Top 10 Fitness Facts

Some things you should know about exercise

By Barbara Russi Sarnataro
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Want to be sharper at work? Feel less tired at home? Spend some quality time with your spouse? How about enjoying a cookie without guilt?

If you answered "yes" to all of these questions (and who wouldn't?), exercise is the answer.

Being physically active offers benefits far beyond the obvious. (Of course, an improved physique and a clean bill of health aren't too shabby, either.)

If you've been looking for the motivation to begin an exercise program or get back into working out regularly, here are 10 fitness facts that may help inspire you to get off the couch.

1. Exercise Boosts Brainpower

Not only does exercise improve your body, it helps your mental function, says certified trainer David Atkinson.

"Exercise increases energy levels and increases serotonin in the brain, which leads to improved mental clarity," says Atkinson, director of program development for Cooper Ventures, a division of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas.

All that makes for a more productive day.

"It is clear that those who are active and who exercise are much more productive at work," says Todd A. Astorino, assistant professor of kinesiology at California State University-San Marcos.

Improved productivity not only makes you a better worker, it makes things better for everyone in the workplace. Companies with less wasted work hours and less sick time end up with lower health care costs -- and an improved bottom line, Astorino says.

2. Movement Melts Away Stress

As much as it may stress you out just to think about exercising, once you actually start working out, you'll experience less stress in every part of your life.

"Exercise produces a relaxation response that serves as a positive distraction," says Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. He says it also helps elevate your mood and keep depression at bay.

You're not the only person who will benefit from more happiness and less stress in your life. When you're less stressed, you're less irritable, Atkinson says -- and that could improve relationships with your partner, kids, and co-workers.

3. Exercise Gives You Energy

You might be surprised at how, say, popping in a workout tape for 30 minutes in the morning can change your whole day. When endorphins are released into your bloodstream during exercise, says Astorino, "you feel much more energized the rest of the day."

And when you improve your strength and stamina, it's easier to accomplish everyday tasks like carrying groceries and climbing stairs. This also helps you feel more energetic over the course of the day.

A common excuse among Atkinson's clients is that they're too tired to exercise, he says. While exercise may make you feel more tired at first, he says, that won't last long.

The physical tiredness you feel after working out isn't the same as everyday fatigue, he says. Besides, once your body adjusts to exercise, you'll have more energy than ever.

4. It's Not That Hard to Find Time for Fitness

The key, says Atkinson, is to use your time more wisely. Think about killing two birds with one stone.

Take your kids to the park or ride bikes together, and you're getting physical activity while enjoying family time, he says. Beyond that, go for a hike, take the kids swimming, or play hide-and-seek, tag, softball, or horseshoes in the backyard.

At work, he says, schedule a meeting on the jogging track or on the golf course.

Also, forget the idea that you have to trudge to the gym and spend an hour or more doing a formal workout. Instead, you can work short spurts of physical activity into your day.

"Everyone has 20 minutes," Atkinson says. "Everyone has 10 minutes to jump rope, and sometimes that's better than 20 minutes of walking or running."

Indeed, squeezing in two or three bouts of 15 or 20 minutes of activity is just as effective as doing it all at once, says Astorino. Vacuuming the house in the morning, riding bikes in the park with the kids in the afternoon, then taking a brisk walk in the evening can add up to an active day.

Recent U.S. government guidelines say that to lose weight and keep it weight off, you should accumulate at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, says Astorino. But half an hour a day is all you need to reap the health and disease-fighting benefits of exercise.