In addition to using the best anti-aging treatments and stocking up on skin-loving superfoods, exercise is one of the best ways to look your most beautiful. Exercise’s implications for skin health are vast and inspiring. With regular, moderate exercise, the following benefits can be yours—for free!
Exercise boosts circulation.
Source: Her Sweat
From slow wound healing to dull skin to cellulite, the effects of poor circulation on skin are numerous. While there are products that can improve circulation, exercise is certainly the most cost-effective way to boost circulation in your entire body. By increasing circulation, exercise improves oxygen and nutrient delivery to the skin. This is especially true of exercise involving large muscle groups (like running, cycling, swimming, and dance), according to trainer Brad Schoenfeld.
More immediate benefits of circulation include a healthy, vibrant glow—which you may have noticed after a pilates session or even a leisurely stroll.
Exercise reduces oxidative stress.
Once oxygen has performed its role in the body, it’s broken down into various metabolites, also known as free radicals. Free radicals, although a natural part of living, are no friend to beautiful skin particularly because they remove electrons from collagen (the protein that’s responsible for keeping skin supple) among other sources. When we’re young, free radicals are kept in check by the body’s source of antioxidants, but our own antioxidant systems become less efficient as we age. Fortunately, in addition to enjoying antioxidant-rich foods and skincare products, exercise can boost your natural supply of antioxidants.
A 2005 study found that practicing yoga raises antioxidants in the bloodstream, helping reduce free radicals and oxidative stress. But don’t worry if sun salutations aren’t your thing; as long as your cardio workouts aren’t too exhaustive, you’ll support your body’s natural antioxidant supplementation.
Exercise lowers levels of stress hormones.
Our bodies produce cortisol in response to stress, and while some level of stress is actually productive, chronic stress can wreak havoc on skin—thanks to cortisol’s knack for triggering inflammation (think acne, fine lines) and breaking down collagen.
Fortunately, exercise lowers levels of stress hormones and raises levels of endorphins (a.k.a. the “feel-good hormone”), which may be why we feel so relaxed and optimistic after a workout. So instead of reaching for that bottle of merlot to help you unwind, why not squeeze in a nice workout? Your skin will thank you.
Exercise lengthens telomeres.
Source: Kimberly Snyder
Telomeres are protective structures that cap the ends of our chromosomes, the material responsible for housing genetic information. Composed of protein and DNA, telomeres keep chromosomes stable. As we age, telomeres naturally become shorter, and our cells become vulnerable to aging and even death. Cell death can affect everything from the appearance or our skin to our body’s ability to fend off disease.
But there’s good news: A UCSF study found that regular exercise coupled with a healthy lifestyle lengthens telomeres. For five years, volunteers consumed a whole food, plant-based diet, engaged in moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes six times a week), practiced stress management through yoga and breathwork, and maintained a social support network. The result? A 10% lengthening of telomeres. Meanwhile, the control group, which was not asked to make any changes, experienced an average 3% decrease in telomere length.
Exercise restores skin health.
Not only does exercise help skin resist the signs of aging—it can also reverse them. A McMaster University study examined the skin of two groups of people ranging from 20 to 84 years of age. The first group exercised regularly (at least three hours a week) while the second group didn’t exercise at all.
A skin biopsy revealed that the epidermis of the active set appeared smoother and more supple than that that of the sedentary set. Meanwhile, the dermis of the active set was firmer and more elastic. The inner layers of skin belonging to active, senior participants looked decades younger.
The researchers performed a follow-up study to isolate exercise as the key factor in this dramatic observation. After all, it’s quite possible that the active participants simply led a healthier lifestyle of which exercise was only one part. A sedentary group over the age of 65 was asked to take up moderate exercise (running or cycling twice a week).
After three months of exercise, the once-sedentary test group experienced an improvement in skin health and appearance. Biopsies confirmed that even latecomers to an active lifestyle will likely witness significant anti-aging effects on their skin. (Exercise’s restorative abilities affect aging caused by the passage of time—not necessarily damage caused by sun exposure.)
The reason behind this noteworthy result? When we exercise, the body undergoes productive stress (i.e. the breaking down and rebuilding of muscles) and as a result, the body releases a cell-rejuvenating substance called IL-15. The benefits of increased levels of IL-15 extend to both muscles and skin.