Weight loss is an obvious advantage of exercise, and it’s the reason many Americans make motion a part of their daily routines. Lacing up your sneakers regularly, though, has additional benefits that are not reflected on the scale. Whether you run, attend a spin class or participate in yoga, you’re doing more for your health than just keeping your BMI in check. Exercise reduces fatigue, improves mental focus, and helps your body fight illness. In addition, those who exercise regularly experience better sleep, more positive social experiences, and increased stress management. Why, though? Below, we explore some of the benefits of exercise that go beyond the waistline.
1. Sleep better
There are countless options at the drugstore that promise to help you fall asleep and stay that way throughout the night. While the remedies may work as short-term fixes, it has been proven that regular exercise increases both the quantity and quality of your sleep in the long-term. When you move more, your body requires additional rest—and it sends physiological signals to make sure it gets just that. According to a study cited by the National Sleep Foundation, 65 percent of people who practice 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity weekly reported sleeping better, longer, and feeling less tired throughout the day.
Sweating just a little per week—what’s equivalent to about two and a half standard lunch breaks for the average American worker—can yield tremendous benefits in the sleep department. The advantages of getting more and better sleep are evident in other areas of your life as well, from increased occupational performance to higher levels of energy.
2. Socialize more
Do you go to a gym, belong to a running club, or go on weekly group hikes? Odds are that no matter how you choose to exercise, you’re getting some sort of added personal interaction.
Exercising with a friend or group improves personal accountability, and surrounding yourself with people who share the same interests gives you an automatic support system. You’re less likely to skip a workout if your best friend is counting on you to be there. Surrounded by like-minded individuals, you’re more likely to reach your goals.
In addition, forming new, positive friendships is good for your mental health, leading to improved self-confidence and interpersonal skills. These benefits can overflow into other areas of your life, such as your role at work and your relationship with your family.
3. Relieve stress
There are multiple methods of relieving stress, and many of them are unhealthy. If you’re having issues handling stressors in your daily life, experts agree that exercise can provide relief.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), seven out of ten adults in America feel enough stress or anxiety daily that it moderately interferes with their lives. The ADAA also reports that, because exercising releases endorphins, moving regularly has a direct correlation to helping people cope with that stress and anxiety.
4. Reduce Fatigue
You would think spending loads of energy exercising would leave you tired in your daily life; in fact, the opposite is true. Because exercise leads to better sleep, you wake up more refreshed if you make those sweat sessions consistent in your life.
In a 2008 study, researchers at the University of Georgia found that low-intensity exercise reduced fatigue symptoms by 65 percent in participants with previously sedentary lifestyles who reported feeling consistently fatigued. These findings led researches to believe that being physically active has a direct effect on the central nervous system, causing a measurable reduction in fatigue. As a bonus, participants in the study also saw their energy levels increase by a reported 20 percent.
You don’t have to have a strenuous workout to reap these benefits: instead, try substituting your second cup of coffee tomorrow morning for a brisk walk and see how you feel.