Working out isn’t all about dropping pounds or prepping for your next triathlon. Regular exercise also gives you a healthy, glowing look and an unmistakable va-va-voom that you just can’t get any other way.
Need more incentive to lace up your sneakers? Here’s a peek into a few of the ways exercise can make you look and feel fantastic.
1. Smoother, More Radiant Skin
Breaking a sweat isn’t the only way exercise benefits the skin — it also reduces bodywide inflammation, helps regulate skin-significant hormones and prevents free-radical damage. When you exercise, the tiny arteries in your skin open up, allowing more blood to reach the skin’s surface and deliver nutrients that repair damage from the sun and environmental pollutants. These nutrients also rev up the skin’s collagen production, thwarting wrinkles. As we age, fibroblasts [the collagen-producing cells in the skin] get lazier and fewer in number, but the nutrients delivered to the skin during exercise help fibroblasts work more efficiently, so your skin looks younger.
2. Greater Self-Confidence
Confident people radiate a certain physical appeal and charisma. A recent British study found that people who began a regular exercise program at their local gym felt better about their self-worth, their physical condition and their overall health compared with their peers who stayed home. The best part was that their self-worth crept up right away — even before they saw a significant change in their bodies.
You don’t need to improve your fitness level to improve your self-perception of how fit you are, and from there it’s only a short leap to enjoying healthier self-esteem. Our self-worth is directly tied to our energy levels, our feelings of competence and our perceived attractiveness. Nothing is more gorgeous than the self-assurance that comes from feeling good in your own skin.
3. Increased Stature
No one has studied precisely why exercise makes you taller, but activities that stretch and strengthen muscles at the same time, like yoga or Pilates, can correct bad posture and therefore add height. Hunching makes some muscle groups contract and others lengthen, he explains, which subtracts height. If you actively work to bring muscles back into balance, your back will lengthen, your posture will improve and you can grow taller.
People with swayed backs benefit most from core strengthening exercises, such as planks, farmer’s walks and bird dogs. For hunched shoulders, working on strengthening the upper back using resistance with bands, machines or free weights can help restore lost height. And, of course, exercise that improves posture tends to also make you look thinner, fitter and more confident.
4. Less Stress and Anxiety
Anxiety, fearfulness and uncertainty all drain your vitality and dampen your mood, which in turn tends to show on your face and in the way you carry yourself. Roughly 40 million Americans over 18 suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health — that’s nearly 20 percent of all adults — and for many of them, that anxiety strips both the smile from their face and the spring from their step. Exercise has been shown to alleviate most mild to moderate cases of anxiety, and can very quickly improve mood.
5. Better Immunity and Detoxification
Exercise also keeps the lymph system happy. The body has roughly 500 lymph nodes — little nodules of tissue that take out metabolic trash. But the nodes can’t haul garbage to the curb without the help of nearby muscles. When muscles contract during exercise, they put the squeeze on lymph nodes, helping them pump waste out of your system. Result: You look less puffy and polluted.
Increased circulation is the key to both white blood cell production and better lymph drainage, and the best way to achieve it is to regularly do things that make you breathe hard. Right now, your heart is pumping 4 to 5 liters of blood per minute, but, if you got up and went for a run, it would pump up to four times more.
6. More Restful Sleep
Plagued by dark circles? You’re not alone. As many as 60 million Americans wrestle with insomnia. A slew of studies show exercise can elicit longer, more restful sleep. Why? Well, an intense workout may leave you more hungry for shuteye recovery time, but there’s more to it than that. Exercise sharpens the body’s sensitivity to the stress hormone cortisol, which can enhance sleep. Sleeping better leaves you looking fresh and healthy.
But exercise is essentially a release valve for cortisol, helping you sleep more soundly and greet the day looking more refreshed. It sends a message to the brain that you’re using the cortisol for its original purpose — movement — and that it’s safe to turn off the tap afterward. Bottom line: Your body is able to use the downtime for the tissue-repair work that keeps you both looking and feeling great.