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When it comes to managing a hectic schedule, daily to-dos that don't have tangible and immediate payoffs usually find themselves falling off your checklist. That includes exercise.
"The reality is that physical activity constantly competes with everything else we do," says Michelle L. Segar, Ph.D., associate director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan. "For us to believe an activity is worth our time, it has to offer something very important to our daily life."
In a 2011 study, Segar and her colleagues reported that women who tracked instant results after a workout—like feeling happier, more energetic, and less anxious—exercised 34 percent more over the course of a year than those who focused on appearance or weight-loss goals.
It makes sense: Physical changes can take weeks and months, which can make working out feel like just another chore.
Instead, focus on these five instant benefits of exercise—they'll help reboot your workout motivation.
Cramming for a big meeting? Have a stack of paperwork to sort through? Skipping your workout to clock extra hours behind the desk may seem like a smart move, but a quick trip to the gym can actually be more beneficial. According to a study published in Clinical Neurophysiology, 20 minutes of moderate exercise immediately increases attention and cognitive ability.
"There's a shift in brain activity that enhances executive functioning, which plans, schedules, and coordinates thoughts and actions," says study author Charles H. Hillman, Ph.D., a professor in the department of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That amplified focus can last up to an hour, so schedule a quick workout during a time of day when you tend to be most distracted, or before a time when you'll really need to be on point.
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Having strong social ties can pay off in significant health benefits like lower blood pressure, fewer colds, and lower rates of mental illness, suicide, and alcoholism. You're most likely to create sustainable bonds with new people when you share a common interest, so don't keep to yourself at the gym. Sign up for a boot camp or cardio class and strike up convos with classmates.
Just the fact that you're into fitness will improve people's view of you: A recent study found that those who work out are perceived by others to be more friendly, outgoing, personable, kind, and even more attractive than those who don't.
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A pricey facial is one way to score a better complexion; a single sweat session is another.
"As your heart rate rises, the increase in blood flow circulates to the surface of your skin, giving you that revitalizing flush of color," says Mitra Ray, Ph.D., coauthor of Do You Have the Guts to Be Beautiful?
Turns out, sweating is good for your skin too: Some of the water evaporates to cool the body, and the rest is reabsorbed into the skin, giving it a nicely hydrated look post-workout.
Yes, exercising can make your sack sessions even sexier. A study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women who completed a 20-minute treadmill run before watching an erotic film clocked a 150 percent increase in genital arousal.
"Exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system, which helps blood enter the vaginal tissue more readily and creates more vaginal lubrication when in a sexual situation," says Cindy M. Meston, Ph.D., director of the Sexual Psychophysiology Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. To take advantage of this, you might want to exercise at home—Meston says the swell in arousal only lasts up to 30 minutes.
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According to a 2011 study, those who engaged in moderately intense exercise for a total of 150 minutes a week—that's 30 minutes a day, five days a week—were able to fall asleep faster and felt less tired during daylight hours.
"Working out zaps stress and anxiety, plus it helps your body to regulate its own temperature, so you can hit the hay more peacefully," says study author Paul D. Loprinzi, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise science at Bellarmine University. And it doesn't matter what time of day you choose to fit in a sweat session, he says.
Only limited research suggests that late-night physical activity hurts the quality of your sleep.