If you've ever joined a gym with the specific goal of shedding some pounds through exercise, you've probably already noticed what researchers have only recently, reluctantly admitted: Physical activity alone just isn't a great tool for weight loss. But while that revelation may tempt people to write off working out as a total waste of time, nothing could be further from the truth—being active has countless benefits that can't be measured by a scale. Here are just a few of the ways that exercise makes everything better, no matter what size you are.
1. IT'S GOOD FOR YOUR EMOTIONAL HEALTH.
Elle Woods, Reese Witherspoon's character in Legally Blonde, said it best: "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy! And happy people don't just shoot their husbands."
The jury may still be out on the relationship between exercise and mariticide, but studies definitely support the connection between breaking a sweat and emotional stability. Exercise is a particularly effective part of any treatment plan for depression and anxiety, thanks to the mood-elevating hormones released when you work out.
2. IT'S CHEAPER THAN ANTI-WRINKLE CREAM, BUT HAS THE SAME EFFECT.
A series of studies by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario uncovered evidence that not only does exercising stave off the effects of aging on skin, but that it may even reverse them in people who start exercising later in life. In the study, even after accounting for the effects of genetics, sun damage, and other factors, people who engaged in moderately strenuous exercise presented with more youthful skin than those who were sedentary.
3. IT'S A GREAT SOCIAL OUTLET.
Having a "workout buddy" is often touted as a way to keep you accountable to your exercise schedule, but that commitment goes both ways: Your exercise schedule can be a great way to maintain your friendships, too. A weekly walking or lifting date means a regular chance to connect and catch up. And if you're trying something new, like a bootcamp or parkour class, having a friend along for the ride can turn it into a bonding experience. And if you need to expand your social circle? Become a regular at your gym, and you'll find a whole new community full of people with whom you have at least one common interest.
4. IT'S A CREATIVITY-BOOSTER.
Don't be surprised if, after mindlessly sweating through your workout, you find yourself flooded with some seriously cool and useful ideas. Regular exercise has been linked to increased creativity, possibly because it helps put you in the zen-like, "unloaded" state in which your brain can do its best thinking.
5. IT'S GOOD FOR YOUR BODY, AT ANY SIZE.
Even if you never drop an ounce, there's no end to the ways that exercise will positively impact your physical health. Among the established benefits: improved bone density, better sleep quality, a healthier heart, a decreased risk of stroke, and even a higher sperm count (in men) or improved fertility (in women).
6. IT'LL KEEP YOU YOUNG.
In terms of its effect on your DNA, exercise may be the closest thing available right now to a real-life fountain of youth. A study of endurance athletes found that their telomeres, a cellular structure that gets progressively shorter with age, were significantly longer (i.e. more youthful) than those of their sedentary peers. And if you're not already working out, there's more good news: Another, related study showed that people who took up exercise were able to lengthen their telomeres, essentially slowing down their aging process at a cellular level.
7. IT'LL IMPROVE YOUR SEX LIFE.
Getting sweaty on the regular leads to improved blood flow and increased stamina that translates to more fun between the sheets. Add in some flexibility-focused exercise like yoga, and you'll be limber enough to try out that obscure and complicated Kama Sutra position you read about on the internet.
8. YOU'LL HAVE A HEALTHIER RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR BODY.
Imagine how good it would feel to value your body for what it can do, not just how it looks. The mere act of getting some exercise has been proven to boost self-image, and that's even before you achieve a single fitness goal. Learning to enjoy the physical act of moving around—and to measure your progress in terms of what you gain in strength, speed, or skill, rather than what you lose in pounds and inches—will make you happier and more comfortable in your own skin, even if you don't drop a single pant size.
9. IT'LL KEEP YOU ON YOUR FEET IN YOUR TWILIGHT YEARS.
Life expectancy is on the rise, and in the U.S., it's at an all-time high, which means that our bodies need to last longer than ever. Enter exercise, which is one of the best ways to stave off osteoporosis, mobility issues, and other problems that can limit your independence and quality of life as you age.
10. EXERCISE MAKES YOU BETTER AT LIFE—PERIOD.
Research shows that regular exercise has a positive effect that lasts long after your workout. Not only does moving your body have stress-reducing effects in its own right, but training yourself to push through a tough run or a difficult weightlifting set essentially reshapes the way your brain responds to uncomfortable situations, making you more tolerant of stress in other areas. The end result is a ripple effect that makes you more stable, more in control, more capable of making thoughtful decisions under pressure, and more prone to healthy choices across the board.