7 Health Benefits of Exercise (that Have Nothing to Do with Weight Loss)

The number on the scale isn’t the only reason to hit the gym.

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Squeezing back into your skinny jeans from college can be a strong motivator to finally invest in a gym membership (and, uh, use it more than once a month), but your BMI isn’t the only reason to make time for a good sweat every day. Here are other critical science-backed health benefits of exercise that go way beyond the numbers on the scale.

  1. Exercise may help you sleep. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found a “reciprocal relationship” between exercise and sleep quality. That means not only did the extra physical activity improve participants’ sleep, but getting a better night’s sleep also predicted whether or not the participants would lace up their running shoes again the following day.

  2. Exercise is a mood enhancer. Cue: endorphins. Researchers have found this phenomenon after even just a single workout: A 2013 study found that just one exercise class improved the “emotional state” of pregnant women, especially among younger and more pessimistic women. But regular workouts can have even more impactful results. A 2014 review of 37 different studies on the relationship between exercise and psychological diseases found moderate to large impact of exercise on improving depression and anxiety. (Here’s more information about how exercise and sleep can reduce symptoms of depression.)

  3. Exercise boosts your energy levels. Sure, you might feel a little tired and sore in the hours or days after your Pilates class, but regular exercise will ultimately give you more vigor in your everyday life. That’s because strengthening your heart muscle increases your “aerobic capacity,” or your maximum ability to use the oxygen you take in. The better you can use the oxygen, the less you’ll have to “pant” to get more air into your lungs—and the more oxygen-rich blood you’ll have throughout the body to keep energy levels up.

  4. Exercise helps lower blood pressure. With more flexible arteries and a stronger heart comes a lower BP. The American Heart Association suggests three to four sessions of physical activity each week (along with some diet tweaks and medication) to bring those numbers down to prevent stroke and heart disease.

  5. Exercise improves bone health. Strong bones require more than simply getting your daily calcium. A combination of weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises is ideal for maintaining bone density, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

  6. Exercise can help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes. Working out causes your muscle cells to use up glucose, according to the American Diabetes Association. Regular exercise can lower blood glucose levels. Here are tips for safe exercise with diabetes.

  7. Exercise may sharpen your brainpower. In particular, exercise can keep the hippocampus strong, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

Remember: You don’t have to jog on the treadmill every day to get your exercise in. Find an activity you like, such as dancing, yoga, bowling, or even just walking the dog. (In fact, here are 8 health benefits of walking.)