Most people hit the gym with the laser-like goal of losing body fat. But fat loss is just one of the incredible benefits you can get from a well designed training program.
Here are ten more inspiring reasons to be consistent with your workouts. You’ll not only get the best body transformation results but also set yourself up for optimal health and wellness down the road.
#1: Increase Longevity
Muscular strength is a robust indicator of longevity, according to a large-scale analysis of data from the NHANES study. In simple terms, this means that the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death. Not only is muscle protective against cancer and other diseases, it correlates with strength and power, both traits that make you more mobile and reactive in the case of fall.
#2: Boost Energy Levels
Most people down an energy drink or pound coffee when their energy is lagging. A better choice is to hit the gym: When men cycled for 20 minutes they had a 166 percent increases in energy levels compared with a 15 percent increase when they sat and did nothing.
Even high-intensity training works: Although subjects felt fatigued immediately after performing repeated all-out sprints, feelings of energy increased during recovery periods. Researchers think one reason for the energy boost is the higher levels of oxygen that go to the brain during recovery.
#3: Improve Sleep
There are a lot of reasons we are getting less sleep than ever, but an anxious mind is one the most debilitating. New research shows that women with General Anxiety Disorder who started a strength training program significantly improved sleep quality over 6 weeks of training. They also lowered their sensations of anxiety by the end of the study.
#4: Increase Memory
Creating long-term memories requires the release of brain chemicals such as dopamine, noradrenaline, and BDNF, all of which are elevated in response to exercise. This is why just a single session of exercise can enhance performance on a learning task. Researchers recommend using fitness as a way to improve learning over the long term: For example, if you’re studying for the GRE, do a workout a few hours after a study session for better retention of material.
#5: Reduce Stress
Most people think that yoga or other mind-body exercise is the only kind that helps you cope with stress, but strenuous exercise may be just as effective. For example, regular training protects your telomeres, which are at the end of chromosomes and are linked with longevity and resistance to disease.
#6: Prevent Depression
You know that a tough workout can give you an exercise high, but the benefits of exercise extend far beyond that. Not only is exercise as effective for reducing symptoms of depression as antidepressants, it may also prevent depression from ever occurring by improving hormone and neurotransmitter balance. Finally, exercise is a key treatment for relieving depression in people recovering from a serious illness or heart attack.
#7: Increase Insulin Sensitivity
Exercise radically improves insulin sensitivity in every population tested: Kids, the elderly, diabetics, the overweight, and people with metabolic syndrome. Anaerobic forms of exercise, such as interval training or weight lifting, appear to be most effective because they build muscle, which both increases the number of insulin receptor sites you have and boosts your body’s requirements for glucose.
The end result is less risk of diabetes: One study found people who lifted weights had a 34 percent reduction in diabetes risk, whereas those who were obese had a 60 percent lower diabetes risk from lifting.
#8: Lower Blood Pressure
When it comes to lowering blood pressure, both aerobic and strength training have been shown to yield significant results. The key is to get a high work output, either by going long and easy or with intense bursts of activity, as in weight lifting sets.
#9: Improve Reproductive Health & Libido
Exercise is especially effective at improving reproduction function and libido in people who are overweight or have diabetes because of how it balances hormones, improving androgen levels and balancing the cortisol curve. In men, both weight training and aerobic exercise promote reproductive health, but weights may be most effective because of how it improves body composition, building muscle and reducing body fat. Women get a similar benefit from weight training because the muscle gains they experience will improve estrogen metabolism.
#10: Stronger Bones
Everyone knows exercise builds muscle, but it also increases the strength of bone and connective tissue. This means less risk of fracture to bones or sprain of joints. It also translates into less risk of osteoporosis. Example: One study found that ex-athletes who regularly did heavy strength training as part of their practice had the strongest bones and lowest fracture risk of all people surveyed.
How To Get Started
Most important is to match your workout program to your goals.
For Body Composition (Fat Loss/Muscle Building)
If improving body composition is at the top of your list, you want to increase muscle while reducing body fat.
The best way to do this is with a strength training program performed 2 to 4 days a week for 1 hour. Choose compound free weight exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, and pulls. Start with 8 to 15 reps per set, working up to 4 sets per exercise. Use a weight that is very challenging by the end of the set. Keep rest periods short—ideally you can alternate upper and lower body exercises so as to optimize recovery.
After 4 to 6 weeks, switch to a higher intensity program in which you lift heavier weights but fewer reps (3 to 7 reps per set). This is important because it will target parts of the muscle not previously trained with the lighter weights, allowing for greater performance and muscular adaptations.
It’s also recommended that you include interval training about twice a week. Intervals can be done “all out” if you like to go hard and heavy or at a moderate intensity if you want to take it slower. For maximal intervals, try 4 to 6 all-out 30-second sprints on a bike against resistance. For moderate intensity intervals, try 60-second work efforts in a bike or up a hill or stairs in which you put in a vigorous effort but don’t give it everything you have. Rest 60 seconds and repeat 10 times.
For Brain/Mood/Health Benefits
If you’re just in it for the health and mood perks, you have more freedom in designing your workouts. Choosing whatever you enjoy most is actually a key component to success because we know that fun workouts produce greater physiological changes than those that are a drudge. You can sprint, jog, walk, do yoga, practice martial arts, play sports, or whatever gets you sweaty and keeps you challenging yourself day to day.