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14 Subtle but Powerful Health Benefits of Exercising (Other Than Weight Loss)

Going to the gym means a lot more than losing a few pounds.

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It reduces your risk of the common cold

A consistent, medium-intensity routine is a proven cold-stopper. Taking a brisk, 40-minute walk 4 days a week, for example, can cut the number of colds you experience by 25 to 50 percent and can make the colds you do catch shorter by half, studies show. Moderate exercise boosts the number and activity level of important immune-system players called natural killer cells.

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It improves depression without drugs

The warning signs of depression can sneak up on you, but there are ways to help treat it naturally. One study divided men and women with depression into three groups: One followed an aerobic exercise program, one took the antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft), and the third did both. After four months, all participants had about the same improvement in their depression, suggesting that exercise could be an acceptable substitute for antidepressants. A follow-up showed that those who kept exercising regularly after the study, regardless of what their treatment was, were less likely to relapse into depressive episodes. Try these 10 calorie-busting exercises if you don't like running.

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It helps prevent and treat osteoporosis

A sedentary lifestyle can increase your chances of osteoporosis. During exercise, the impact as your feet hit the ground stimulates cells in the bones of your legs, hips, and spine to build new bone, preventing the thinning that can lead to osteoporosis. High-impact activities such as dancing, jumping rope, or playing tennis do more to stimulate bone growth and maintain bone density. (Check with your doctor first if your bones are already thinning or if you have joint problems or are prone to falls.) Strength training is also important. It stimulates bone growth when muscles and ligaments "tug" on bones as you lift weights, use resistance bands or machines, or do exercises (think push-ups) that rely on your own body weight to build muscle. Your best bet is a combination of high-impact exercise and strength training; in one study, this strategy preserved bone mineral density in women who had just reached menopause, a time when loss of bone density accelerates. Stop making this terrible workout mistake that can weaken your bones.

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It lowers blood pressure

Even if you have hypertension or prehypertension, exercise can get your BP down to safer levels by changing the stiffness of your blood vessels, so blood can flow more freely. The Mayo Clinic suggests walking, cycling, swimming, and strength training to combat high blood pressure. Here are the incredible benefits of walking for only 15 minutes.

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It reduces chronic pain

At least 10 minutes of aerobic exercise—biking, fast walking, running on the treadmill —can significantly improve chronic pain, likely by releasing natural pain relievers called endorphins. It can also increase pain tolerance, according to a new study out of Sydney, Australia. Participants who rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes, three times a week for six weeks, greatly increased their tolerance for pain from what it was at the beginning of the study. Those who did not start exercising had no change in pain tolerance. Don't miss these other 9 things that happen to your body when you start a new running workout.

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It battles chronic fatigue syndrome

A workout may leave you exhausted, but you'll probably feel better in the long run. British researchers asked a group of chronic fatigue syndrome patients to walk or perform some other aerobic exercise at least five days a week, increasing their daily activity to a maximum of 30 minutes. After three months, these patients were twice as likely as others who took flexibility or relaxation classes to say that their symptoms had improved and that they felt better. A year later, three-quarters of the exercisers had resumed normal daily activities, and some had returned to work. Check out the reasons why working out in the morning makes your entire day better.

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It helps prevent multiple types of cancer

Regular exercise can lower your risk of colon cancer by up to 25 percent; a half-hour walk, four times a week, is all it takes. It can also decrease the risk of colon polyps, which can develop into colon cancer. Physical activity is also associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer, which could be even more effective in postmenopausal women. Here’s more proof: One analysis of 33 studies found that high physical activity can decrease the risk of endometrial cancer (cancer in the lining of the uterus) by 20 percent.

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It relieves constipation

One way to get things moving is to get yourself moving. Exercise can reduce straining and speed the passage of food through your digestive system. For some people, it cuts the odds of becoming constipated by about 40 percent. Learn about 8 health problems that can be improved with strength training.

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It helps you control your diabetes

In addition to eating the right foods—think Mediterranean diet—physical activity is a proven way to lower blood sugar. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, so your cells can better use available insulin to take up glucose. Staying sensitive to insulin can help delay your need for medication or allow you to use smaller doses. Losing weight can also get your diabetes under control. In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who lost a significant amount of weight—an average of 24 pounds—within 1½ years after their diagnoses were twice as likely to bring their blood sugar levels under control as those who did not. Start with these 15 workouts that burn the most calories.

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It can boost your sex life

Exercise causes the brain to produce endorphins, which boost your mood and stimulate the release of sex hormones. Workouts also increase blood flow to your genitals, which can make sex more pleasurable for men and women. One study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that men who exercised for 20-30 minutes most days of the week were less likely to have erectile dysfunction than sedentary men.

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It fights addictions

Research shows that exercise can aid in short-term and long-term addiction recoveries. Short bursts of exercise can be enough to distract addicts from urges to indulge in harmful substances. One study showed that keeping up with regular physical activity as part of a 12-week intervention program increased days of abstinence and decreased the number of drinks had per drinking day among alcohol dependent patients in recovery. Just don't fall for these 50 fitness myths that can seriously damage your health.

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It can help treat Parkinson’s Disease

Getting active with your kids' or grandkids' Wii could improve some symptoms of Parkinson's disease. In one study, 20 people with the disease played Wii tennis, bowling, and boxing an hour a day, three days a week for four weeks. After the four weeks, the participants moved more easily, their fine motor skills improved, and they had more energy. Scores on a depression test also dropped to zero. The benefit may come from increased levels of dopamine released during exercise and while playing video games. Dopamine is the chemical lacking in the brains of people with Parkinson's.

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It can prevent stroke

Increasing your heart rate can do a lot to ward off cardiovascular diseases. Just 30 minutes a day of exercise strenuous enough to get your heart beating faster can reduce your risk of stroke 20 percent. Exercise harder, and watch the risk drop another 7 percent. Check with your doctor about what amount of exercise is right for you. Just avoid these 12 elliptical mistakes that sabotage your workout.

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It increases your life span

According to the CDC, few lifestyle choices have as a big impact on your overall health as physical activity. If you exercise for just one hour a day, you are 40 percent less likely to die early than people who only exercise 30 minutes per week. Pair that with a diet of anti-aging foods, and you’re set for life. Here's the exercise all senior citizens should start doing to prevent falls.