Working out has many, MANY physical, mental, and emotional benefits – but does working out actually make you look younger? The answer is a resounding YES. It turns out, regular exercise isn’t just for being fit and strong – it’s probably the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth, alongside other healthy habits like drinking water, getting enough sleep and reducing stress.
So, if you need another reason to lace up your gym shoes and break a sweat, here it is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent reports that 30-45 minutes per day of moderate exercise as you get older helps with weight management (hello, slowed metabolism), brain health, and also reduces the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. Plus, it gives you the vigor and energy to certainly make you FEEL younger. On the flip side, researchers report living a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to a host of health issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and even early death.
But let’s look beyond the benefits going on inside your body and look at the benefits of vigorous physical activity (both cardio training and strength training) to stay young on outside.
It Keeps You Fit and Trim
We’ve all heard that as you age, it’s harder to keep the pesky pounds off. Thanks, metabolism. If you’re unfamiliar, your body’s metabolism determines how quickly and efficiently you burn calories. A fast metabolism means you can handle more calories without gaining weight. You get a bigger calorie burn from having more muscle mass (a pound of muscle burns seven to 10 calories per day, while a pound of fat burns two or three). But metabolism naturally slows as you age, leading to easy weight gain and to lose muscle mass, and as your metabolism slows (as early as in your 20s!!!), your muscle mass decreases.
But that’s where strength training comes into play! Every time you challenge your muscles by lifting heavier or going through more reps, your muscles breakdown and then repair. And you’re burning calories during that whole process! Experts say in just three months, your resting metabolism will be about 6 percent faster if you keep it up, making it easier to maintain healthy weight.
Aim for weight and resistance training 2-3 days per week, focusing on major muscle groups. Don’t be afraid of some heavy lifting, either! Start at a 50% one-rep max, working your way up to a 60-75% max. Here are some exercises to encourage muscle gains and keep that metabolism humming along:
Romanian Deadlifts – These can be done with a loaded barbell or a pair of dumbbells. Hinge at the hips with a soft bend in your knees and slowly lower the weight down toward the ground. You’ll feel a stretch in your hamstrings here. Careful not to bend all the way over and strain your lower back. Drive your hips forward and fire your hamstrings to return to standing. Repeat 8-10 times for three sets.
Walking Lunges – Hold medium/heavy dumbbells in each hand. There are plenty of different dumbbell positions to choose from – resting on your shoulders, “suitcase” (or down by your sides), or even overhead (fire up your balance while you’re at it!). Step forward with your right foot, driving through your heel as you bend your right knee to parallel with the ground, left knee bent toward the floor. Drive up through your right foot back up to standing. Then switch sides, bringing your left foot forward. Aim for 100’. For an extra challenge, add a bicep curl, tricep extension or tricep kickback at the bottom of each lunge.
Bench Press – Lie down on your back on a weight bench. Utilize either a loaded barbell or a set of medium/heavy dumbbells (and a lifting partner. Safety first.). Lower the weights down to chest level, exhale as you push up. Do five sets of five at a consistent weight or go for ascending weights with fewer sets.
High Row – Grab two medium weight dumbbells. Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Brace your core and pull the dumbbells up, lifting your elbows diagonally back. The dumbbells should come up to your ribcage, then release slowly until your arms are straight. Complete 3 sets of 10. You can do alternating sets of 10 or working a single arm at a time.
It Clears Your Skin
Don’t let the red, sweaty skin directly after a hard cardio sesh fool you! Physical activity is phenomenal for your skin. Exercise increases blood flow, sending more oxygen to your skin cells and eliminating waste. When we sweat, our pores open up and release the build up (read: dirt, oil, junk) that can otherwise clog your pores and cause blemishes.
Exercise can make your skin younger at a cellular level. In each cell’s mitochondria (the cell’s energy source), there’s a chemical called ATP, which is needed to repair skin damage and provide the necessary ingredients for younger looking skin (like collagen and hyaluronic acid). As you get older, mitochondria start manufacturing less ATP. While that can’t be reversed, exercise can have a high impact on mitochondrial metabolism. While you work out, mitochondria increase ATP synthesis rates – meaning your skin is working more efficiently and thus looking great.
Regular exercise and stress relief work hand-in-hand, which means if you use your workout routine to chill out and feel better after a long or particularly stressful day, you could see fewer frown and fine lines – and that can go a long way to look and feel younger. Experts say high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can build endurance and provide stress release. Plus, these sessions can be done anywhere, with no gym equipment necessary. Try this bodyweight HIIT session, which you can have knocked out in 20 minutes.
Work for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds for two rounds:
– Air squats
– High knees
– Lateral (side-to-side) lunges
– Mountain climbers
– Bicycle crunches
– Plank hold
– Table top dips
– Lunge jumps
Some experts believe yoga can be beneficial for skin health because of the relaxation benefits, but also that certain poses can help improve blood circulation to the face and therefore reduce blemishes and wrinkles. Some of the best poses for skin health include:
– Forward fold
– Downward facing dog
– Dolphin pose
While exercise is phenomenal for glowing skin health, doctors also stress other good skin habits to keep it fresh and healthy. These include drinking water and getting enough sleep, but experts say most importantly people should ALWAYS wear sunscreen or limit sun exposure to protect skin composition.
It Busts Belly Fat
Visceral fat, or belly fat, is the bane of getting older, especially for women after menopause. Not only is it stubborn and really hard to get rid of, it increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Cardio can help lose belly fat, according to one study. A study at Duke University found that athletes who did regular aerobic exercise lost 67% more body fat than resistance or strength training.
It Improves Your Posture
It’s no secret that a curved or stooping back is a tell-tale sign of age and weakness, plus other serious health issues. Bad posture can be caused by loss of strength in your muscles and bone density changes during the aging process. Straighten up with a regular workout routine. Target the muscles in your core – your abdominals and your lower back. Strengthening them will just help your body function better in general, leading to fewer aches and pains in your back, shoulders and neck. And if that doesn’t help you look and feel younger, nothing will!
Here are a few exercises to help encourage blood flow and help you stand taller:
- Single leg extension: A good one for your core and pelvis. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hands behind your head.. Pull your navel in and up toward your spine. Pull one knee into your chest, keeping your lower back on the floor, while extending your other leg straight at a 45-degree angle off the floor. Switch legs. Do 10 on each side, slowly.
- Plank: A high plank can relieve pressure and stress in your back as you stabilize your core. For an added challenge, transition from a plank to a side plank on each side.
- Downward Facing Dog: This yoga staple improves circulation in your blood vessels to the head and legs. Press your hands into the ground as you lift your hips and pelvis to the sky. Keep your toes tucked and your chin to chest. Hold for one minute. To make this more of an aerobic exercise, lift one leg to three-legged dog, then bring the extended leg forward, bending your knee into your chest. Hold for five seconds, and then extend back up. Switch sides.
- Child’s Pose: Great for your back and for your mental health – spend some time in child’s pose with your eyes closed and breathing deep, and you’ll practically feel your blood pressure lower. Begin by kneeling on the floor, sit your glutes back on your shin bones. Stretch your hands out flat in front of you, bending at the waist, until your forehead reaches the floor. If this pose bothers your knees, spread your knees apart and bend forward (this is also a great modification for a younger person who is pregnant).
It Literally Stalls the Aging Process
For those who say, “this workout might actually kill me,” – you’re wrong! It’s doing just the opposite. A study published at UC San Francisco and the Preventative Medicine Research Institute studied the impact of working out in your DNA itself and found interesting results in the telomeres – the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. As telomeres become shorter and less stable, their structural integrity weakens. This causes the cells to age and die quicker without their protective ends. Ultimately? That means a shorter lifespan.
According to the study, participants who exercised 30 minutes a day (brisk walking), six days a week (and also cleaned up their diets and participated in a stress relief program) had 10 percent longer telomeres than study participants who lived a sedentary life. What does this mean? It means that people who exercise regularly might be at a lessened risk for chronic disease and might even live longer, thanks to this craziness happening right in the DNA.
The research is still new, but experts say – it’s promising.
We already know that exercise can help you lose weight, experience higher energy levels, maintain a positive mental health and generally live a healthier life. And while that’s all great, the benefits of regular workouts in helping you look younger can’t be ignored. Remember the old adage: You’re only as young as you feel. Who says you can’t have it all?
Due to muscle loss and bone density changes as you age, your ability to keep a healthy posture starts to decline.
By strength training either by using resistance bands, weights or aerobic exercise, such as swimming, you can rebuild muscle and prevent bone loss.
Taking care of your core and your spine has the added benefit of keeping your body and joints strong, and your taller posture will shave years off of your appearance.
Kendra Whittle is a writer, novice CrossFitter, marathon runner and triathlete. She lives in St. Louis with her husband, three kids and two dogs.