Turns out sweat really is good for your skin.

By Lauren Mazzo
April 28, 2020
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Think of every workout you do as a surge of strength for your skin cells. Deep beneath the surface, your pumping heart triggers a rush of oxygenated blood and exerkines—substances released from skeletal muscles and other organs postexercise—that starts the repair process, even on the DNA level.

Even a modest dose of exercise can have a spectacular impact on the fitness of your skin cells. “Exercise increases their oxygenation, which leads to increased production of collagen [the protein that gives skin its strength and elasticity],” says Ron Moy, M.D., a dermatologist in California. “These higher oxygen levels may also lead to the production of DNA-repair enzymes, which help maintain skin’s youthful appearance.” (See: The Best Anti-Aging Workout You Can Do)

Meanwhile, the increase in an exerkine known as IL-15 is helping re-energize the mitochondria, or power center, of your skin cells. “Mitochondria become dysfunctional as we age—like a fading light bulb,” says Mark Tarnopolsky, M.D., Ph.D., at McMaster University Medical Centre in Ontario. “Restoring the mitochondria with exercise can help rejuvenate the skin and other tissues, like muscle.” In Dr. Tarnopolsky’s research, sedentary people who started doing moderate-intensity cardio for 30 to 45 minutes twice a week (the study participants mostly cycled, but some also power-walked) had significantly more collagen and mitochondria in their skin after 12 weeks—so much so that their skin cells looked decades younger. Although any activity increases blood flow and oxygenation of the skin, more vigorous aerobic exercise—at the conversation threshold, or intensity at which you can speak in choppy sentences—may provide a bigger increase, he says. (Here's more on the benefits of exercise for your skin.)

To help you power up your skin regimen, we asked celebrity trainer Kira Stokes, the creator of the Stoked Method, to design a workout that would keep you solidly in the vigorous zone as you strengthen muscles all over. (Try this 30-day plank challenge to get a sense for her style.)

This circuit—straight from a workout in her KiraStokesFit app—"is programmed to challenge your entire body in terms of strength and cardiovascular conditioning,” says Stokes. You’ll move through a compound strength exercise into a plyometric combo, followed by a cardio core move. “One move flows seamlessly into the next,” she says. “There’s a reason and a purpose for each move and its placement”—namely, to get you science-backed results. Repeat each three to four times—with Stokes adding bonus challenges to the circuit during each round—to experience a peak skin treatment.

How it works: Follow along with Stokes in the video above as she leads you through a warm-up and three rounds of the circuit (adding bonus moves during every round). Or you can also simply follow the base circuit below, repeating three to four times.

You'll need: A set of light- or medium-weight dumbbells.

To try the rest of the workout (and many more from Stokes), download the KiraStokesFit app.

Squat Press with Triceps Extension

A. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, holding weights in a front rack position over shoulders.

B. Squat, sitting hips back and keeping chest up. Hold for 2 seconds at the bottom.

C. Push through mid-foot to stand, pressing weights overhead.

D. Hold dumbbells together overhead and bend elbows to lower weights behind head, keeping triceps next to ears and elbows pointing toward the ceiling.

E. Squeeze triceps to lift weights overhead, then lower them to racked position to return to start.

Do 10 reps.

Broad Jump to Plank Shoulder Taps with Triceps Push-Up

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Sit into a squat, and swing arms to jump forward, landing softly in a squat.

B. Place palms on the floor, and jump feet back to a plank. Do 4 alternating shoulder taps, tapping opposite hand to the opposite shoulder.

C. Return to high plank, and do 1 triceps push-up, keeping elbows in tight to ribs.

D. Walk hands back to feet and slowly stand to return to start.

Repeat for 1 minute.

Mountain Climbers

A. Start in high plank.

B. Alternate driving each knee in toward chest, while keeping hips still and abs engaged.

Repeat for 30 seconds.

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