You probably have a vague sense that exercise is good for you—and you’ve probably heard that it’s “healthy for the heart.” But if you’re like most people, that’s not enough motivation to get you to break a sweat with any regularity. As I report in the TIME cover story, “The Exercise Cure,” only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week, more than half of all baby boomers report doing no exercise whatsoever, and 80.2 million Americans over age 6 are entirely inactive.
HOW TO DO IT: Start in a high plank. Push your hips back without arching your lower back until your knees flex to about 90 degrees. Pause for a beat, then explosively extend through your knees, ankles and hips while also pulling with your upper back as you lower into the bottom of a push-up. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides to protect your shoulders. Skip the push-up and just maintain a hold if you need it to be easier.
Exhale and use your triceps to lift the weight until your right arm is fully extended behind you. Supinate by turning your palm up as your arm moves back, so that your palm faces the ceiling. Move only your forearm and do not use your left hand or your legs. Pause once your right arm is fully extended, inhale, and then exhale as you bring the free weight back to the starting position.
So short of moving to a blue zone, exercising for just 10 minutes a day, or 75 minutes a week, can earn you an extra 1.8 years. The findings held true even for those individuals who were overweight or obese; adding exercise helped them live longer, while being obese and inactive decreased life span by up to 7.2 years. The benefits of adding more exercise increased and then plateaued at about 300 minutes of weekly exercise (or an hour five days a week) adding an extra 4.2 years of life.
Maybe you exercise to tone your thighs, build your biceps, or flatten your belly. Or maybe you work out to ward off the big killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But how about sweating to improve your mind? "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. "Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." If you need a little extra incentive to lace up those sneakers, here are five ways that exercise can boost your brainpower.
The workout below, created by Jess Sims, NASM-certified personal trainer and instructor at Classpass Live, Shadowbox, and Fhitting Room in New York City, challenges your entire body and doesn't require a single piece of equipment. "It’s a full-body, dynamic workout that includes strength, power, mobility, and cardio," Sims says. "It’s also great because it’s customizable—if you have less than 20 minutes, you can do the circuit one time, or if you have more than 20 minutes you can do it three times."
Sesame oil contains a lignan known as sesamin, which is an antioxidant and also burns fat (4). Sesamin, in the active form, binds to a specific receptor known as peroxisome proliferator-activator receptor alpha (PPAR-alpha). These receptors are found in the heart cells, muscles, and the liver cells. The binding of active sesamin to PPAR-alpha activates the genes that help in burning fat.
You'll also build muscle to fill out your arms and firm them up. “Generally, when people are complaining about underarm jiggle, they’re usually referring to the area that is governed by the tricep,” says Williams. “If the jiggle or looseness in that part of your arm is due to a lack of muscle, then strengthening and building muscle in your tricep will also create some change in the aesthetic of that area.” She recommends performing triceps push-ups, extensions, and dips to hone in on that area and add some muscular definition to your arms.
Although the cardiovascular effects of exercise are partly related to inflammation, they still deserve their own category. Exercise is one of the best-illustrated things we can do for our hearts, and this includes markers like blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition the physical structure of the heart itself, and blood vessel function. Studies have suggested that 30 minutes per day is good enough to keep the heart in shape, while others have suggested we do more than this to get a real effect. Some have found that light activity is even enough to help the heart, but not all research confirms this, so it’s a little hard to tell how low levels of activity affect heart health over the long term. Additionally, too much exercise has also been shown to be stressful to the heart. So all this is to say that there’s probably a sweet spot somewhere in the middle for optimal cardiovascular health.
Get in plank position with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart (A). Lower your chest as close to the floor as you can. Holding that position, lift your right knee to the outside of your right elbow (B). Return to plank position, then push back up to start; repeat on the other side. That's one rep. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
Get in plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart (A). Lower your chest toward the floor while keeping your upper arms parallel to your sides and your elbows pointing straight back (B). Push back up to start. That's one rep. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting for 30 seconds between sets. To make it easier, lower your knees to the ground. There's no shame in girl pushups!
This move here is basically starting with a regular bounce and alternating between landing with your feet apart and your feet together with each rope turn. The energy rope is a step in between the 1-pound rope and the agility rope and this movement here will really fire up the calorie burning. Don’t worry about messing up, we're all human and we all make mistakes occasionally. Just have fun doing it and make sure to push yourself to get the body you want.
HOW TO DO IT: Step to your left and lower your body into a lateral lunge, placing both hands on the floor. Without moving your feet, lift your hands and hips and shift your weight over your right foot, so you end up in a right-side lunge. Alternate back and forth for 30 to 60 seconds. To really kick up the burn, turn this movement into a monkey shuffle by simultaneously loading your hands, lifting your hips and shuffling your feet side-to-side between right and left lunge positions.
Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise changes the structure and function of the brain, but it’s an area of active research. So far, they’ve found that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, feeding the growth of new blood vessels and even new brain cells, thanks to the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF triggers the growth of new neurons and helps repair and protect brain cells from degeneration. It may also help people focus, according to recent research.
Starting your day with a workout could be the key to getting rid of those jiggly upper arms at record speed. Researchers at Northumbria University found that, among a group of physically active male study subjects, those who hit the gym before eating breakfast burned nearly 20 percent more fat than those who fueled up before exercising. So, if you’re eager to shed that fat fast, a fasting workout can help you achieve those goals right on schedule. When you’re back home post-workout, nourish your muscles with the best breakfast foods for weight loss and you’ll keep your metabolism going strong all day.