Beautiful young woman runner in a green forest.

For many people, the end goal of exercise is weight loss. According to Lisa Avellino, Director of Movement Therapy at NY Health and Wellness — while exercise can definitely help you shed a few extra pounds, there are so many other reasons to exercise that are equally important to your overall health. Here are Lisa’s Top 10 reasons to exercise:

  1. It Alleviates Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Stress can really wreak havoc on your body and mind, and exercise is a great counterweight to help you bust stress. Physical activity helps to increase the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins, which are natural stress-fighters.  Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, which is exactly why the period after a workout is often described as “euphoric” or a “runner’s high.”

  1. It Improves Learning and Increases Mental Sharpness

When you exercise your body, you exercise your mind as well.  Physical activity increases oxygen to your brain and reduces the risk for disorders that can eventually lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Many studies have shown that exercise can enhance both memory and your ability to process and recall information.

  1. It Builds Self-Esteem, Confidence and Improves Body Image

Yes! Exercise will change your appearance for the better, which can help to boost your confidence.  However, there’s more to the story than that. Even seeing minute improvements—like running a faster mile, lifting heavier weights or being able to do a pull up—can do wonders for your self-esteem.  In the same vein, exercise also helps to increase your sense of achievement, because it gives you a feeling of accomplishment each time you leave the gym after a really productive workout.

  1. It Helps to Slow the Aging Process

As you age, the stem cells in your brain become less active and you produce fewer new cells.  This is what causes the mind to get “slower.”  Research has shown that exercise can stimulate processes in your brain that activate the division of stem cells and thus support the production of new brain cells (neurogenesis).

Telomeres are also affected by regular exercise. What are telomeres? Telomeres are strands of DNA at the ends of your chromosomes that protect them from damage.  Cellular aging occurs when the telomeres shorten through progressive and gradual erosion.  Research suggests that physically active people have considerably less erosion of telomeres than people who are sedentary.

  1. It Helps You Sleep Better

Several studies have found that regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and help to improve sleep quality. The best time to work out is in the morning or the afternoon, instead of before bed.  If you exercise too close to bedtime, it can actually have the opposite effect and make you feel wired!  Why is this? It’s because your body temperature increases during exercise and then subsequently drops off after your workout. This post-exercise dip in body temperature is beneficial because when your body temperature cools off, you are more likely to feel sleepy. Timing is crucial, as it may take up to six hours for your body temperature to fall.

  1. It Energizes You and Helps Battle Chronic Fatigue

Physical activity does help you sleep more soundly — and also serves to energize you.  It may seem counterintuitive, but research suggests that expending energy through regular exercise will boost energy levels in the long run.  Exercise enhances the flow of oxygen and nutrients to both the brain and muscle tissue, and it improves your ability to produce more energy (the chemical adenosine triphosphate).

  1. It Helps Keep Your Digestive System Regular

If you suffer from constipation, perhaps some exercise can help improve your situation. A great way to get things moving in your digestive tract is to be as active as possible. Exercise can speed up the passage of food through your digestive tract and also reduces the chance of becoming constipated by about 40 percent.

  1. It Improves Your Skin

You may be inclined to think that because you’re breaking a sweat, working out is more likely to cause breakouts, but a little care can help to give exercise the opposite effect. As long as you wash your face with a quality, oil-free MD Ultraceutical cleanser after your workout, exercise actually improves your skin’s appearance.  This is because the increased blood flow to your face and release of dirt through sweating helps to reduce acne and cleanse the skin of dirt, grime and bacteria.

  1. It Strengthens Your Immune System

Exercise enhances the circulation of immune cells in your blood, which neutralizes  pathogens throughout your body.  When the cells are circulating sufficiently, your immune system is more efficient at locating and defending against the viruses and diseases that are trying to attack your body.  And of course, your immune system is your body’s first line of defense against everything – from the common cold to the flu,  and also against more life-threatening diseases like cancer.

  1. It Normalizes Your Insulin Levels and Reduces Risk of Disease

One of the main benefits of exercise is that it normalizes your insulin and leptin levels, which in turn balances blood sugar levels in your body and consequently discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells.  In fact, physically active individuals experience roughly half the incidence of colon cancer as their sedentary counterparts.

Ultimately, exercise is one of the most (if not the most) important factors for optimizing your overall health and well-being, and for preventing disease of all kinds—from cancer to diabetes, to heart disease—and everything in between!