We know exercise is good for us. Keeping active can help manage weight, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and make us feel better in general. But it turns out that’s not all exercise can do. Scientists are still finding and proving additional benefits of exercise, and some of them are surprising. Here are nine lesser-known ways that exercise can keep you healthier and happier. Once you check out these major benefits, we’ll talk about ways to start with exercise, safely.
1. Less pain
In New York, researchers found that a low-cost exercise program significantly improved participants’ musculoskeletal pain. Staying active is also an effective way to reduce chronic back pain, one of the most widespread pain conditions in the world. Evidence has even shown that exercise can reduce nerve-related pain by controlling the amount of inflammatory compounds in the blood.
2. Mood disorder management
Treatments for mood disorders are becoming more effective all the time, but good old-fashioned exercise can make a difference, too. Not only is exercise an excellent complementary therapy to traditional treatments, but it can provide an effective treatment option for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to tolerate traditional treatment. And the benefits of exercise are immediate. Just a half hour of exercise can leave you feeling happier and more energized. Another plus: pain and mood disorders exacerbate each other, but because exercise can help improve both, exercise can make a big difference if you’re struggling with both chronic pain and a mood disorder.
3. Healthier brain
White-matter fibers in the brain are involved with learning and memory. Older people often have age-related damage to white-matter, which is associated with problems moving (like trouble walking). However, exercise and a less sedentary lifestyle have been shown to help maintain the integrity of white-matter. Even in people who’ve already experience white-matter damage, keeping active can reduce the mobility issues associated with white-matter degeneration. Also, exercise reduces the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment later in life.
4. Less cravings when you quit smoking
The cravings associated with quitting smoking can be intense, but exercise affects the brain in such a way that it reduces cravings for nicotine. The craving-curbing effect of exercise may be somewhat short-lived, ranging from a few hours to a couple days, but it just takes an additional burst of exercise to renew the effect. Just ten minutes of cycling can be enough to reduce cigarette cravings.
5. Cancer prevention (and treatment)
Exercise has been shown to lower the risk of some types of cancer, such as breast cancer. Additionally, for people who are survivors of or being treated for cancer, exercise might make treatments more effective, increase tolerance to chemotherapy, help control other symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment.
6. Chronic disease management
Exercise can help you manage a chronic disease by boosting your immune system. Evidence has shown that exercising can benefit people with everything from psoriasis to liver disease to chronic kidney disease.
7. Better sex
Exercise is associated with improved erectile and sexual function in men. A recent study notes that past research has looked mostly at white men, but it’s now been shown that the benefits of exercise can extend to men of other races, too. For ladies, exercise can reduce the libido-draining side effects of some antidepressants. Specifically, doing about 30 minutes of exercise just before engaging in sex can counter the sexual side effects of antidepressants. Also, if you’ve ever heard about “coregasms” (female orgasm without sex or fantasy) from engaging in core abdominal exercises, the science has spoken: they’re really possible. Exercises like weight lifting, cycling, or rope-climbing really can lead to exercise-induced orgasm.
8. Healthier pregnancies and kids
If you’re a woman planning on expanding her family soon, start exercising now. Exercise both before and during pregnancy can decrease the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. On top of this, exercising while you’re pregnant might improve your baby’s vascular healthwell into his or her adulthood. Current guidelines suggest about 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week for pregnant women, but every woman and pregnancy is different. It’s always a good idea to check with your physician and OB/GYN before starting any sort of exercise while pregnant.
9. Longer life
Considering all the benefits of exercise, it’s not surprising that staying active can reduce the risk of mortality, but the extent of these benefits is surprising. In some populations (such as elderly men), 30 minutes of exercise per day for six days a week can have just as profound an effect as quitting smoking.
How to start with exercise
If you don’t regularly exercise, starting a new exercise regimen might be confusing or intimidating, especially if you have chronic pain. It doesn’t have to be, though. First, talk to your physician – especially if you have a health condition, disability, chronic pain, or are pregnant. Set a small, measurable goal, such as walking to the corner and back. Write it down when you meet your goal for the day.
Let a friend or family member know what you’re up to and report in on a regular basis, so that he or she can congratulate and motivate you. Reward yourself for reaching goals, such as going for a walk 20 days out of the month, with a special dinner out, a new article of clothing, coffee with a good friend, or whatever else you can think of to keep yourself motivated to exercise.
Above all else, we want to encourage you to pick an exercise program that is best for you, your specific needs, and that will engage you and keep you motivated. Something fun. Exercise is too good for your body and mind not to find something that you’ll stick with. Here are some tool that can help you start with exercise.
1. Fitness apps to get you motivated
In today’s hyper-connected world of social media and mobile devices the first place you may turn to keep motivated for better exercise habits are applications. Here are a couple of our favorite apps that you can keep on your phone to have exercise inspiration at your fingertips.
- My Fitness Pal: A good exercise program doesn’t mean much if there isn’t a balanced diet to go along with it. This app provides an easy-to-use food tracker and calorie counter that also factors in exercise along the way. It even provides motivational badges as you reach certain milestones.
- Couch To 5K: Want an easy program that progresses from simple walking to a full 5K? This is a great, graduated program that takes about 30 minutes, three times a week. Need an easier program? Use it with slow walking and speed walking variants, instead of jogging.
- Pocket Yoga: Looking to increase your flexibility and calm your mind? This is an easy to use app that you can use at home to get in bits of yoga, when you can.
2. The right shoes
When you’re deciding to work out the first thing you need are the proper shoes for the type of workout you’re planning to do.
Running shoes are different than walking shoes which are different than cross trainers, so it is important to know what you want and why you need them. WebMD offers this information about choosing the right shoes for your specific workout routine. Make sure that you choose shoes that fit your feet properly and provide the best support. Also, as you continue to wear them, watch out for the materials that break down and create more problems than they prevent.
Talk with a professional at a store that specializes in shoes for sports, running, or other ways of working out. Find even more recommendations for specialized sports in our posts on shoes for knee pain and shoes for plantar fasciitis.
We feel we cannot stress this tool enough. The number one reason that people give up on an exercise program is they are only accountable to themselves. Instead, talk to a friend with similar goals and create a buddy system that will keep you both motivated.
Not only does it increase your chances of sticking with the workout but it can also be more fun. If you don’t have a friend with similar goals consider joining a local fitness meet-up group. These organizations are designed to keep people engaged and excited about the specific activity.
4. Equipment around the house
You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on expensive equipment or gym memberships to get into better shape. This list can give you some better ideas, but there are a few things you can do at home to help boost your fitness program, such as using:
- Kitchen chairs for bends and squats
- Stairs for climbing or leg lifts
- A water bottle as a lighter weight dumbbell
- Towels for stretching exercises
5. Assistive devices
If your primary concern is being able to exercise while dealing with the effects of a pain condition, there are many tools available that you can keep on hand. Some of the more common tools that are used in combination with exercise include:
- Braces or splints: You can keep pressure off already damaged and painful joints by utilizing a brace
- Stools with wheels: Rather than carrying a stool to help you with exercise, use ones with wheels that can be easily pushed
- Orthotics: You may wish to include a proper shoe insert to help with pain that can be exacerbated by exercise
Now that you know some of the ways to make exercise easier and more successful, it is time to look at the things that will motivate you to keep up the good work. What do you like to do? How will you start with exercise this summer? Have more suggestions for getting started with chronic pain? Hit the comments to share your suggestions.