If the latest infomercials and magazine covers are any indication, it seems like weight loss is on everyone’s minds these days. And while a healthy weight is a good goal, when it comes to eating right and exercising, it shouldn’t be the sole focus. In fact, when you tally all the reasons to eat well and exercise, we’re not even sure it should make the top 10. Face it: The number on the scale is not a reliable indicator of overall health. Even worse, according to one study, people who diet or exercise just to lose weight quit a lot sooner than people who make healthy changes for other reasons. Oh, and they really don’t lose weight in the long term. The researchers found that the most successful motivation for sticking to a healthy lifestyle was “feeling better about themselves” for women and “better health” for men.
And yes, those are both great rationales to exercise and eating right, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the good things you’ll bring into your life. Here are 45 science-backed reasons to start living a healthier life today that have zilch to do with your weight.
The Best Reasons to Break a Sweat
1. It works as an antidepressant.
Whether you suffer from the winter blahs or have chronic depression, the blues can make everything in life feel harder. Antidepressant medications have been a godsend for many people, but one study found that depression sufferers who did aerobic exercise showed just as much improvement in their symptoms as people on medication. In fact, after four months, 60 to 70 percent of the subjects couldn’t even be classified as having depression. Even better, a follow-up to the study found that the effects from the exercise lasted longer than those from the medication.
2. It reduces PMS.
Ladies, that monthly crying jag brought on by a commercial for a Nicholas Sparks movie or the hulk-like rage when your boyfriend slurps his soup may not be entirely your fault (hormones, holla!). But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to help it. In one study, teen girls—was there ever a moodier bunch?—performed 60-minute cardio sessions three times a week for eight weeks. Afterward they reported their symptoms from PMS, especially depression and anger, were markedly better, so much so that the researchers concluded that exercise should be prescribed as a cure for PMS.
3. It reduces stress and anxiety.
Pop quiz: When you’re super stressed out and worried about ________ (work/relationship status/the end of Serial/life in general) what is the fastest way to chill out? A) Mainline a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. B) Go for a serious sweat fest. or C) Call your mom. Sorry, Mom, but science says that working out is one of the fastest ways to clear cortisol, the stress hormone, out of your system and calm a frantic mind. Plus new research points to the fact that ice cream or other “comfort foods” won’t make much of a dent in stress levels—not that we have anything against an occasional scoop of chunky monkey!
4. It boosts creativity.
The next time writer’s block hits or you need new ideas for your departmental meeting, try taking a quick stroll around the block. A recent study found that walking improved both convergent and divergent thinking, the two types associated with enhanced creativity.
5. It wipes out allergies.
Sneezing, watery eyes, and snot-cicles (’tis the season!) can really take the fun out of a workout, but there’s a good reason to lace up your gym shoes even with an allergy attack. Researchers in Thailand reported that running for 30 minutes can reduce sneezing, itching, congestion, and runny nose by up to 90 percent.
6. It strengthens your heart.
It may feel like your heart is thumping itself out of your chest during those hill sprints, but your ticker will thank you later. As shown in an extensive report from the American Heart Association, exercise strengthens your heart muscle as well as reduces your risk of heart disease and other related conditions. So the next time you’re sweating through spin class, just imagine it’s a Valentine you’re sending to your body.
7. It helps you resist temptation.
They don’t call it a “runner’s high” for nothing! Whether you’re addicted to sugar, cigarettes, or even heroin, exercise could play an important role in resisting your substance of choice. In one study, scientists found that the endorphin rush released during exercise acts on the same neural pathways as addictive substances. The result? Mice in this study opted for the treadmill over the high from an amphetamine-laced solution, suggesting that humans could do the same.
8. It reduces risk of metabolic syndrome…
If there’s a modern-day health villain, it would be the scary-sounding metabolic syndrome. Comprised of three factors—increased blood pressure/cholesterol, high blood sugar, and excessive fat around the waist—it’s one of the strongest indicators you’re headed for an early grave. But before you start planning the funeral (open bar, smoke machines, and a 12-piece band, check!), researchers say that exercise can almost totally obliterate metabolic syndrome and even reverse the damage. Not all exercise works equally well, however, as one study proves intensity is key. So rather than stay at one steady pace, try intervals that will take your heart rate up and down.
9. … And lessens the risk of oodles of other diseases too.
Many types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease—we’d be here all day if we listed all the illnesses that exercising lowers your risk for. Exercise is such a health preventative superstar that Jordan Metzel, M.D., recently declared it to be “a miracle drug that prevents almost every illness, is 100 percent effective, and has very few side effects.” Even better, we don’t have to wait for FDA approval for this magical panacea!
10. It protects your peepers.
We hate to break this to you, but you’re staring at a screen right now. Welcome to the eye-strain club! (T-shirts available online… if you can squint enough to find ‘em.) But recent research found that one of the best ways to protect your eyes and stave off age-related vision loss is regular cardiovascular exercise. In one study, active mice kept twice as many retinal neurons as the sedentary fur balls. But it isn’t just a benefit for the four-legged; a separate study found a similar correlation in humans.
Stay tuned throughout this week to read more reasons why getting healthy should be a priority!