One run or Pilates class may not seem like a lot to you, but it is for your body!
Doing—or skipping—one workout isn’t going to have a big impact on your health in the long run, right? Wrong! Studies have found that a single bout of exercise can affect your body in surprising ways. And when you keep that habit up, those benefits add up to big, positive changes. So stick with it, but also be proud of yourself even just for a single sweat session, thanks in part to these pretty powerful perks of a solitary workout.
In a 2012 study, Swedish researchers found that among healthy but inactive adults, mere minutes of exercise altered genetic material in muscle cells. Of course, we inherit our DNA from our parents, but lifestyle factors such as exercise can play a part in expressing or "turning on" certain genes. In the instance of exercise, it appears to affect gene expression for strength and metabolism.
As you kick off your workout, your brain will start to release a number of different feel-good neurotransmitters, including endorphins, which are the most commonly cited explanation for the so-called "runner's high," and serotonin, which is well known for its role in mood and depression.
Like with the subtle changes to DNA, small changes to how fat is metabolized in muscle also occur after just one sweat session. In a 2007 study, University of Michigan researchers found that a single cardio workout increased storage of fat in muscle, which actually improved insulin sensitivity. Low insulin sensitivity, often called insulin resistance, can lead to diabetes. [Tweet this fact!]
The surge of blood to the brain when you start huffing and puffing kicks brain cells into high gear, leaving you feeling more alert during your workout and more focused immediately after. In a 2012 review of the research on the mental effects of exercise, researchers noted improvement in focus and concentration from bouts of activity as short as just 10 minutes, the Boston Globe reported.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that about 14 percent of people turn to exercise to mitigate stress. And even though pounding the pavement, by definition, causes a stress response (cortisol increases, heart rate quickens), it really can ease some of the negativity. It's likely a combination of factors, including the influx of extra blood to the brain and the rush of mood-boosting endorphins out of it. [Tweet this fact!]