Let’s be honest: Most of us work out to look and feel good in the moment. And that’s ok! But, fortunately, for runners, walkers, and other exercise enthusiasts, physical activity also confers some well-known, long-term benefits including a longer life, a stronger heart, and a lower risk of type-2 diabetes.
“Physical activity is great for overall health and longevity,” says Alpa Patel, Ph.D., a cancer epidemiologist and strategic director of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-3. “Going from doing nothing to doing something is where we see the greatest benefits, and the more you can do, the better.”
Still not sold on fitness? Here are three more beyond-skin-deep reasons to make exercise a priority in 2018.
1. Enhance Your Memory
The benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) just keep piling up. A new study from McMaster University found that study participants who engaged in just 20 minutes of HIIT three times a week for six weeks significantly improved their high-interference memory. That’s the type of memory that allows you to find your car in a crowded parking lot, says lead study author Jennifer Heisz, Ph.D., an assistant professor in McMaster University’s department of kinesiology.
While researchers are not exactly sure why high-intensity exercise helps boost your memory, they suspect that the surge in adrenaline during HIIT helps the brain focus. High-intensity exercise also produces more brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth of new brain cells.
Nervous about going all-out during your workout? High-intensity exercise doesn’t have to be brutally painful to be effective, Heisz notes. Study participants did one minute of high-intensity cycling, followed by one minute of easy cycling, 10 times through.
2. Reduce your Risk of Getting Cancer
Here’s a bit of good news for those struggling with a few extra pounds: Even in the absence of weight loss, being physically active can significantly reduce your risk of breast, colon, and endometrial cancers, says Patel. “For many individuals, achieving an optimal body weight is a very tough task,” Dr. Patel says. “But one of the really nice messages about physical activity is that even without that weight loss, there are some serious health benefits.”
To reap those benefits, the American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week, with moderate intensity defined as 3 miles per hour, or a 20 minute per-mile pace.
3. Help Protect Your Eyesight
‘More is better’ was also the finding from research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles into the role of exercise in preventing glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S.
For this study, researchers examined the correlation between the speed and the number of daily steps taken and the risk of developing glaucoma, and found that the most physically active adults were 73 percent less likely to contract the sight-robbing disease as those who were the least physically active.
“Our research suggests that it’s not only the act of exercising that may be associated with decreased glaucoma risk, but that people who exercise with higher speed and more steps of walking or running may even further decrease their glaucoma risk compared to people who exercise at lower speeds with fewer steps,” says lead study author Victoria L. Tseng, M.D., Ph.D.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.