undeniable effects on your mood, with anxiety reduction key among them. A study by Princeton University researchers revealed that exercising creates new, excitable neurons along with new neurons designed to release the GABA neurotransmitter.
GABA inhibits excessive neuronal firing, helping to induce a natural state of calm.2 Commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs like Ativan, Xanax, and Valium actually exert a calming effect in this same manner, by boosting the action of GABA. The mood-boosting benefits of exercise occur both immediately after a workout and continue on in the long term.
In addition to the creation of new neurons, including those that release the calming neurotransmitter GABA, exercise boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress. Exercise is also one of the most effective prevention and treatment strategies for depression.
2. Boost Your Immune Function
When you exercise, you increase your circulation and your blood flow throughout your body. The components of your immune system are also better circulated, which means your immune system has a better chance of finding an illness before it spreads. This includes (but is certainly not limited to) seasonal colds and influenza.
According to a survey by the London School ofHygiene and Tropical Medicine, exercising vigorously for at least 2.5 hours each week can reduce your chances of catching the flu.3 The survey suggested that 100 cases of flu per 1,000 people could be prevented each year this way.
Other studies have also shown that regular exercise will help prevent the common cold. In one such study, women who exercised regularly were found to have half the risk of colds of those who didn’t work out.4
And the ability of moderate exercise to ward off colds seemed to grow the longer it was used. The enhanced immunity was strongest in the final quarter of the year-long exercise program, suggesting that it is important to stick with exercise long term to get the full effects.
3. Sleep Better
If you’re having trouble sleeping, an exercise program may be the solution. Research shows that regular exercisers report sleeping better, including falling asleep faster and having a decreased need for sleeping pills, than they did prior to the start of their exercise program.
4. Reduce Symptoms of PMS
Women who exercise even report that their symptoms of PMS, including feeling irritable and bloated, improve. In fact, exercise was helpful for improving PMS symptoms in over 80 percent of those who tried it.
5. Boost Your Sexual Health
Exercise is an important component of keeping your sex life alive, largely because it significantly lowers the risk of erectile dysfunction in men (and those who are the most active have the most benefit with better reported erections).
This works because exercise helps open your arteries, increasing blood flow throughout your body, including to the penis.7 Additionally, exercise helps with stress relief, improves your stamina and boosts your body image – all of which are conducive to a healthy sex drive.
6. Strengthen Your Brain
The increased blood flow that results from exercise also benefits your brain, allowing it to function better almost immediately. As a result, you tend to feel more focused after a workout.
Furthermore, exercising regularly will promote the growth of new brain cells. In your hippocampus, these new brain cells help boost memory and learning. As stated by the Huffington Post:
“When you work out regularly, your brain gets used to this frequent surge of blood and adapts by turning certain genes on or off. Many of these changes boost brain cell function and protect from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or even stroke, and ward off age-related decline.”
Exercise also encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing your nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage.
There are multiple mechanisms at play here, but the rejuvenating role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is one of them. BDNF activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons. It also triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health.
7. Boost Your Body Image
Exercise helps your body to tone up and become leaner, but this benefit may pale in comparison to what it does for your body image. A meta-analysis of 57 studies found that exercise improves the way people feel about their bodies.