It’s that time of year again—the time where we struggle to whip our bodies into beach-ready shape. While some people may be successful in this endeavor, others can be left frustrated by the absence of six-pack abs or sculpted arms. But the reality is, not everyone has the time, money, or energy to devote to countless hours at the gym, especially nurses. Sure, exercising to be physically fit has its upside, but there are more reasons to exercise than to look good.

If you feel like you’re in a fitness slump, maybe these often overlooked benefits of exercise will change your perspective and reinvigorate your workouts. Hopefully, you’ll discover a newfound love of fitness in a way that feels right to you, your body, and your exercise goals.

1. Exercise boosts your mood.

Exercise increases levels of the feel-good chemicals in your brain like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which can elevate your mood almost immediately. Additionally, research has indicated that exercise may be a useful component of treating anxiety and depression. If you find you’re feeling down, an exercise session might be just the thing you need to enhance your sense of well-being.

2. Exercise can improve sleep.

Having trouble falling asleep or struggling with insomnia? Vigorous bouts of aerobic exercise (like walking or running), in particular, have been associated with a decrease in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, an increase in the amount of time spent sleeping, and an overall improvement in sleep quality, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Although there’s still much to learn about the connection between sleep and exercise, it’s worth giving exercise a shot if you spend more time counting sheep than you do catching some shut-eye.

3. Exercise can increase memory and alertness.

The life-saving skills that nurses perform day in and day out require alertness and a sharp memory. Researchers from the University of British Columbia discovered that consistent aerobic exercise could increase the size of the hippocampus, the location of the brain that manages your verbal memory and learning. Even though the study was performed on women ranging in age from 70 to 80 years old, it’s encouraging research that suggests exercise may improve the function and structure of our brains. At present, it’s not clear which activities are the best to bolster cognitive health, but experts agree that some exercise is better than none at all.

4. Exercise may increase your chances of living longer.

“Science shows that physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from the leading causes of death, like heart disease and some cancers,” reports the CDC. Furthermore, exercise is one of the few lifestyle modifications you can do to increase your chances of a long, healthy life. Just how much activity do you need? The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity to reduce your chances of premature death.

Don’t have time to complete a full-length exercise session or class with your jam-packed schedule? No problem! You can still experience the benefits of it with short bursts of exercise throughout the day—so, find something you like and get moving!

Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio

Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a Chicago-based, freelance lifestyle writer, licensed occupational therapist, and certified Pilates instructor. Her expertise is in health, wellness, fitness, and chronic illness management.

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