June 23, 2016

It’s a cruel reality that exercising is not a reliable way to lose weight and keep it off. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon the effort. As little as 15 minutes of exercise a day confers benefits that reduce the risk of death from all causes, a recent study found. Here is what other new research has to say about the benefits of regular exercise.


A survey published in June of more than 500 respondents who practice yoga found that while people initially tried it for exercise and stress relief, most say their reason for practicing changed as they continued. For 37% of yogis, spirituality became the primary reason for keeping up their practice. “I think because yoga is such a mind-body practice, people find themselves being more relaxed and more mindful,” says study author Crystal L. Park of the University of Connecticut. “They start going back for those things. It’s clearly something people deeply resonate with.”


For more than a decade, researchers have connected exercise to better brain health over time. But a new study found that just a single session of exercise can improve memory retention in the hours that follow. The report, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests that exercising four hours after learning a task can help people remember that task over the long term. Experts speculate that exercise triggers the release of neurotransmitters in the brain that lead to the creation of certain proteins that encourage memory retention.


In a report published in June, men who cycled for 20 minutes experienced a 166% increase in self-reported energy levels, compared with a 15% increase when they sat and did nothing for the same amount of time. The study size was small, but it’s not the first to suggest exercise as a drug-free way to alleviate symptoms of fatigue. “If people need a reason to work out, the energy boost is a worthwhile one,” says study author Patrick J. O’Connor of the department of kinesiology at the University of Georgia.


Working out regularly might prevent depression, not just assuage it, according to a study published in February 2015. Researchers looked at 10 years’ worth of data and found that women who were meeting the current guidelines for exercise–2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise–reported about 50% fewer depressive symptoms than women who didn’t exercise as much. And the more the women reported exercising, the less likely they were to have signs of depression.

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Exercise may be the key to keeping your appetite in check. A study published in April found that people who exercised for 15 minutes after doing mental work–like the work we all do at the office each day–ate 100 fewer calories than people who did mental work and then remained sedentary. “Exercise has the ability to increase available fuel sources in the body that may signal to the brain, ‘Here is the energy source I need. I don’t need to replenish it through food,'” says study author William H. Neumeier of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


To better understand the role of fitness in cancer prevention, researchers at the National Cancer Institute analyzed data from 1.4 million people who reported their physical-activity levels over a period of 11 years. People who were more active had a 20% lower risk of certain serious cancers, including cancer of the esophagus, lung, kidney, stomach and endometrium, according to a study published in May. This builds on earlier research showing that exercise can significantly reduce the risk of colorectal and other cancers.

This appears in the July 04, 2016 issue of TIME.

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