Sure, aerobic exercise offers plenty of long-term health benefits, but positive, short-term effects can also be achieved within a few minutes of breaking a sweat. Any activity that elevates your heart rate for a continuous period of time -- even a brisk, 10-minute walk -- qualifies as an aerobic exercise. So, if you're looking to jump-start your fitness program right now, lace up your sneakers and get moving.
Engaging in moderate to intense aerobic activity forces your lungs to breathe harder and faster, which increases blood flow to the rest of your body. When that happens, according to the Mayo Clinic, the small blood vessels -- also called capillaries -- open up, inviting big doses of oxygen-rich blood to travel across the muscles sweeping away waste products. Sweating during exercise also flushes away toxins stored in the body's fat layers. And aerobic activity even nudges the lymphatic and digestive systems to stay alert and do their jobs better by escorting harmful toxins out of your system.
If you're looking to chase away the blues and calm your nerves, aerobic activity could help put that smile back on your face. The Mayo Clinic says that people who exercise experience fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. Even a mere "five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects," according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. For some people, the symptoms of anxiety can be lessened significantly or may even disappear altogether for up to several hours after a session of vigorous exercise.
Better than sleeping pills or counting sheep, a stint of aerobic activity may be the answer to falling asleep and waking up feeling rested. Researchers at Northwestern University found that insomnia sufferers experienced better sleep after a session of moderate physical activity. But do your cardiovascular workout during the day or early evening -- at least a few hours before you hit the pillow -- so that your body temperature can return to its normal level. A cooler body is more likely to ease you into a dreamy slumber and help you snooze through the night.
Aerobic activity might offer protection from illness, especially winter bugs like the common cold, flu and other minor infections. That's because exercise wakes up important immune cells and pushes them into action, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Cardiovascular exercise also reduces stress, which adds another layer of germ-fighting protection. Elevated levels of stress hormones can suppress the body's immune function -- but aerobic exercise suppresses them.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- MayoClinic.com: Aerobic exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Exercise for Stress and Anxiety
- Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine: Aerobic Exercise Relieves Insomnia -- Boosting Cardiovascular Fitness Improves Sleep, Vitality and Mood for Insomniacs
- American College of Sports Medicine: Exercise and the Common Cold
- HeartMD Institute: Exercise and Detoxification
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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