Exercise is one of the easiest and most effective ways of improving both your physical and mental health. A little regular exercise can ease depression and anxiety, boost energy and mood, and relieve stress. But you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. No matter your age or fitness level, there are lots of enjoyable ways to use physical activity to help you feel better, look better, and enjoy life more.
Benefits of exercise
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active. People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well–being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it doesn’t take hours of pumping weights in a gym or running mile after mile to achieve those results.
By focusing on activities you enjoy and tailoring a regular mild to moderate exercise routine to your needs, you can experience the health benefits of exercise and improve your own life by:
- Easing stress and anxiety. A twenty-minute bike ride won’t sweep away all of life’s troubles, but exercising regularly helps you take charge of anxiety and reduce stress. Aerobic exercise releases hormones that relieve stress and promote a sense of well-being.
- Lifting your mood. Exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. Exercise also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good.
- Sharpening brainpower. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
- Improving self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful.
- Boosting energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise a day, and increase your workout as you feel more energized.
Reaping the benefits of exercise is easier than you think
To reap the benefits of exercise, you don’t need to devote hours out your busy day, train at the gym, sweat buckets, or run mile after monotonous mile. You can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Two 15-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.
If that still seems intimidating, don’t despair. Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to do some moderate physical activity—however little—on most days. As exercising becomes habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.
Moderate exercise means two things:
- That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
- That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
Easy exercise tip 1: Move more in your daily life
If you're not ready to commit to a structured exercise program, think about physical activity as a lifestyle choice rather than a single task to check off your to-do list. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here and there. Even very small activities can add up over the course of a day.
Easy exercise tip 2: Start slowly—a little is better than nothing
Exercise doesn’t need to be an all or nothing commitment. If you haven’t exercised before or you’ve tried an exercise program in the past and been unable to stick with it, it’s important not to set unrealistic goals. Committing to exercise for an hour a day in a gym may be too challenging at first, whereas committing to 10 minutes just three or four times a week is more manageable. Once these short windows of activity become a habit and you start experiencing the benefits, it’s easier to progress to the next level.
Easy exercise tip 3: Make exercise fun
You are more likely to exercise if you find enjoyable, convenient activities. Give some thought to your likes and dislikes, and remember that preferences can change over time.
Easy exercise tip 4: Stay motivated
No matter how much you enjoy an exercise routine, you may find that you eventually lose interest in it. That’s the time to shake things up and try something new, add other activities to your exercise program, or alter the way you pursue the exercises that have worked so far.