Regular physical activity and exercise are great ways to maintain and improve your health. Exercise is known to prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, depression and heart disease. It can also give you an energy boost and is an important part of any weight loss program. But there are many more benefits of exercise and here are another five you many not know.
Boost Your Creativity
Exercise has a number of benefits to the brain that can change how we think. One of those is improving our creativity. Creativity is commonly measured by asking participants to questions such as providing novel uses for common items (such as a pen), finding associations between two seemingly unrelated words and limited drawing activities.
People who are active tend to score higher on creativity tests. And eight weeks of twice weekly running was found to increase creativity compared to a group of non-exercisers. But it appears it doesn’t need to be exercise per se. Greater amounts of everyday activity are also associated with higher levels of creativity. And even a single bout of exercise can enhance creativity in regular exercisers.
It’s not clear why exercise may enhance creativity. Studies to date can only indicate associations and not conclude exercise causes creativity to increase. Given the mood-enhancing effects of exercise, it was speculated this may play a role, but the creativity benefits appear to occur independent of mood changes. However, exercise also improves memory, productivity and has been shown to increase neurons in mice, which may be the reason for the boost in creativity.
Help Out Your Microbiome
Within our gut (the collection of organs involved in digestion, such as the mouth, stomach, intestines, etc.) are trillions of bacteria. These bacteria help us stay healthy and are collectively called the microbiome. They’ve co-evolved with humans for thousands of years and are crucial as they help digest our food, involved in metabolism and resist infection. As a result, the microbiome, and a lack of diversity, may play a role in one’s risk for disease. While diet is known to effect the microbiome, recent research suggests exercise can as well.
Active individuals tend to have greater diversity in their microbiome and also more of the health-promoting bacteria than those who are inactive. The good news is that six weeks of exercise in sedentary people was enough to result in favourable changes in the microbiome. However, six-weeks of inactivity reversed these changes. Of note, is these changes only occurred in the lean participants. In those with obesity, the microbiota was different to start with and a longer exercise program may be needed for changes to occur. This is supported by study of a 12-week program, which improved the microbiome in children with obesity.
Improve Your Relationships
People who exercise are more likely to be satisfied with their marriage compared to those who don’t. Specifically, exercisers reported having more positive marital events and less negative ones. This could be due to a glass half full mentality as exercise improves mood and happiness. It also reduces stress and depression. All of which can help strengthen relationships.
Exercise also improves one’s confidence and body image (satisfaction with your own body). These tend to increase the more exercise you do. But the frequency of exercise appears to matter more than how long or intense the exercise is. And if you’re more confident, you’re more likely to be attractive to others.
Exercise itself also results in a number of physiological changes (increased heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, adrenaline surge). There is some evidence to suggest our bodies may mistake this for actually being aroused. Indeed, following a 15 minute exercise session, adults reported greater attraction to pictures of the opposite sex compared to those who didn’t exercise.
The benefits may also be greater when you exercise together. Couples participating in shared physical activity report increased relationship quality. This may go beyond just spending time together. Strangers participating in exercise together found themselves more romantically attracted to one another compared to pairs engaged in a non-active activity.
Change What You Eat
Diet and exercise often go hand in hand when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. Indeed, people with higher levels of physical activity tend to eat more fruits and vegetables. Even after taking into account how much people ate. In addition, people who have recently initiated an exercise program also report eating a healthier diet. Similarly, a randomized study found people eating less food in general after an exercise program.
These studies don’t necessarily indicate that exercise itself is causing the dietary changes. However, exercise has been demonstrated to reduce preferences for high-fat foods and binge eating. And a study in mice undergoing exercise found this reduced preference for high fat foods to correspond with changes in signalling in the brain.
Prevent Damage to DNA
Throughout life, our DNA is prone to damage. Some of this comes during the process of cell division when DNA replicates itself. While a natural, and necessary, process, it is not 100% foolproof and errors do occur. Environmental exposure can also lead to DNA damage. While our body is equipped with DNA repair systems, these are not able to keep up later in life and with age, DNA damage increases. This damage is associated with increased chance of getting diseases such as cancer.
However, people who exercise have less DNA damage than non-exercisers at the same age. And while it was believed that a single bout of exercise may lead to DNA damage, this appears to be the case only in sedentary individuals. When blood was drawn from both trained and untrained healthy men following exhaustive exercise, DNA damage was only found in the untrained men. But all is not lost, as little as 16 weeks of training result in an improved ability of DNA to repair and a decrease in DNA damage in blood cells.
From boosting creativity to repairing damage to your DNA, exercise provides a wide range of benefits starting from a single session.
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