When people join the gym – or just say they need to – their No. 1 reason is usually weight loss.
And, hey, wanting to drop a few is a valid reason to work out. After all, when trying to lose weight, people who eat healthy and exercise lose considerably more weight than those who stick to cutting calories alone, according to research published in Obesity.
But losing weight still isn’t the best reason to start a workout routine. A growing body of evidence, including one Psychology and Health study of 252 office workers, has found that when the main motivation is losing weight and looking better, people don’t stick with their exercise program for very long.
So we’ve served up 14 reasons to work out that have nothing to do with losing weight – and everything to do with getting you moving for good.
1. You’ll Have More Energy
In one University of Georgia study, when previously sedentary adults who suffered from persistent fatigue performed just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week for six weeks, they reported feeling way more energetic. It may be because exercise increases the body’s efficiency and energy-generating capacity, says California-based exercise physiologist and certified strength and conditioning specialist Holly Perkins.
2. You’ll Score a Better Work-Life Balance
Whether exercising really improves your work-life balance remains to be seen, but people who exercise feel they have a better balance, according to a 2014 study published in Human Resource Management. And that’s despite the extra room exercise takes up in their schedules.
3. Colds Won’t Catch You
If you want to skate through cold season without getting sick, you better get moving. In one 2011 British Journal of Sports Medicine study, adults who performed aerobic exercise – such as running, biking and swimming – at least five days a week were 43 percent less likely to come down with an upper respiratory tract infection. Plus, when they did get sick, their symptoms weren’t as bad.
4. You’ll Live Longer
In one Archives of Internal Medicine study, Stanford University researchers monitored the health of hundreds of people who, at the start of the study, were 50 and older, for 21 years. At the end of the study, about 85 percent of the runners were alive, whereas only two-thirds of non-runners were. “Exercise greatly reduces your risk of all-cause mortality, your chances of dying – of any cause – on any given day,” explains certified personal trainer Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
5. You’ll Finally Get a Good Night’s Sleep
In one Mental Health and Physical Activity study of adults nationwide, people who performed 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week (the national guideline), slept 65 percent better than those who didn’t hit the 150-minute mark. “Regular exercise radically improves sleep quality – and reduces the amount of sleep you need in order to feel rested,” Perkins says. “When you work out, your body becomes more efficient at recovering, not just from workout sessions, but from daily life.” That means that at night, you need relatively less shut-eye for your body to repair itself and maintain health.
6. You’ll Have a Sunnier Disposition
“Exercise is a substantial mood booster,” Perkins says. In fact, according to research published in the International Journal of Psychology in Medicine, exercise is as effective as medication at treating mild to moderate depression. “While we aren’t sure of all of the mechanisms, exercise does optimize the body’s levels of hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as aid their uptake by tissues including your brain.”
7. You’ll Turn Back the Clock
Forget looking younger: Exercise can make you biologically similar to someone much younger. In fact, regularly swimming can postpone aging by about 20 years, according to research from Indiana University. One reason why: Exercise lengthens your chromosomes’ protective caps, called telomeres, which determine how quickly your cells age, per 2013 research published in the Lancet Oncology.
8. You’ll Boost Your Brainpower
“Exercise stimulates the production of new brain cells and neurons, lowering your risk of cogitative impairment now and in later life,” Tumminello says. Why? Well, apart from increasing the brain’s levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that promotes brain cells, exercise gets the blood flowing. In one 2014 Psychophysiology study, people who exercise have more oxygen flowing through their brains’ anterior frontal regions, helping them blow their way through difficult cognitive tests.
9. Your Bones Will Be Stronger
Exercise, especially high-impact and weight-bearing exercise like running and weight lifting, strengthens not only your muscles, but also your bones and joints. “Exercise can help prevent bone loss, even in people who have osteoporosis,” Tumminello says. “When your bones are stressed through exercise, they will adapt to become better capable of handling that stress.” Or, in a word, stronger. And, contrary to popular opinion, 2013 research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that running distances as far as a full marathon decreases the risk of knee osteoarthritis.
10. You’ll Get More Done
Working out takes time, but it may save you even more time in the long run. A 2011 Journal of Applied Physiology review of more than 100 studies found that, by training your brain to focus on the task at hand, regularly performing strength workouts keeps you focused and productive in whatever it is you do outside of the gym. In fact, one International Journal of Workplace Health Management study found that people are 23 percent more productive on days they exercise.
11. Your Heart Will Be Stronger
You probably (or at least, hopefully) know that cardio does your heart good. But it turns out, so does strength training. In one study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, just 45 minutes of resistance exercise instantly lowered people’s blood pressure by about 20 percent. And in people who worked out for 30 to 45 minutes three times a week, the effects lasted for about 24 hours.
12. You Won’t Get So Stressed
Regularly exercising helps people cope with anxiety and stress long after their workouts, according to 2013 research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. And that’s not just emotionally. “Exercise reduces the biological markers of stress, such as elevated cortisol levels,” Perkins says.
13. You’ll Be More Confident
All looks aside, hitting new personal records in the gym boosts confidence big time. “It makes people feel stronger and powerful, like they can overcome challenges in other areas of their lives,” Perkins says. Hence why one Cochrane review of 23 studies found that exercise increases self-esteem in young adults.
14. Your Hormones Will Be Healthier
“A lack of exercise will move you away from healthy hormone levels, and exercise will help move you toward a healthier hormone levels, balancing out estrogen and testosterone and training your body to better handle blood sugar through insulin and insulin receptors,” she says. In fact, when people go from not exercising at all to sweating it out for one hour per day, their levels of insulin resistance (a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes) improves by 25 percent, according to research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.