It's April, so apparently it's time to talk swimsuits. In particular, bikinis and the bodies that wear them.
If it's not the ads trying to convince you to sign up for a gym membership, it's the magazine covers -- or maybe even the shirt your friend is wearing to the gym.
Photo from ActivateApparel.com
We're pretty fed up with the whole concept, and it barely even feels like spring. As our friends at HuffPost Women so perfectly put it:
But what does "bikini body" even mean? We happen to believe that if you're physically able to put on a bathing suit, you're bikini-ready.
Which is why we think it's perfectly acceptable to go ahead and stop listening to anyone (or anything) who tells you your body is anything other than bikini-ready.
We are, on the other hand, big fans of getting fit. Despite the bad messaging, it's not the act of working out that's to blame here. There are loads of good reasons to get in shape, no matter what season it is, or what items of clothing you may or may not be wearing. In fact, we found a slew of them, none of which has a single thing to do with how you look in a bikini.
With a regular exercise routine you'll...
1. Sleep better.
The 2013 annual Sleep In America poll from the National Sleep Foundation found that people who self-identify as regular, vigorous exercisers got better sleep than their sedentary peers. Of the vigorous exercisers, just 17 percent said they got fairly or very bad sleep, while nearly half of the non-exercisers reported the same.
2. Be more productive.
You might think that cutting back on your working hours to incorporate more time for fitness means you'll get less work done, but the opposite is likely true. Workers who dropped 2.5 hours from their weekly work schedule and participated in mandatory physical activity for a year rated their productivity, quantity of work and work-ability significantly higher in a 2011 study.
3. Keep your brain sharp.
In the short-term, exercise increases blood flow, including to the brain, which leaves you feeling more awake, alert, focused and productive. But with a regular fitness routine, you reap even bigger benefits, including warding off dementia and other cognitive decline that often comes with age. Regular exercise also fuels the birth of new brain cells in a section of the brain called the hippocampus, which is highly involved in learning and memory.
4. Lower your diabetes risk.
In a 2014 study, women who sweated it out for 150 minutes a week and performed 60 minutes a week of strength training exercises had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than the most inactive women in the study. Even walking counts: Earlier research found that people who walked just 3,500 steps a day (there are roughly 2,000 steps in a mile) had a lower risk of developing diabetes than the people who walked the least in the study, Reuters reported.
5. Live longer.
Regular exercise has been repeatedly linked with more birthdays. The best news is that even just 15 minutes a day can make a big difference -- up to three additional years! (More summers to wear that bikini!)
6. Lower your resting heart rate.
The more you exercise, the stronger you get -- but not only in ways you can see. As the heart becomes more efficient at pumping oxygen-rich blood around the body, your resting heart rate may drop. And that's a good thing, since higher resting heart rates may put you at risk for serious disease.
7. Have better sex.
Increased blood flow is at it again! A 2012 study from Emory University researchers found that men between the ages of 18 and 40 who exercised more "seemed to experience a protective benefit against erectile dysfunction," Wayland Hsiao, co-author of the study and assistant professor of urology at Emory School of Medicine said in a statement.
8. Ease restless legs syndrome.
Regular exercise seems to significantly limit the severity of symptoms of this disruptive sleep condition, according to a small 2006 study.
9. Protect your eyes.
In a 2011 paper, researchers linked higher physical activity levels with a decreased risk for glaucoma, which can result in vision loss and blindness. In the study, people who exercised moderately 15 years earlier showed a 25 percent lower risk of low ocular perfusion pressure, or OPP, an important glaucoma risk factor.
10. Have fewer migraine headaches.
Anyone familiar with migraine knows that relief can be hard to come by. But a small 2011 study found that regular exercise worked just as well as medication or relaxation therapy at stopping the debilitating headaches before they start.
11. Strengthen your bones.
Bones are actually made of living tissue -- like muscles -- that can be strengthened with use, i.e. exercise! Regular, weight-bearing activity has been shown to build up bone strength, which prevents some of the natural decline in bone health typically seen with aging. Just keep in mind that weight-bearing activities are best for building bone; low-impact exercises like swimming, biking or using the elliptical aren't as helpful as walking, jogging and strength training.
12. Get sick less.
You can thank your running shoes next time you're the only one at the office who doesn't catch that bug going around. Regular exercise seems to boost the immune system, meaning your sweat sessions result in fewer colds and bouts of the flu. Just don't overdo it: Too much exercise can wear down the body, making you extra-susceptible to germs.
13. Decrease your cancer risk.
Certain types of cancer seem to be significantly affected by regular physical activity. A CDC review of research found 14 studies that showed statistically significant decreases in colon cancer risk among people with physically-active occupations, and eight other studies that showed a similar association when looking at leisure-time or total physical activity. Some research suggests that teenage and early adulthood exercise may protect against breast cancer down the line, but the studies have shown inconsistent results, according to the CDC report.
14. Ease depression symptoms.
Exercise isn't a complete cure, but it can help ease some of the symptoms of mental illness. In people with diagnosed depression, the feel-good chemicals released when you get active might help to lift spirits and reduce anxiety. Among people with mild to moderate depression, exercise may work as well as some medications, according to a 2011 study.
15. Lower your blood pressure.
Just like resting heart rate eventually lowers in the extremely fit, blood pressure can also decrease as the heart grows more efficient at pumping blood. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new blood vessels. And the benefits of lower blood pressure are many, including reduced risk for heart disease and heart attack, stroke, vision or memory loss, erectile dysfunction and more, according to the American Heart Association.
16. Reduce your risk of stroke.
According to the National Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of strokes could have been prevented. Lowering blood pressure and losing excess weight can certainly help, but moving more makes a difference all of its own. In a 2013 study, inactivity was linked with a 20 percent increased risk of stroke. To reap the benefits, experts recommend a moderate-intensity workout at least five days a week.
17. Lessen the effects of a predisposition for obesity.
Our genetic makeup isn't always our destiny, at least to a certain extent. A handful of lifestyle factors -- like diet or how we handle stress -- can essentially turn certain genes on or off. Then, we can pass these altered gene expressions to our own offspring. If you've been dealt a genetic hand that includes a tendency toward obesity -- which can in turn lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some cancers and other adverse health effects -- exercise can help you keep things in check. A 2012 study conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that a daily, hour-long brisk walk significantly reduced the expression of those obesity genes. On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle -- characterized in the study by spending four hours a day watching TV -- increased the expression of those genes by 50 percent.
18. Prevent weight gain.
Genetic predisposition or not, weight gain is typically not on anyone's to-do list, and there's strong evidence that regular exercise keeps the extra pounds off. That's good news for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with how you look in a bikini: Excess weight can contribute to conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, high blood pressure, stroke and more, according to the CDC.
19. Feel pretty darn great.
Even without a clinical diagnosis, working out will lift your spirits. Whether or not you find the elusive runner's high or not, there's no denying the extra blood flow to the brain and the extra mood-boosting endorphins it produces. About 14 percent of people turn to exercise as a stress-reliever, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America -- and frankly, we wish a few more people would jump on that bandwagon.
Why do you work out? Let us know in the comments below!
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