Blake Snow

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Before you exercise: 7 side effects of fitness

U.S. Army

U.S. Army

Beyond the obvious weight loss and cardiovascular benefits of regular fitness, here are a few bonus consequences of working on your body:

  1. Your skin improves. If vanity is your top goal for getting in shape, I’ve got good news: Regular exercise, particularly when coupled with a healthy diet, does wonders to your hue. If you’re white and pasty like me, your skin starts glowing the longer you work out. It looks healthy, full of color, slightly tan. The reason: “Exercise enhances blood flow to skin,” says Dr. David Katz. Plus, sweating works as a natural cleaning agent, unclogging pores and removing oil and dirt for fewer zits. My skin has never looked healthier. What a pleasant surprise. 
  2. You sleep better. I used to be a night owl. Then I had kids and became a semi-night owl. Then I started working out and started sleeping on demand, at will, like never before. If you’re a manual laborer, this effect will largely be mute as you already sleep well. But for the majority of white-collar, service-working Americans, exercise enables the third pillar of good health–eight hours of sleep (the other pillar is diet, by the way).
  3. You have more energy. I was hesitant to include this on my list. Often times I don’t want to do anything but sit on the sofa after a full day of work, parenting, and exercise. But regular exercise has undeniably boosted my stamina overall. There’s no way to say it without sounding cliche, but living in a fit body enlivens the soul. It gives an energy beneath your feet like something underground’s gonna come up and carry you.* It’s a wonderful feeling and encourages you to sustain that feeling with continued exercise for fear of losing it.
  4. It releases stress and improves mood. Related to the above, regular exercise literally lets you blow off steam. It’s a healthy outlet for aggression and strength. When stress is released, your temperament improves. When that happens, you’re in a better position to relax and rest from your labors (as my friend Josh calls it, “Power lounging”). It may seem like a contradiction, but regular exercise facilitates better energy and relaxation.
  5. It increases natural highs. I used to experience a lot of natural highs as a kid. Then I grew up and quit chasing them. That all changed when I started exercising. Since then, I’ve experienced numerous bouts of physical euphoria. A stronger appreciation and connection with the human body. A better sex life. Now, I don’t want to overstate this point. You don’t HAVE to exercise to experience the thrills of raising children, finding true love, seeing a majestic landscape with your own eyes, laughing ’till your gut hurts, etc. But regular exercise has certainly enhanced, if not, augmented the number of natural highs I experience.
  6. It builds self esteem. Life is hard. Even more so if you don’t like the cards you were dealt. But exercise can improve your hand. And not just the physical aspect of it. You see, sustained fitness flexes your head muscle as much as others. Since regular exercise requires mind over matter and willpower, you’ll feel great knowing that your mind and body worked together to produce a visible result, not to mention the hidden results of healthy internals.
  7. You’ll still die. Exercise or not, you’ll die either way. What’s the point, right? The answer is “all of the above.”

Lastly, don’t listen to anyone who says fitness is “fun.” It’s not. It’s work. But like a lot of things in life—including work—fitness can and should be a worthwhile, satisfying, if not, euphoric endeavor without being fun. To overcome the lack of fun, you’ll need to find a better cause.

See also: More commentary on food