Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin’ bod, but working out has above-the-neck benefits, too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level (yup, this includes everyone from mall-walkers to marathoners), studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Get inspired to exercise by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships, and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.
Your body is the best tool you have for getting a great workout in with no equipment needed. Body weight training exercises (moves that force you to push or pull your own weight) can tone and slim your body while adding definition to your muscles. They also prepare you to take on physical activities you need to perform every day from lifting your kids to practicing good posture and carrying heavy bags.
There is an abundance of evidence that shows regular exercise helps with body weight management, and can lower blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, increase insulin sensitivity, and increase your likelihood of continuing to exercise — all indicators of better heart health. And given that two of the greatest risk factors for strokes are high blood pressure and heart disease, it should come as no surprise that regular exercise helps reduce stroke risk, too.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides. Lunge forward with your left leg so your right knee is nearly touching the floor and your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Bending forward, try to touch the floor on either side of your left foot (A). Push off your left foot; using that momentum, shift your weight to your right foot and swing your left leg behind you. As you sink backward into a lunge, rotate your torso 45 degrees to the right (B). Return to standing. That's one rep. Do 12 to 15 and repeat on the other side. That's one set. Do three, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
FIT TIP: To trim your tummy, do fewer crunches and more planks: Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, knees under hips, then lower forearms to floor and extend legs straight behind you, balancing on toes. Keeping abs engaged and back flat, hold for 30 seconds; do 10 reps three or four times a week. Limit crunches to no more than three sets of 15 at a time. Anything beyond that isn't doing you much good, experts say.
That's why BuzzFeed Life asked NYC-based personal trainer Albert Matheny, C.S.C.S., founder of Soho Strength Lab, to design nine high-intensity bodyweight-only workouts that you can do anywhere. These workouts are made for the exerciser who wants to get fitter and healthier, and feel great. Each one focuses on one of three goals: cardiovascular fitness, power and strength, and endurance.
When it comes to these pushups, make sure your left and right hands are shoulder-width apart to keep proper form. Keep your left elbow and right elbow in as well so you can activate not only your triceps but also your chest. This exercise is great because it helps you protect your rotator cuff, which is upon your shoulders. Shoot for 15 to 20 reps in this 30-second set. Don't go for high speed, go for perfect form.
And research published in November 2017 in the journal NeuroImage showed that aerobic exercise may be helpful in improving memory function and maintaining brain health as we age. The study, led by researchers at Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University, looked at brain scans of 737 people ranging in ages from 26 to 76. The group included a mix of healthy adults, people with Alzheimer's and other cognitive impairments, and people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness, including depression and schizophrenia. The researchers found that exercises, like riding a stationary bike, running on a treadmill, or walking, slowed down the deterioration of brain size and slowed the effect of age on brain health.
Step forward with the left foot and lower into a lunge, keeping the front knee behind the toe. Push into the heel to step back and immediately step out to the left and into a squat. Press back to start and take the left leg back into a reverse lunge, again keeping the front knee behind the toe. Bring the left leg back to start and repeat for all reps before switching sides.
Research is finding that as we age, exercise may be able to help keep our brains healthy. Three studies presented at the 2015 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference showed that regular exercise may play an important role in protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and may help improve brain function and symptoms such as depression or anxiety in those who have these conditions.
Some call it “flab”, others call it “sag”, or even “jiggle.” Whatever it is that you call the excess fat on your arms, know that you’re not alone. A lot of us have found ourselves in the dilemma, wondering how to lose arm fat and why it’s even there in the first place. Is it something I ate? Is it something I did or didn’t do? What shirt can I wear to hide to cover those parts?
For urban runners and power-walkers, one of the biggest obstacles is other people. It’s difficult to get in your meditative zone and enjoy your music when you constantly have to dodge people. To resolve this vexing issue, Runbell, a startup in Tokyo, has developed the runner’s version of the bicycle bell. With this lightweight brass bell warning people you’re approaching from behind, you’re free to maintain your transcendental state while continuing your workout. Head to their Kickstarter campaign to pledge your support.
HOW TO DO IT: Start in a bent-knee push-up position with your palms underneath your shoulders and knees bent at 90-degrees. Kick your right leg in front of you and assume a one-arm, one-leg hip bridge. Hold for one count, then reverse the movement and repeat on the other side. Move at a slower, more-controlled pace if it’s difficult, or even try a modified version called “sit-throughs,” where you sit on the outside of your hip as you move to each side.
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Stand in a side lunge position with one leg bent parallel to the floor and the other leg straight to the side. Jump up explosively as you switch legs. Now the previously straight leg will be bent and the previously bent leg will be straight to the other side. Try and keep your core tight and stay as low as possible as you switch sides as fast as you can.
Ever hit the hay after a long run or weight session at the gym? For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill, even for people with insomnia Effects of moderate aerobic exercise training on chronic primary insomnia. Passos GS, Poyares D, Santana MG, D’Aurea CV, Youngstedt SD, Tufik S, de Mello MT. Department of Psychobiology, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sleep Medicine. 2011 December;12(10):1018-27.. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep Effects of exercise on sleep. Youngstedt SD. Department of Exercise Science, Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA. Clinical Sports Medicine. 2005 April;24(2):355-65..
Slogging through a few miles on the ‘mill can be tough, but it’s worth the effort! Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Craft LL, Perna FM. Division of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA. Primary Care Companionto the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2004;6(3):104-111.. For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly the gym rat type — getting a happy buzz from working out for just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost overall mood.
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.
Rough day at the office? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So go ahead and get sweaty — working out can reduce stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!
Sweating it out in the gym is a known de-stressor. Harvard Medical School has shown that aerobic exercise helps curb stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (as long as you're not overdoing it), while also flooding your system with feel-good endorphins. It also ups the calming, good-mood brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. So while exercise itself is actually putting low-level physical stress on the body, it can be pretty mentally relaxing.
A study published in October 2017 in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggested that even just one hour of exercise of any intensity each week can help prevent depression. The study monitored levels of exercise and symptoms of depression and anxiety in 33,908 adults over 11 years and found that even small amounts of physical activity had a protective effect against depression, regardless of the person’s age or gender.
In an ideal world, we’d all have plenty of time to head to the gym and work out whenever we please and check every other task off our to-do lists in the meantime. In reality? Sometimes all you have time for is a quick workout at home that you can do without equipment. The good news is that there actually are plenty of ways to squeeze a solid no-equipment workout into a short amount of time.
A 2002 study examined three groups of people. Group one, the control group, was told to track how often each person exercised throughout the week. The second group, the motivation group, was given the same instructions, but also read a motivational speech. Group three, the intention group, added on to the previous groups by asking people to create a plan that set a specific day, time and place to exercise.
There are accessories that can make exercise easier, and sometimes buying a new toy can add some much-needed fun to your routine. With apps like RunKeeper and Nike+, your smartphone is capable of tracking your vitals and progress. Wrist weights can add a new dimension to your workout, and, if you exercise at night, a headlamp can help you see what’s in front of you so you don’t trip.