We all know physical activity is good for us, but the health benefits of exercise are truly amazing. If you need to start a new fitness regimen, now is the time. Whether you want to slim down, alleviate stress, or enhance your overall quality of life, there is almost nothing that exercise can’t improve. Check out these great benefits of exercise for inspiration as you kick your efforts up a notch.

  1. Boost Your Happiness and Self-Esteem – Finishing your morning walk, workout, or yoga class is an immediate psychological lift. Not only will your physical appearance, health, and energy improve, but the feeling of accomplishment is itself empowering and boosts self-esteem. Research shows that people who exercise regularly have higher levels of happiness and better overall moods than those who don’t.
  2. Keep Your Brain Sharp – As we age, exercise is key to keeping our brains sharp, healthy, and youthful. Studies are finding that older people who exercise regularly have significantly better cognitive health than those who do not. Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and increases beneficial chemicals known as brain-derived nerve growth factors, which support brain health and prevent cognitive decline.
  3. Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease – Regular exercise is a natural way to reduce your risk of heart disease. In fact, a meta review study with more than 339,000 participants showed no statistically measurable differences between those individuals given medications to prevent coronary heart disease and prediabetes, and those individuals who exercised regularly. For those who had already suffered a stroke, exercise and physical activity was actually more effective for recovery than drug interventions.
  4. Sleep More Deeply  – If you are prone to insomnia or sleep disturbances, exercise can help you sleep better. Regular exercise strengthens your circadian rhythms, which gives you more energy during the daylight hours, and better quality sleep at night. That said, it can take a few months for those people just beginning an exercise routine to see a positive impact on sleep. It’s important to stick with any regimen long enough to reap the benefits of exercise, when it comes to improved sleep or otherwise.
  5. Increase Energy Levels – When feeling fatigued, low-intensity exercise, such as a walk around the park, can boost energy levels up to 20 percent while decreasing exhaustion. It is important to get adequate rest on a regular basis, but a consistent exercise program also helps to improve overall energy levels.
  6. Fortify Your Immune System – Regular exercise helps protect your body from developing various cancers. There are several ways that exercise may contribute to this boost in immune system function, including the decrease of stress hormones in the body, the action of bacteria being flushed out of the upper respiratory system, and changes in antibodies and white blood cells which causes them to circulate more rapidly throughout the body.
  7. Improve Strength and Flexibility – One of the most consequential benefits of exercise is, of course, the way it builds muscles and helps your body composition. Strength training like lifting weights, and weight-bearing exercises including some kinds of yoga, help improve muscle mass and overall strength. Such workouts also help prevent osteoporosis, and keep bones healthy and strong.

These are only some of the great benefits of exercise. But you also shouldn’t feel the need to overdo it when it comes to fitness. Try to incorporate a combination of vigorous and moderate aerobic exercise activities (like running, walking, cycling, or swimming), with strength training about twice per week. If your goal is to lose weight, you may need to increase your efforts at first, and then you can scale back a bit to maintain results. Always remember to check in with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program, especially if you have existing health concerns like diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis, or if you haven’t exercised in a long time.