By Catherine Guthrie, Experience Life
Anyone who makes a habit of going to the gym, unfurling a yoga mat or hiking in the woods is privy to a secret known only to the physically active: The rewards of exercise extend far beyond slimming down or adding muscle tone. Dozens of subtle changes visibly revamp the body and the psyche in ways scientists are only beginning to understand.
Maybe your skin looks brighter, your step is springier or you’re more confident at work. Such small victories may go unnoticed by unobservant exercisers, but those on the lookout for these benefits will find them every bit as valid as gains measured by scales and calipers.
Scientists chalk up such fitness boons to a range of powerful physiological and biochemical processes triggered by regular exercise. “Every cell in the human body benefits from physical activity,” says Tim Church, MD, PhD, the director of preventative medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. And, he says, you feel tangible rewards right away. “Within an hour of exercising, you feel less anxious; that night you sleep better; and for 72 hours afterward your body processes blood sugar more efficiently.”
Need more incentive to lace up your sneakers? Here’s a peek into a few of the ways exercise can make you look and feel fantastic.
1. Smoother, More Radiant Skin
Working up a good sweat is the equivalent of getting a mini-facial, says Audrey Kunin, MD, a dermatologist in Kansas City, Mo., and author of The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual (Simon & Schuster, 2005). “When the pores dilate, sweat expels trapped dirt and oil. Just be sure to wash your face afterward so the gunk doesn’t get sucked back into the pores.”
Breaking a sweat isn’t the only way exercise benefits the skin — it also reduces bodywide inflammation, helps regulate skin-significant hormones and prevents free-radical damage. When you exercise, the tiny arteries in your skin open up, allowing more blood to reach the skin’s surface and deliver nutrients that repair damage from the sun and environmental pollutants. These nutrients also rev up the skin’s collagen production, thwarting wrinkles. “As we age, fibroblasts [the collagen-producing cells in the skin] get lazier and fewer in number,” Kunin says. “But the nutrients delivered to the skin during exercise help fibroblasts work more efficiently, so your skin looks younger.”