Exercise has long been correlated with a longer life, but it’s only recently started to become clear why this might be. Studies, like a new one in the journal Preventive Medicine which found that exercise is linked to longer caps at the ends of chromosomes, have helped flesh this out a bit more. These caps, called telomeres, naturally shorten as we age, with each cell division. People who live a long time have telomeres that are in better shape than those who don’t—but there’s a lot we can do to affect the rate at which they shorten over the years. The team behind the new study looked at data from CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that for people who exercised regularly, their telomeres were 140 base pairs longer on average than sedentary people's. Which correlates to being years “younger” than their sedentary peers.
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.
Stand with your legs wide apart, toes turned out and arms at your sides. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor and you're low enough to touch it with your fingertips (A). Immediately jump up as high as you can, keeping your legs wide and extending your arms straight overhead (B). That's one rep. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
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.
It strengthens the brain. Studies have found that working out can lessen the severity of memory problems in older adults, and even decrease the risk of diseases like Alzheimer's. It can also have a positive benefit on the brain function of younger people. Research out of New Zealand shows that exercise improves executive function -- the general brain processes that include planning, memory, reasoning, problem-solving and more.
Not feeling up to heavy lifting? Try doing more reps at a lower weight instead and you’ll be kissing that arm fat goodbye in no time. Researchers at Canada’s McMaster University studied a group of 20-something men over a 12-week period, with half the study subjects lifting heavy weight and doing low reps, and another group lifting lighter weights for higher reps. The Journal of Applied Physiology study found that both groups increased their strength and muscle size by approximately the same amount, so if you’re relatively new to lifting or don’t feel up to hitting the heavy weights just yet, don’t worry; lighter lifts will still help you ditch the fat while gaining muscle tone.