7 Surprising Benefits of Exercise

I'm always on the lookout for studies that support more reasons to exercise. Because after a long day, sometimes burning calories alone isn't enough to get me off the couch! Reams of research have linked physical activity to preventing or improving many ailments, from type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure to cold and flu and gum disease. But: Did you know exercise could literally boost your willpower, or spark your sex life? Look at some of the more surprising reasons to break a sweat:

1. You'll improve your willpower.

Can't muster up the mental strength to pass on that piece of chocolate cake? A quick, high-intensity workout may supply all the self control you need, reported a recent study in the British Journal of Medicine, which reviewed 24 relevant papers. The scientists believe this may have to do with increased bloodflow and oxygen to pre-frontal areas of the brain, which help moderate one's ability to execute self control.

Learn more: 1-Minute Workouts that Work

2. You'll impress at the office.

I know from personal experience that exercise improves my productivity at work, but studies support this, too: In a recent survey from the American College of Sports Medicine, 65 percent of employees who squeezed in exercise during the workday reported more productivity and better time-management skills, as well as an improved frame of mind. Scientists believe the brain-boosting benefits of exercise happen on a cellular level, as working out triggers the development of new cell parts that produce ATP, the chemical your body uses as energy. This gives you more "oomph" for physical and mental exertion.

3. You'll up your odds of living a happier life.

Know that post-workout blissful feeling? According to a 2012 study from the journal Epidemiology, regular physical exercise is associated with more happiness over a period of years as well. The researchers looked at long-term data spanning over fifteen years and determined that your time on the stationary bike today might also make a difference in your sunny outlook for years from now.

4.  Your skin will look younger, longer.

That lovely glow you get after a great workout? Exercise can also have longer lasting benefits to your skin. Sweating helps unclog pores, and numerous studies have linked exercise to reduced acne, because it lowers testosterone hormones that have been known to increase breakouts.

5. Yep, you'll have a better sex life.

The Harvard School of Public Health determined that just 20 minutes of regular exercise a day can boost sexual response in women. Physical activity actually increases the flexibility of your arteries, which improves blood flow, well,everywhere, and that can improve arousal. Plus, exercise triggers hormones and brain chemicals like adrenaline and serotonin, which help boost arousal as well.

6. You'll beef up your brain cells.

In a recent study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, previously sedentary adults did four months of high-intensity interval training. By the end, their cognitive functions—like thinking quickly and making decisions—had improved significanty. Elsewhere, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at over 1,000 college students and found a strong correlation: Those getting A grades exercised for at least 30 minutes three to four times a week, while those getting lower marks exercised fewer than three times a week. 

7. You'll slash your risks of cancer.

Many studies have confirmed that the risk of disease like colon, lung, and breast cancers can be significantly lowered with regular activity.  In a 2012 study looking at over 3,000 women from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researchers found that breast cancer risk went down 30 percent in women who exercised 10 hours per week (that includes even low-level physical activity, like walking or climbing stairs). Though the largest reduction in breast cancer risk was found in those women who exercised 10 to 19 hours per week, a woman's risk was lowered for all levels of exercise intensity, even light levels of activity. Most recently, a February 2013 study published in Cancer found that for men of Caucasian descent, exercise lowered the likelihood of getting prostate cancer. 

Enough research. Time to get on my sneakers already!

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