12 Surprising Health Benefits of Exercise

12 Surprising Health Benefits of Exercise

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Working out doesn't just tone your midsection: it helps the inside work better, too. Regular moderate exercise can help keep your digestive tract happy and moving well by stimulating intestinal muscles. The Mayo Clinic even recommends exercise as treatment for constipation.

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Exercising doesn't mean picking brawn over brains. In fact, working out your body can have a similar effect on your brain. Exercise immediately after learning a new task can help cement muscle memory and make it easier to recall the skill later. It also boosts the growth of connections in the brain and may even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.

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Think breaking a sweat regularly will cause your skin to suffer? Think again. The sweat can actually flush toxins and dirt from your pores, and also boosts oxygen flow, which helps the skin look better. Just remember to rinse off after working up a sweat—you don't want all that bad stuff you brought to the surface to stay there.

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Really in the mood for French fries, but trying to kick a fast food habit? Go for a run or hit the gym to beat the craving. One study out of Brigham Young University showed that a single bout of morning exercise can make the idea of eating afterwards less appealing on a neurological level, and further research suggests that long-term exercise habits can rewire the brain's reward region to dampen food cravings.

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As every smoker knows, nicotine is super addictive, but its kryptonite may just be a good workout. One study by the University of Toronto correlated an exercise-induced effect on the level of the stress hormone cortisol with reduced nicotine cravings. While other studies haven't confirmed the cortisol connection, they consistently agree that working up a sweat can make it easier to say no to smokes.

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Thomas Edison was onto something when he said, "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." Exercise has been found to promote creative thinking, likely by increasing normal cognitive processes. According to one study, this creativity bump peaks around two hours after working out—your body and mind need time to switch gears.

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The genes you have you're stuck with, but exercising affects how your body uses them. Your genes get switched on and off by outside factors, including exercise. A breakthrough 2012 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that exercise unlocks certain genes in muscle fibers that support metabolism. Further research suggests that these so-called "epigenetic" changes may have anti-cancer, anti-aging, and pro-nervous system effects.

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Exercise won’t improve your vision, but it can prevent it from getting much worse. A large study of over 5,000 men and women in the U.K. found a strong association between higher levels of physical activity and lower risk factors for glaucoma, a major cause of fading vision.

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Exercise stimulates cell growth to repair small tears in muscle that occur normally during exertion. A side benefit of this activity is that it helps heal other injuries like that little nick from shaving or scraping your knee.

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While in the midst of the throbbing pain and nausea of a migraine, movement seems like the last option, but regular exercise has been shown to help prevent the pain in the first place. Recent research has shown that moderate exercise may work just as well as the common preventative drug topiramate at reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.

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While brushing, flossing and other dental hygiene helps prevent gum disease, another solution is exercise. Working out even one or two times a week is associated with lowered rates of gum disease, also known as gingivitis or periodontitis, which can cause tooth decay or worse. For those who exercise vigorously three to five times a week, that rate is 52 percent lower than in inactive people, according to a nationwide study of over 2,500 people. Why exactly isn't fully understood, but gum disease is associated with metabolic syndrome, which exercise helps prevent.

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This is really no surprise since sex is, well, physical. Both research and anecdotal evidence shows that exercise helps out in the bedroom. A number of studies have linked regular exercise to lower erectile dysfunction and higher testosterone in men. For women, exercising before sex can increase arousal, and higher levels of physical activity are strongly associated with both more and more satisfying sex.

12 Surprising Health Benefits of Exercise