There’s more to exercise than torching calories.
Scientists have long made the connection between a healthy body and sharp mind. And a 2013 study led by Jill Barnes, chair of the 2017 World Congress on Exercise and the Brain, has resurfaced and might help explain why.
“Our working hypothesis is that people with higher fitness have enhanced blood flow to their brain,” Barnes recently told the Wall Street Journal. This, in turn, improves cognitive function.
The researchers studied how responsive the brains of both sedentary and recreationally active people were to stimuli in their environment. The blood vessels of physically fit, older adults were associated with more reactivity, Barnes said.
Experts have looked into the benefits of regular exercise beyond simple weight loss for years. A healthy brain is something everyone can benefit from ― and better cognitive function is just the tip of the iceberg.
Read below for six more reasons to work out that have nothing to do with weight loss:
You could make new friends.
Run down the same path every day or routinely go to a yoga studio and eventually you’ll start to see familiar faces. Chatting during your warm up or post-class stretches is an easy way to start conversation with likeminded friends. And friends with similar interests is a known way to successfully change your life.
You may have better sex.
A 2015 study found that men who exercise regularly have better sexual function. Running or swimming for two hours, three and a half hours of more moderate activity or six hours of light exercise per week was enough to do the trick.
You might feel happier.
One word: Endorphins. Research has shown that exercise is a mood booster. When you’re active, your brain releases feel-good chemicals that perk up your attitude and make you happier post-workout. In other words, it’s a pretty healthy remedy for a bad day.
Exercise may ease depression.
A study from the University of Michigan found that group exercise in nature — even if you’re just walking — can ease depressive symptoms. There’s also the added benefit of getting vitamin D when you’re running outdoors. A low storage of vitamin D has been linked to seasonal affective disorder.
It’s a great way to let go of stress.
Exercise is a scientifically-backed way to lower your stress levels. Between the mood-boosting endorphins, the pumped-up music and the increased heart rate, you’re bound to get those frustrations out. Run your way to a better state of mind and leave your worries on the pavement (or treadmill, if that’s what you prefer).
You’ll get stronger in every way.
Your strength shouldn’t be measured in the number on the scale but how you feel in the other minutes of your life. Take for example, running. If done properly and consistently, running engages your muscles, improves your joints and boosts your endurance. Not to mention, research suggests the exercise may reduce your risk of disease and increase longevity.
Honestly, that’s worth more than the size stitched on a pair of jeans.
A previous version of this article appeared in October 2015.