6 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Start Exercising

Exercise does both the mind and body good.

By: Jessica Migala

Name a health benefit you want, and the answer can usually be found in a good workout. Yeah, you might have started a routine because you want to lose weight, maintain a weight loss, change your body composition to build more muscle or train for a fun physical goal, but don’t discount just how powerful exercise can be for your head-to-toe health. We’re sharing more about some of the unexpected benefits of exercise, plus what happens when you start exercising regularly.  

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6 Things That Happen When You Exercise Regularly 

#1 Your Sleep Improves

exercise improves sleep

One of the most unexpected things that can happen when you exercise has to do with sleep — yup, get ready for a sounder night of slumber. First, a better night of sleep can improve your workouts by giving you the energy to do them so you can push yourself. (Your body also repairs itself at night.) Exercise itself also helps you snooze better. As the National Sleep Foundation points out, a good workout reduces stress to help you get to sleep better and physically tires you out, so you want to go to bed. For the most sleep bang for your buck, moderate exercise — e.g., walking, Pilates, doing an at-home workout — was found to better sleep quality (a term for how well you slept) better than vigorous exercise, found a recent systematic review in the European Journal of Physiotherapy in 2021 on 14 studies.

#2 Your Bones Get Stronger

A strong skeleton is about more than just getting calcium: It’s also about strength training, too. But let’s back up: nearly one-quarter of women over age 65 have osteoporosis (a disease where bones are weak) in the bones in the hip or spine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you are young, maintaining strong bones is essential in aging well and preventing fractures that can be catastrophic when you’re older. On the other hand, lifting weight or doing bodyweight exercises — starting now — will slow bone loss. Harvard Medical School points out that the good stress from exercise triggers the formation of new bone cells, which makes them hard and resilient.  

#3 Your Blood Sugar Gets Better

what happens when you exercise

Exercise is one of the most powerful things you can do to control blood sugar today — and in the future. One in three adults in the U.S. has prediabetes, but 84% don’t know it, says the CDC. Prediabetes is when your glucose (blood sugar) levels are high, but they’re not at the level of type 2 diabetes. When you exercise, your muscle cells soak up the glucose circulating in your bloodstream in order to create energy rather than storing it. With regular exercise, your muscles can better use this glucose, and insulin sensitivity is also enhanced, notes the American Diabetes Association (ADA). In fact, the organization says, a workout will lower your blood sugar for a truly impressive 24 hours.

#4 Your Brain Gets a Boost

exercise and brain health

Need a push to get something done? You might want to take a break for a quick workout. Research shows that a single 10-minute workout improves the activity in brain networks that control decision-making, attention, and control. In the long-run, though, the benefits are even bigger. In a study on middle-aged men, active guys performed better on memory tests compared to their couch potato counterparts, likely because activity snuffs out damaging oxidative stress and preserves neural connections and brain volume, per a study in Scientific Reports. That, in turn, may help decrease your risk of cognitive impairment with age. 

#5 Your Mood is Happier

exercise and mood

Another welcome thing that can happen when you exercise has to do with mood. Whether you take a walk outside, try a HIIT workout inside, or do a yoga flow, exercise sends stress hormones (such as cortisol) tanking to give your spirits a little lift. There’s a reason why exercise is considered a natural antidepressant. After each workout, you can expect a better mood, ability to pay attention, and enjoy social situations more (which can also help improve your well-being), found a study by Swiss researchers in 2018 on people who had mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. The benefits only build on one another so that you’ll feel even better after the next workout — and the next. One of the most powerful impacts of exercise, say the authors: Its ability to diminish rumination — or that negative voice in your head that loops over and over with worries and anxieties. Quashing that negative self-talk can go a long way in improving your day-to-day outlook. 

#6 Your Gut Health Improves

Your gut consists of a colony of trillions of bacteria that play a role in mood regulation, immune system function, and even a healthy weight. And along with eating more probiotic foods (like yogurt or kefir) and prebiotic foods (beans and lentils, apples, oats) to feed healthy gut bugs, you can add regular exercise to the list of gut boosters. In fact, according to a 2019 published review, regular cardio exercise may shift the balance of your microbiome so that more beneficial bacteria are present and increase the diversity of the bacteria. Researchers even say this gut connection may be one of the reasons why exercise, in general, is so stinkin’ good for you.

Movement is Good For Mind, Body, & Soul 

As you can see, there are so many amazing things that happen when you exercise, including both mental and physical benefits. Even if you only find time for 10-15 minutes per day, a little can go a long way! 

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