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The Benefits of Exercise That May Surprise You

There are surprising benefits of exercise that go beyond losing weight and toning muscle.

Sometimes working out is all about being focused and narrow-minded, and that’s fine. You do curls to tone your arms. You start a running regimen to lose weight. These are the simple cause-and-effect elements of exercise. And sometimes that’s exactly what’s called for — just mindlessly and happily putting in the work and getting the result. I get it. 

But as a trainer who has worked with many people, I’ve found the broader, deeper benefits of exercise can even be more exciting — and surprising! In fact, exercise touches five key energy systems in your body. Being truly mindful of these connections helps us to understand our bodies and how to improve them. Let’s take a quick look at these five key systems — endurance, strength, speed, power and recovery — and how each brings benefits that many people miss.

Endurance
Endurance comes when you have the heart, lungs and muscles that can work hard for a long time without stopping. The more trained you are, the better your muscles become at storing fuel, while your heart gets stronger and your lungs more powerful.  

The surprise? Endurance also creates some unexpected byproducts. For instance, long, intense exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good chemical that reduces the sensation of pain and creates a “high.” The endorphin buzz produces a mood and energy boost that can last two to three hours. 

Strength
Studies show building strength is especially important as we age. Weight training develops muscle and boosts lean tissue mass, reducing the risk of injury, adding stability and making possible our participation in other healthful and enjoyable activities. 

The surprise? Weight training has another secret benefit that’s often missed: it helps rev your metabolism. Studies show that in the hours following a weight session, you continue to burn calories — and the effects continue to some degree all day and night. This happens because muscle naturally burns more calories than fat. One study found that a 24-week muscle-building program produced a 9% metabolism increase for men and 4% for women. It’s not huge at first, but it’s steady and it adds up, especially as you add more muscle. So, work out for the toned muscles, sure, but also for the more effective weight loss. 

Speed 
Whether you’re a runner in the pack or a skier on a mountain, almost everybody loves the sensation of speed. Workouts that include sprint work and intervals recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers that exert more force and move faster than slow-twitch fibers. This increases the body’s ability to generate speed.  

The surprise? The same kind of exercise that builds speed also improves your gut health and can aid the digestive system. One study found the exercising for just six weeks can enhance the diversity and overall profile of the microbiome, the collection of countless bacteria and other microbes in your gut that controls digestion (and may also benefit your immune system). When you’re out there doing hard cardio work to try to get faster, you may not realize it, but you’re also making your body more efficient in other ways.

Power 
We all want the kind of a body that can jump high or generate high velocity on a spin bike. This kind of explosive power is the result of hard resistance training, the right nutrition and genetics.

The surprise? Everyone knows that nutrition plays a role in building muscle, but it’s astonishing how big that role is. To be truly powerful, calories and protein are indispensable. You need high volumes of both. A common rule of thumb for weightlifters’ intake: about a gram of protein per pound every day (nearly triple the intake of non-weightlifters) and as much as an extra 1,000 calories or more every day to build the muscle that creates that power. 

Recovery
If you don’t allow your body to recover correctly, the other systems won’t work the way they should. Recovery is critical because this is when the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training effect takes place, such as muscle growth. Without recovery, there is no time for progress. 

The surprise? Recovery doesn’t just mean passive rest. It’s about actively focusing on important elements of your health that are too often ignored. For instance, nurturing a consistent, healthy sleep pattern enhances recovery. Hydration is just as important during recovery as when you’re working out hard. It’s also wise to engage in complementary activities — perhaps yoga, which can provide mental comfort and enhance flexibility. 

The bottom line: different systems in your body are all connected. This provides an exciting opportunity! Rather than focusing just on targeted goals such as building muscle or losing weight, be mindful about your exercise and recovery. Look for the connections, and you’ll learn to truly train and improve your whole body.  

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The Benefits of Exercise That May Surprise You

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