Though bikini season looms on the horizon, recent studies are giving us even more reasons to clock hours at the gym—reasons that go well beyond seaside confidence. From emotional stability to better marathon times, a few minor adjustments to your day and workout routines will have maximum impact on your life (not to mention the payoff when you slip into that Dolce & Gabbana two-piece). Here, a look at how to tailor your habits for optimal head-to-toe improvement.
Indulge in dark chocolate.
It’s time to dismiss any guilt over your weakness for chocolate, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Kingston University in England and published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine. Testing the benefits of dark chocolate, which contains epicatechin (a compound known to trigger the release of nitric oxide, which boosts blood flow, cardiac function, energy, and oxygen delivery in the body), eight recreational cyclists were asked to eat 1.4 ounces of the candy every day for two weeks. Without making any other changes to their training techniques, the athletes each saw an improvement in their performance—using less oxygen during moderately paced rides and covering more distance in two-minute sprints than they did before incorporating chocolate. The takeaway? A square and a half of (dark) chocolate a day keeps workout fatigue at bay.
Boost your brain with cardio.
By now, you probably know which exercises work for your body, but do you know which are best for your brain? According to a study published in The Journal of Physiology by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, running, weight training, and high-intensity interval training affect the brain (in this case, that of rats) differently. Measuring the number of new neurons that appear in adult male rats’ hippocampi—the location in the brain integral to learning and memory—after a workout, scientists found that continued aerobic exercise (here, running) over the course of six to eight weeks could double or triple the number of new neurons produced, in comparison to sedentary rats. Meanwhile, rats that performed high-intensity interval training showed much less neurogenesis than their running counterparts, and those that participated in resistance training saw no difference in neurogenesis as compared to the sedentary rats. The researchers have reason to believe that humans who run, bike, or swim may experience similar brain growth.
Meditate for your mood.
While we know that aerobic activity is beneficial for the brain (see above), and that meditating is a known mood stabilizer, researchers at Rutgers University have found that when practiced in succession, the two activities are especially adept at fighting depression. According to a new study published last month by Translational Psychiatry, 52 men and women who practiced sitting focused attention meditation for 20 minutes (mentally focusing and counting their breath) and walking meditation for 10 minutes (paying attention to each slow step), and then moderately ran or cycled for 30 minutes twice a week for eight weeks reported a 40 percent improvement in mood and focus—including the 22 members of the group who had been classified as clinically depressed. The reasoning here, the scientists suspect, is that rumination, the thinking pattern that dwells on unhappy thoughts and bad memories, is reduced because of neurogenesis, which is boosted by aerobic activities and sustained by the meditation. And that, clearly, is something we could all benefit from.
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