If the latest infomercials and magazine covers are any indication, it seems like weight loss is on everyone’s minds these days. And while a healthy weight is a good goal, when it comes to eating right and exercising, it shouldn’t be the sole focus. In fact, when you tally all the reasons to eat well and exercise, we’re not even sure it should make the top 10. Face it: The number on the scale is not a reliable indicator of overall health. Even worse, according to one study, people who diet or exercise just to lose weight quit a lot sooner than people who make healthy changes for other reasons . Oh, and they really don’t lose weight in the long term. The researchers found that the most successful motivation for sticking to a healthy lifestyle was “feeling better about themselves” for women and “better health” for men.
And yes, those are both great rationales to exercise and eating right, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the good things you’ll bring into your life. Here are 45 science-backed reasons to start living a healthier life today that have zilch to do with your weight.
9 Reasons to Break a Sweat
1. It works as an antidepressant.
Whether you suffer from the winter blahs or have chronic depression, the blues can make everything in life feel harder. Antidepressant medications have been a godsend for many people, but one study found that depression sufferers who did aerobic exercise showed just as much improvement in their symptoms as people on medication. In fact, after four months, 60 to 70 percent of the subjects couldn’t even be classified as having depression. Even better, a follow-up to the study found that the effects from the exercise lasted longer than those from the medication.
2. It reduces stress and anxiety.
Pop quiz: When you’re super stressed out and worried about ________ (work/relationship status/the end of Serial/life in general) what is the fastest way to chill out? A) Mainline a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. B) Go for a serious sweat fest. or C) Call your mom. Sorry, Mom, but science says that working out is one of the fastest ways to clear cortisol, the stress hormone, out of your system and calm a frantic mind. Plus new research points to the fact that ice cream or other “comfort foods” won’t make much of a dent in stress levels—not that we have anything against an occasional scoop of chunky monkey!
3. It boosts creativity.
The next time writer’s block hits or you need new ideas for your departmental meeting, try taking a quick stroll around the block. A recent study found that walking improved both convergent and divergent thinking, the two types associated with enhanced creativity.
4. It wipes out allergies.
Sneezing, watery eyes, and snot-cicles (’tis the season!) can really take the fun out of a workout, but there’s a good reason to lace up your gym shoes even with an allergy attack. Researchers in Thailand reported that running for 30 minutes can reduce sneezing, itching, congestion, and runny nose by up to 90 percent.
5. It reduces risk of metabolic syndrome…
If there’s a modern-day health villain, it would be the scary-sounding metabolic syndrome. Comprised of three factors—increased blood pressure/cholesterol, high blood sugar, and excessive fat around the waist—it’s one of the strongest indicators you’re headed for an early grave. But before you start planning the funeral (open bar, smoke machines, and a 12-piece band, check!), researchers say that exercise can almost totally obliterate metabolic syndrome and even reverse the damage. Not all exercise works equally well, however, as one study proves intensity is key. So rather than stay at one steady pace, try intervals that will take your heart rate up and down.
6. … And lessens the risk of oodles of other diseases too.
Many types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease—we’d be here all day if we listed all the illnesses that exercising lowers your risk for. Exercise is such a health preventative superstar that Jordan Metzel, M.D., recently declared it to be “a miracle drug that prevents almost every illness, is 100 percent effective, and has very few side effects.” Even better, we don’t have to wait for FDA approval for this magical panacea!
7. It makes you respect your body.
It’s supremely easy to focus on the six-pack abs or bikini bridges or other (possibly unattainable) physical attributes. But instead of getting caught up in comparisons, lace up your shoes and head to the gym. Using our bodies not only strengthens them but builds our gratitude for all the cool stuff they can do, and research supports this. After all, being an athlete has nothing to do the mirror—it’s about how your body can move.
8. It strengthens bones.
Bone density may not be the sexiest subject, but we all should be aware of it, especially as it helps us maintain a strong and mobile body. And according to one landmark study, the best way to build bone density and reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis into old age is to do weight-bearing exercises like running or dancing. (But really any weight-bearing sport will do, even “wife-carrying,” if that’s your thang.) The researchers found that adults who exercised moderately or strenuously had better bone density than those who exercised little or not at all. Keep it up though: Adults who quit exercising later in life lost bone mass even if they’d exercised regularly earlier in their youth.
9. It blasts bad fat and boosts good fat. (Yes, there is good fat!)
In our fat-phobic society, the squishy stuff is public enemy No. 1. But not all fat is problematic. Brown fat is a metabolic boon, and hip and thigh fat in women has some possible hormonal benefits too. But the one kind you definitely don’t want is visceral fat, the type in your midsection packed around internal organs, which can do a ton of damage. Exercise to the rescue! We know busting a sweat can reduce fat in general, but belly fat is particularly susceptible to exercise, and a study from last year found that high-intensity interval training blasted belly fat the fastest.
9 Reasons to Eat Healthy
1. It fattens your wallet.
Oh, kale, why must you cost so much? People often lament that healthy food is pricier than processed junk food. And a recent study found that all that produce and lean meat adds about $1.50 a day to food costs. But before you ditch that apple for an apple fritter, the researchers continued to say that when you include the cost savings from preventing health problems—a savings of $2.71 for every dollar spent—you still come out way ahead.
2. It fixes your DNA.
Have you ever bemoaned your “bad DNA” that, say, gave you a hooked honker or a family history of heart attacks? Well, complain no more. A recent study in the brand-new field of epigentics found that eating a healthy diet can “turn on” good DNA and “turn off” some bad DNA, leading to long-term and even generational benefits. So while you probably can’t get a nutritional nose job, you can eat your way to less heart disease—and spare your children from inheriting the risk too.
3. It can help cure irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
IBS is to stomachaches what Godzilla is to the Geico gecko. Sufferers experience debilitating pain, bloating, tenacious constipation, and embarrassing (sometimes public) displays of diarrhea. But new research has found a link between the bacteria living in a person’s gut and their chance of having IBS, saying that eating probiotics helped the majority of sufferers find some respite. And don’t just look to yogurt to get your fix. Remember the three Ks: kefir, kimchi, and kombucha.
4. It makes your (future) children smarter…
There’s nothing fishy about this: A pediatric study shows pregnant women who eat a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, DHA specifically, go on to have kids with higher IQs at age four than do moms who avoid seafood. And another study demonstrated that children who supplemented with DHA or ate a lot of fish also showed cognitive improvements.
5. … And it makes you smarter too.
Fish oil isn’t only for kids! Eating more fish can boost your cognitive capacity. But it is not just about towing the (fishing) line; a diet rich in healthy fats, protein, and antioxidants from produce increases cognition and prevents memory loss later in life too, says a neuroscience study.
6. It reduces cravings for bad food.
File this under odd but true: Eating a salmon omelet could stave off cravings for Swedish Fish. Researchers found that starting the day with a protein-rich meal for breakfast helped reduce cravings for junk food later on in the day. Rather than feel deprived of their favorite treats, subjects reported, well, not thinking about treats much at all. The researchers think that eating a healthy, protein-packed breakfast increased levels of dopamine in the brain. Since 91 percent of us report having intense food cravings, according to a Tufts study, we’ll be seeing you at the breakfast bar.
7. It gives you energy.
The next time you’re feeling exhausted, skip the “energy” drinks and head for the blender. Not only can long-term caffeine abuse make you more exhausted in the long run by messing up your sleep, but it can exacerbate the effects of stress, making you mentally tired as well. Instead, whip up a shake with a balance of carbohydrates for quick energy and complex protein to increase performance and help with recovery. A study of athletes found that those who drank the protein shake showed a significant improvement in performance on an athletic test than did those who relied on straight carbs alone.
8. It soothes sore muscles.
According to several studies, what you eat can greatly affect how quickly and how well your muscles recover after a workout. (Read: Eat right, and you’ll be able to sit like a normal person after bootcamp squats.) According to research, the biggest factor was getting enough protein, as that nutrient is responsible for building and repairing skeletal muscle, but blueberries also provided measurable relief.
9. It will make you win at life.
In possibly the cutest study, Stanford researchers had children face down delicious marshmallows in the ultimate battle of willpower. The results, chronicled in the book The Marshmallow Test, showed that tots who had strong enough willpower to resist the junk food ended up having higher SAT scores and great professional success as adults. But it doesn’t take a test to see there is a link between living your best life and treating your body well. Taking care of your health will not only give you all the benefits we’ve listed, and many more, but the confidence and self-knowledge in all aspects of your life—so bon appetit!
Want even more reasons to stay on the healthy bandwagon? Get 27 more fact-filled tips.