TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Reasons to Exercise That Aren’t Weight Loss

Why you shouldn't give up the gym

Despite conventional calorie-burning wisdom, some people appear to not lose weight when they exercise, says a new study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In fact, some actually gain weight, and it’s not all muscle mass.

The study, by Arizona State University in Phoenix researchers, looked at 81 sedentary, overweight women who exercised three times a week for 30 minutes in a lab. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that some women lost weight while others gained weight. But when they tried to identify what was causing the differences, they couldn’t come to any conclusions. “In reality, most people do not achieve or sustain weight loss, no matter what method they try,” wrote New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds on Wednesday.

Basically, major bummer. But there are many other reasons to exercise besides trying to shed a few pounds, and they’re equally important for your health:

1. Memory Loss: Chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances are a couple of factors that can play a part in memory loss, and exercise can help both. Exercise promotes better blood flow through the body, and the brain works better with a healthy blood supply. For example, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that people who spent time on a stationary bike had better memory recall than those who were sedentary.

2. Stress: Exercise has long been prescribed as a way to burn off steam and relax. It’s even recommended as a way to fight depression. How? Exercise keeps the brain occupied, and keeps the stress hormone cortisol in check which can lower symptoms for anxiety and restlessness, according to The Exercise Cure, by sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl. After a rough day at work or before a big exam or interview, even just a walk around the block can ease nerves.

3. Fatigue: It may sound counterintuitive, but working out can actually make you less tired than skipping the gym. A 2007 University of Georgia study showed that sedentary people could lower their fatigue by 65% if they started engaging in regular low intensity exercise. Increasing energy through exercise is also a safer and cheaper alternative to turning to quick fixes like energy drinks.

4. Cardiovascular disease: Getting regular exercise does the heart some good. In a 2012 study, researchers found that people who partook in moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking compared to leisurely walking reduced their chances of developing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The effect might be related to exercise’s benefits on lowering inflammation in the body.

5. Lower back pain: Back pain is a very common ailment, and studies have shown that the right kind of exercises like strength training can lower pain. Exercise is also one of the simplest ways to protect your body from future injuries.

 

TIME medicine

5 Signs Your Hormones Are Out of Whack

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When it's normal, and when to see your doctor

Raise your hand if, in the last few weeks, you’ve felt tired, bloated, or cranky. Sound familiar? Then you know the drill: Every month, your hormones—the body’s itty-bitty secret weapon—come out to play, wreaking havoc on your mood, skin, and mind. While levels generally stabilize after your period, various factors, like stress (yup, keep those hands raised) and anxiety can throw them off balance. So how can you tell if your symptoms require an office visit? Alyssa Dweck, MD, an OB-GYN at the Mount Kisco Medical Group in New York shares the five red flags that might merit a doctor’s note.

Fatigue

Exhaustion is one of the most, well, exhausting symptoms to a doc, since it has so many possible causes. “If you’re tired after a week of final exams or late nights at work, then you’re probably fine,” says Dr. Dweck. “But if you constantly feel worn out and notice weight gain, appetite fluctuations, and a change in bowel movements, it could be a sign of an underactive thyroid.” Yes, fatigue happens to everyone, but if yours doesn’t feel logical, then it’s worth getting it checked out.

Skin changes

You’re breaking out—again. While those sudden zits could be caused by one too many nights of going to bed without washing your face, they may be indicative of something more. “Adult acne or cystic acne around the lower half of your face could suggest a high level of testosterone,” says Dr. Dweck. Although not a life-threatening problem, breakouts can take a toll on your psyche. Luckily, your doc can prescribe you medication to stabilize your hormone levels and clear up skin.

Hair growth

We’re talking really fast hair growth. “If you all of a sudden grow a beard within a month or notice coarse, dark hair popping up on your chest, back or arms, that could be indicative of a testosterone-secreting tumor,” explains Dr. Dweck. But don’t freak out: Tumors are rare, she notes, and can often be treated with drugs or surgery.

Weird periods

Just like fatigue, a messed-up menstrual cycle can be the result of many factors, like stress, thyroid issues, low estrogen, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). “The hallmark of PCOS is irregular or absent periods, but it could also present with difficulty losing weight or strange hair growth,” says Dr. Dweck. Generally, PCOS is managed through diet, exercise and birth control pills, but your doctor will work with you to develop a multi-faceted plan if she finds this to be the cause of your period problems.

Night sweats

Unless it’s unusually warm in your bedroom, waking up feeling overheated and sweaty could be the result of lower estrogen levels and infrequent ovulation—aka perimenopause. “Perimenopause can occur up to 10 years before you’re even near the age of menopause,” says Dr. Dweck, “so unless you’re having major menstrual issues before age 40, there’s a good chance your phantom sweating could actually be early menopause.” Either way, Dr. Dweck recommends making an appointment with your doc to make sure it’s nothing more serious.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME fatigue

14 Reasons You’re Tired All the Time

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Lack of sleep isn’t the only thing sapping your energy. Little things you do (and don’t do) can exhaust you both mentally and physically, which can make getting through your day a chore. Here, experts reveal common bad habits that can make you feel tired, plus simple lifestyle tweaks that will put the pep back in your step.

You skip exercise when you’re tired

Skipping your workout to save energy actually works against you. In a University of Georgia study, sedentary but otherwise healthy adults who began exercising lightly three days a week for as little as 20 minutes at a time reported feeling less fatigued and more energized after six weeks. Regular exercise boosts strength and endurance, helps make your cardiovascular system run more efficiently, and delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. So next time you’re tempted to crash on the couch, at least go for a brisk walk—you won’t regret it.

Health.com: 11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

You don’t drink enough water

Being even slightly dehydrated—as little as 2% of normal fluid loss—takes a toll on energy levels, says Amy Goodson, RD, a dietitian for Texas Health Ben Hogan Sports Medicine. Dehydration causes a reduction in blood volume, explains Goodson, which makes the blood thicker. This requires your heart to pump less efficiently, reducing the speed at which oxygen and nutrients reach your muscles and organs. To calculate your normal fluid needs, take your weight in pounds, divide in half and drink that number of ounces of fluid a day, Goodson recommends.

You’re not consuming enough iron

An iron deficiency can leave you feeling sluggish, irritable, weak, and unable to focus. “It makes you tired because less oxygen travels to the muscles and cells,” says Goodson. Boost your iron intake to reduce your risk of anemia: load up on lean beef, kidney beans, tofu, eggs (including the yolk), dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and peanut butter, and pair them with foods high in vitamin C (vitamin C improves iron absorption when eaten together), suggests Goodson. Note: an iron deficiency may be due to an underlying health problem, so if you’re experiencing these symptoms of iron deficiency, you should visit your doc.

Health.com: 15 Signs You May Have an Iron Deficiency

You’re a perfectionist

Striving to be perfect—which, let’s face it, is impossible—makes you work much harder and longer than necessary, says Irene S. Levine, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. “You set goals that are so unrealistic that they are difficult or impossible to achieve, and in the end, there is no sense of self-satisfaction.” Levine recommends setting a time limit for yourself on your projects, and taking care to obey it. In time, you’ll realize that the extra time you were taking wasn’t actually improving your work.

You make mountains out of molehills

If you assume that you’re about to get fired when your boss calls you into an unexpected meeting, or you’re too afraid to ride your bike because you worry you’ll get into an accident, then you’re guilty of “catastrophizing,” or expecting that the worst-case scenario will always occur. This anxiety can paralyze you and make you mentally exhausted, says Levine. When you catch yourself having these thoughts, take a deep breath and ask yourself how likely it is that the worst really will happen. Getting outdoors, meditating, exercising, or sharing your concerns with a friend may help you better cope and become more realistic.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

You skip breakfast

The food you eat fuels your body, and when you sleep, your body continues using what you consumed at dinner the night before to keep your blood pumping and oxygen flowing. So, when you wake up in the morning, you need to refuel with breakfast. Skip it, and you’ll feel sluggish. “Eating breakfast is like starting a fire in your body by kickstarting your metabolism,” Goodson says. Goodson recommends a breakfast that includes whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fat. Good examples include oatmeal with protein powder and a dab of peanut butter; a smoothie made with fruit, protein powder, low-fat milk, and almond butter; or eggs with two slices of whole-wheat toast and low-fat Greek yogurt.

You live on junk food

Foods loaded with sugar and simple carbs (like the ones you’ll find in a box or at the drive-thru window) rank high on the glycemic index (GI), an indicator of how rapidly carbohydrates increase blood sugar. Constant blood sugar spikes followed by sharp drops cause fatigue over the course of the day, says Goodson. Keep blood sugar steady by having a lean protein along with a whole grain at every meal, says Goodson. Good choices include chicken (baked, not fried) and brown rice, salmon and sweet potato, or salad with chicken and fruit.

You have trouble saying ‘no’

People-pleasing often comes at the expense of your own energy and happiness. To make matters worse, it can make you resentful and angry over time. So whether it’s your kid’s coach asking you to bake cookies for her soccer team or your boss seeing if you can work on a Saturday, you don’t have to say yes. Train yourself to say ‘no’ out loud, suggests Susan Albers, a licensed clinical psychologist with Cleveland Clinic and author of Eat.Q.: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence. “Try it alone in your car,” she says. “Hearing yourself say the word aloud makes it easier to say it when the next opportunity calls for it.”

You have a messy office

A cluttered desk mentally exhausts you by restricting your ability to focus and limits your brain’s ability to process information, according to a Princeton University study. “At the end of each day, make sure your work and personal items are organized and put away,” suggests Lombardo. “It will help you have a positive start to your day the next morning.” If your office needs major reorganizing, avoid becoming totally overwhelmed by taking it one step at a time: start by tidying what you can see, then move through your desk and cabinets drawer by drawer.

You work through vacation

Checking your email when you should be relaxing by the pool puts you at risk of burnout, says Lombardo. Unplugging and allowing yourself to truly unwind allows your mind and body to rejuvenate and return to the office stronger. “When you truly take breaks, you will be more creative, productive, and effective when you return,” says Lombardo.

You have a glass of wine (or two) before bed

A nightcap sounds like a good way to unwind before falling asleep, but it can easily backfire. Alcohol initially depresses the central nervous system, producing a sedative effect, says Allen Towfigh, MD, medical director of New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine, P.C., in New York City. “But it ultimately sabotages sleep maintenance.” Alcohol creates a rebound effect as it’s metabolized, which creates an abrupt surge in the adrenaline system, he says. This is why you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night after you’ve been drinking. Dr. Towfigh recommends stopping all alcohol three to four hours before bedtime.

You check e-mails at bedtime

The glaring light of a tablet, smartphone, or your computer’s backlit screen can throw off your body’s natural circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, says Dr. Towfigh. Sensitivity to the digital glow of tech toys can vary from person to person, but in general it’s a good idea to avoid all technology for one to two hours before bedtime, he says. Can’t avoid checking your device before your head hits the pillow? Then hold it at least 14 inches away from your face to reduce the risk of sleep interference.

Health.com: 12 Surprising Sources of Caffeine

You rely on caffeine to get through the day

Starting your morning with a java jolt is no big deal—in fact, studies show that up to three daily cups of coffee is good for you—but using caffeine improperly can seriously disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, says Dr. Towfigh. Caffeine blocks adenosine, the byproduct of active cells that drives you to sleep as it accumulates, he explains. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine revealed that consuming caffeine even six hours prior to bedtime affects sleep, so cut yourself off by mid-afternoon and watch out for these surprising sources of caffeine.

You stay up late on weekends

Burning the midnight oil on Saturday night and then sleeping in Sunday morning leads to difficulty falling asleep Sunday night—and a sleep-deprived Monday morning, says Dr. Towfigh. Since staying in can cramp your social life, try to wake up close to your normal time the following morning, and then take a power nap in the afternoon. “Napping for 20 minutes or so allows the body to recharge without entering the deeper stages of sleep, which can cause you to wake up more tired,” he says.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 5 Ways to Deal With the End of Daylight Saving Time

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