The fact of the matter is that the benefits of exercise spill over to almost every part of your life. The lifestyle benefits of exercise are some of the less tangible benefits that occur through exercise.
Exercise should be more than some chore. I agree, it’s not always the easiest thing to do. The benefits are more than worth it and you need to think of all the good things that come from it. It helps you move your body, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment, and can give you a sense of control when other things seem to be falling apart. Use it as an excuse to experience new things, learn new skills, connect with other people, and you will begin to see an increase in your quality of life.
So here’s some of those intangibles that exercise can benefit.
EXERCISE HELPS TREAT ANXIETY DISORDERS
Anxiety disorders affect a lot of people in a big way. In 2013, an article reviewed recent studies looking at the effects of exercise as a way to alleviate the symptoms. They noted several underlying physical and mental mechanisms accounting for these effects, and saw several meta-analysis showing positive improvement of anxiety in clinical settings.
EXERCISE CAN HELP THOSE WITH ADHD
ADHD in children has seen a sharp rise in the last couple of decades, and is a big concern today. As it should be, it affects over 2.5 million school children in the US alone. Exercise’s benefits for executive functions would hopefully help this particular group of individuals. A short bout of moderate level exercise was shown to improve math and reading scores in children, with an added benefit with those children with ADHD. Some have even seen exercise as a cost effective alternative to medication. Without the side effects.
IMPROVES YOUR QUALITY OF SLEEP
Sleep is one of the major areas of efficient brain functioning. It has a direct effect on memory, self regulation, and cognition. Simply put, better sleep means a better brain.
One study looked at adults that had numerous complaints about lack of quality sleep. The study examined several factors. Gender, age, and physical function were observed over a period of 12 months. The results found that adults that were the least active benefited most from exercise when it came to quality of sleep.
Exercise can do more than help those with insomnia or sleep disturbances. It’s good for normal healthy adults and adolescents as well. A meta-analysis found that total sleep time and fewer disturbances during the night were positive side effects of acute bouts of exercise.
It’s important to note, the relationship between sleep and exercise has had some varying results. A lot of the variation has occurred when subjects have known sleep issues such as insomnia. Typically, exercise in the long term has beneficial results. Certain variables like the type of exercise, duration, and intensity are still being explored to find the cause of certain types of research results.
IT REDUCES MIGRAINES AND HEADACHES
Although the data on exercise and headaches are a bit scarce, there does seem to be evidence for indirect benefits.
Some of the biggest causes of headaches are inadequate sleep and stress. So it should be no surprise that exercise – which has positive effects on both of those causes – can help reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches.
For the hard evidence, two studies have had positive findings. One study in Sweden gave an exercise program to people with migraines to see if it could improve their symptoms. The study saw pretty positive results in this area. The second study was a large cross sectional study done in Norway. They found that people who were more sedentary were more likely to get headaches than their more physically active counterparts.
Although uncommon, some people have reported exercise causing the onset of headaches. These people are in the minority, but be careful. You should always consult your doctor before engaging in regular physical activity.
REDUCES YOUR RISK OF STROKE
Another obvious benefit of exercise, but also worth mentioning. Exercise helps reduce the risk of stroke. In fact, a study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2008, showed that healthy cardiovascular men and women could reduce the risk of stroke by 40%. Even more encouraging was that people who exercised moderately had a significant chance of lowering their risk. So you don’t have to run marathons to reduce your risk.
LOWERS YOUR RISK OF DEMENTIA AND ALZHEIMER’S
In one of the longest studies of it’s kind – 35 years to be exact – one study followed over 2000 men. They found several healthy behaviors exhibited by these men that reduced the chances of dementia by a whopping 60 percent. Regular exercise, while not the only behavior, was identified as being the largest contributing factor in reducing dementia.
Another recent study took a look at the factors that can attribute to dementia. This study found that exercise as the most significant factor to protect against the onset of dementia. The study cites several major factors that can increase your chances of developing dementia, but the largest – being physical inactivity – can increase your chance by 82%.
Here’s another take away from that study. By exercising just one hour a week, you can cut your chance of developing dementia in half. And for those that can’t – or have difficulty – doing more intense physical exercise, won’t have to worry. The study claims that moderate exercise to the tune of 30 minutes 5 times a week can see these benefits as well.
Coincidentally, and I’m not joking here, one of the lead authors of the study is Professor Brayne.
IT CAN HELP YOU EAT HEALTHIER
If you’ve ever started an exercise program and stuck with it for a period of time, you may have noticed your eating habits changing as well. Apparently this is a happy side effect of exercise.
One study looking at weight control found that the greater the intrinsic motivation to exercise (intrinsic motivation being things like interest and enjoyment of the activity), was a high predicting factor in helping one control their eating.
A different study examined the effects of a moderate level workout in respect to their motivation for food. The study found two interesting things. Not only did it decrease motivation for food, but they also saw an increase in physical activity throughout the day for those that exercised. A hint that exercise may help you be more physically active even when not exercising.
Finally, there has even been a evidence that links exercise to a change in diet. Specifically, researchers have noticed that there is an increase in the amounts of fruits and vegetables you eat. This has been found for not only adults, but in highschool students as well.
INCREASES YOUR PRODUCTIVITY AT WORK
Exercise impacts more than your academic or personal life. It can also have a positive effect on your professional life as well.
Over 200 white collar workers from 3 organizations were used to study exercise in the workplace. Researchers found that people reported several positive effects in the workplace from working out during their break or if they exercised before work. The benefits included better time management, better mood, and increased employee tolerance. On days were employees didn’t exercise, the benefits were not seen.
Another study from Bringham Young University looked at different factors that contributed to the loss of productivity in the workplace in almost 20,000 employees. Researchers found that people who exercised only occasionally or not at all were more likely to report lower productivity than employees who exercised regularly.
OFFSETS HEALTH RISKS OF A SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE
Yes, you can exercise regularly and still have a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, research is showing that being sedentary is an independent health risk. Meaning that it doesn’t matter if you’re a desk jockey, or a marathon runner. Large amounts of time sitting on the couch or at a desk are horrible for you. Not information I was excited to hear as most of my work is done sitting down.
If you are exercising on a regular basis, though, you can breathe (just a little bit) easier. A study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that those who are physically fit have less adverse health effects from a sedentary lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean you can sit in front of a tv 4 hours a day.
EXERCISE BOOSTS CREATIVITY
A research study back in 1985 revealed that a exercise program helped college students gain modest – but statistically significant – gains in two of three creative tests.
Going one step further, another study took a look at the duration of exercise and its effect on creativity. Researchers found that exercise not only boosted creativity, but did so immediately following it. The effect even lasted up to 2 hours after the exercise was complete.
This doesn’t mean the immediate effects of exercise on creativity are 100% clear. One set of researchers looked at the short term effect of intense and moderate exercise. They also ran tests on fit and unfit groups of people. They found that taking a creative test following the workouts actually hampered creative activity. The group that was in better shape, though, did happen to fare better on the test.
It may be that intense exercise may not be the best path to creativity. Further research will tell. For anyone looking to get a boost of creativity, however, could try low impact activities. One study has found that the simple act of walking helped increase creativity. Creativity is a hot area, and which methods of exercise can boost it are under investigation.
AIDS IN THE PREVENTION AND RECOVERY OF DRUG ABUSE
The effects that exercise has on drug abuse, and those trying to recover from from it, is a relatively new research area. So there’s not tons of information out there yet. The key issues and mechanisms for prevention and recovery of different types of drugs are being studied. The ways that exercise may be able to aid in recovery is a promising avenue.
Several studies have noted an inverse relationship between physical activity and drug abuse, and has done so on a consistent basis. They say psychologically exercise improves self esteem and increases well being, both of which can affect drug abuse. Also, research has shown that exercise reduces anxiety and depression, which are cues for at risk populations to relapse.
Furthermore, there are biological changes in the brain that may be an underlying cause of the prevention and recovery. Both the inducement of creating new neurons in the hippocampul region of the brain, and also increased ability in the prefrontal cortex – which helps humans plan, make decisions, and reduce impulses.
The initial findings of such programs are positive. A recent meta-analysis in 2014 took a look across 22 studies to find a long term effect for substance abuse. They found that moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise can be an effective tool in increasing abstinence and can lessen effects of withdrawal symptoms. And it can do so for several types of substance use disorders.
REDUCES TOBACCO CRAVINGS AND WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS
What about other substance abuse? Sure enough, scientists are taking a look at the effects that exercise might have on other substances, including one of the biggest unhealthy habits in the world – smoking.
One review showed that not only could cravings be reduced with short bouts of exercise, but it could help with tobacco withdrawal as well. The reduction in withdrawal symptoms were seen with moderate intensity exercise, but intense exercise would increase symptoms. They also saw reductions in the actual desire to want to smoke.
There is also evidence that exercise as an intervention method could work for those trying to quit. Larger studies need to be done, but a review of literature has seen exercise help increase abstinence rates.
CAN HELP WITH ALCOHOL DEPENDENCY
Exercise used together with other traditional therapy techniques for alcohol dependency is also a fairly new area of research. There are far fewer studies looking at the effects of exercise on alcohol rehabilitation than smoking. But research is underway.
One review found six studies that measured drinking episodes, days of abstinence, and cravings. Of those six studies, four of them found improvements when compared against groups that did not use exercise. The remaining two failed to find any positive or negative results.
In a slightly longer study in 2014, sedentary patients were split into three groups for 12 weeks. One group did moderate exercise, another group aerobic exercise, and the third only received health advice. The results indicated that the patients in both exercise groups reported fewer drinking days and heavy drinking days when compared to a group that only received health advice. Researchers also noted that the patients who exercised in the group had more positive effects than that of just exercise alone.
JUMPSTARTS YOUR LEARNING
There are some other related exercise benefits that are most likely responsible for improved learning. The sharper memory, an increase in attention, and exercises ability to spur the growth of new brains cells would be the big ones. They can all play a vital role in helping one learn and retain new information.
There’s a more interesting benefit of exercise that’s just as important. Not only does exercise help prime the brain to learn new information, it actually increases the rate at which you learn. One study looked at this quality, specifically. They took three groups and subjected them to different levels of exercise. One high impact, one low impact, and one group with no exercise.
Not only did the group with the high impact exercise learn 20% faster, they found a strong correlation with learning speed and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). They also noticed that levels of dopamine were tied to better intermediate memory recall, and epinephrine was tied to long term memory retention.
IMPROVES ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
Learning is obviously important in academic settings. Especially when you are a young adult learning the skills that will set you up for success in your personal and professional life in adulthood. It also applies to those who go back to school for higher education.
A meta-analysis covering 59 studies looked at the effects of physical activity and physical fitness on academic achievement. Not only did they find a strong, positive effect on achievement and cognitive abilities, they noted that the strongest effects came from aerobic exercise.
While the effects of exercise and academic achievement are known to some, the trend in school policy has not been so quick to embrace the mounting evidence. So while the details of what types of exercise and how much are being verified, here’s what the data says so far.
BMI is routinely used as an indicator of general fitness, but that doesn’t translate into how fit a person really is. Another study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that being physically fit was a better predictor of high test scores than BMI. So be careful not to equate BMI to fitness!
OTHER KNOWN BENEFITS
Don’t think that this is all that exercise can do for you mind. For a more complete look at everything exercise can do for your brain, check out this other article. And if you have friends that may be inspired from this information, please share!
Image Credit: Hartwig HKD