7 Unexpected Reasons To Exercise

by Gina M. Florio
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It seems like every time you're reading through an article online these days that has nothing to do with working out (and probably has to do with cute kittens and an even cuter celebrity), up pops an advertisement claiming to give you toned, mile-long legs by the time summer rolls around. Collective sigh. It's all we can do to not throw the laptop against the wall and remind the Internet that the most life-changing benefits of exercise have nothing to do with the shape of our body.

Reduced stress and anxiety, less likelihood of contracting heart disease, more stable sleep patterns — these are just a few of the most well-known benefits of exercising. Besides, have you ever finished a really tough workout and just felt badass afterward? Like you were temporarily invincible? It's a pretty great sensation, and one that can clear out the cobwebs in your brain and improve your mental health. And it doesn't necessarily have to be rigorous exercise, either: a 2005 study showed that people who either walked 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes three times a week saw a significant reduction in depressive symptoms compared to those who did a lot less activity.

That's just the start; there are plenty more excellent reasons to get sweaty on the regular. And remember, exercising isn't only something you do at the gym. Go out dancing. Have lots of sex. Run around with some puppies. You need all the movement you can get, and it all counts.

Here are seven unexpected reasons to exercise.

1. Exercise Helps Manage Addiction

The short term, immediate effect exercising has on addiction management is pretty simple: it briefly gets your mind off of whatever it is you're addicted to. It's the best distraction there is. Also, when you workout, your brain releases a huge amount of dopamine, the "reward chemical" that's strongly associated with alcohol, drug, sex, and food addiction. Instead of relying on external things to provide you with a mind-blowing rush of dopamine, your body gives it to itself when you get your heart rate up.

This is why so many addiction treatment and recovery programs incorporate exercise into their daily routine. Dopamine makes people feel happier, and working out helps restore some bodily functions that may have been thrown off from addictions, like your circadian rhythms, which promote restful sleep.

2. Exercise Could Make You More Successful & Rich

Checking off a fitness goal you've been working on for a while is exciting enough to get you motivated in other areas of your life. Jessi Kneeland of ReModel Fitness told Buzzfeed Life about how working out can transform your ambition outside the weight room: "You instantly become more confident, mentally sharper, more energized, and more likely to take risks." Combine that with the improved concentration and mental stamina exercise gives you, and you'll be unstoppable at your job.

As if that weren't enough, people who exercise regularly are known to make more money than those who lead more inactive lives. The Journal of Labor Research found that employees who work out earn nine percent more than their counterparts who don't. I bet that'll get your butt to the park for an afternoon jog.

3. Exercise Makes Your Memory Sharper

I can't be the only non-senior-citizen in the world who walks into the kitchen and entirely forgets what I came looking for. Luckily, Dr. John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain , has a remedy to this everyday forgetfulness. He told Harvard Health Publications, "When you exercise and move around, you are using more brain cells."

More specifically, all that movement releases a chemical in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which encourages the memory circuits in your head to work more efficiently. Dr. Ratey also says that BDNF is not something you can find artificially in a pill; it's only produced by your brain, and only by regular exercise. He encourages people to dedicate more time than just once or twice a week as well, so your brain gets the correct amount of BDNF.

4. Exercise Strengthens Your Relationships

Since when is Elle Woods ever wrong? Couples who work out together and invest in the same fitness goals generally see a lot of improvement in their relationship. For starters, it gives them a new activity to do together, meaning they actually spend time with each other, rather than staring at a TV screen. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study showing that partners who get sweaty together are more satisfied in their relationship and feel more intimate.

However, you don't have to be in a relationship or even have a workout buddy in order to see an upswing in your social life. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, working out amps up your self-control by flooding your frontal lobes with oxygen-rich blood. As a result, you think more clearly and reasonably. If you've got toxic relationships in your life, you know how useful these tools can be when an unpleasant situation arrives.

5. Exercise Helps You Come

Studies show that it only takes 15 minutes of exercise to increase sexual arousal in women. Working out also strengthens your cardiovascular health and improves blood flow to all parts of your body, including and especially your vag. These improvements can only help you reach orgasm. Plus, the quality of your climax gets better the more often you sweat outside of the bedroom.

Every time you exercise, particularly when you focus on the lower body with squats and lunges, you are also conditioning your pelvic floor muscles. Just like when you do your kegels, those movements are gently pulling your sacrum inward. These minor adjustments contribute just as much to better bladder control as they do to stronger, more intense orgasms.

6. Exercise Strengthens Your Flu Shot

Researchers at Iowa State University are working on some studies to understand the link between exercise and potency of the flu shot. So far, they've found that students who hopped on an exercise bike after their shot almost doubled their antibody response compared to those who kicked back and did nothing. Because the results were so fascinating, they will soon be running similar tests on the elderly to see if their immune system reacts in the same positive way. Even though we're not currently smack dab in the middle of flu season, it's good to know so you can prepare yourself when the time comes.

7. Exercise Reduces Skin Inflammation

If you frequently battle red, scaly skin, you have a lot to gain from working out on the regular. Studies have been done at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, focusing on women with psoriasis. They found that women who worked out vigorously for two hours a week saw a 30 percent reduced risk of psoriasis than women who didn't exercise at all.

Even if you don't have psoriasis, though, your pores can score a win. Other studies show that exercise results in glowing, younger looking skin by literally changing the composition of your cells for the better. Just be sure you're not wearing makeup when you get sweaty — it clogs your pores and gives you blackheads, so skip the BB cream. You don't want to sabotage your chance for more radiant skin.

Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask.

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