Chances are you're pretty familiar with the visible ways exercise does your body good—sleeker legs, a firmer backside, flatter abs—but what about the benefits you can't see? Yes, it reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes, but researchers have found that working out can also improve everything from your mood to your memory. Check out all the other ways an afternoon kickboxing class or stroll with your dog can perk up your day-in, day-out routine—you won't be able to put on your sneakers fast enough.
1. MORE EXERCISE = FEWER SICK DAYS
Work out for 30 minutes a day and you'll catch half as many colds this year, according to a study in the American Journal of Medicine. That's because exercise prompts more white blood cells to circulate in your body, where they kill disease-causing invaders. Physical activity also lowers your estrogen levels, which helps explain why women who exercise regularly have a 30 percent lower risk of breast cancer.
MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU When you don't have time for a full-on sweat session, squeeze in three 10-minute bursts of activity (try speed walking) during the day.
2. YOU'LL GET BETTER ZZZ'S
"Amp up your calorie burn during the day and you'll sleep more soundly at night," says Mark Stibich, Ph.D., a health research consultant at Columbia University. "Your body shuts down faster if you've exercised because it needs sleep to repair workout-induced muscle damage [that's how you get stronger] and replenish your energy."
MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU Exercise (this includes cardio and strength training) later in the day. Your body temperature will dip for up to six hours afterward, which many experts believe may help you fall asleep. Hitting the gym post- work also blows off steam, setting the stage for a relaxing evening.
3. YOU'LL BE A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY
"When you take a group fitness class or run with a club, you connect with like-minded people," says Timothy Church, M.D., PhD., a researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "In fact, the women in our studies often stay with the exercise programs we give them after the research is finished because they've become friends with people in the group." Health clubs have also noticed that there's more power in numbers, and many of them now offer group programs, like adventure vacations and marathon training.
MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU If you're a runner, find a club to train with at rrca.org. Interested in something more adventurous? Check out the trips and courses (everything from rock climbing in New Hampshire to cycling through Cambodia) at rei.com/adventures.
Next Page: More reasons why to exercise