But browse the scientific literature on exercise (don’t worry, I already did it for you), and you’ll immediately feel relief. The research is just filled with reasons to pat yourself on the back for getting to the gym, combined with discoveries that can make your sweat sessions even more effective and efficient.
Want proof? These five new studies all come with findings that can inform your future workouts in serious ways. Thanks, science.
1. If you’re an intensity junkie, turn up the volume
Any fitness class regular knows the power of a great playlist, but this small study still has important implications for those who may be intimidated by intensity (but intrigued by its benefits). Participants in the study completed high-intensity interval workouts on spin bikes in different sessions, with and without music. Unsurprisingly, when the same grueling workout was accompanied by music, the riders reported liking it significantly more and said they would be more likely to continue with interval training in the future.
2. Forget friendly motivation—get competitive
You say you love the motivation of just being next to your workout buddy, but you steal glances at her treadmill constantly to make sure your numbers are higher. If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. This study looked at what motivated participants in an online community to attend the most workout classes and found that “social comparison,” AKA competition, gave them way more of a push than social support. Maybe it’s time to finally add your name to the Flywheel Torqboard?
3. Recovery may take longer than you thought, but happy hour can help
Serious, prolonged endurance exercise can deplete the endocrine system by affecting hormones like cortisol and testosterone, and a new study found it may take longer than previously thought—up to 72 hours—for testosterone to return to normal levels. That means long-distance runners and cyclists may be better served allowing their bodies longer periods of recovery (a top 2017 trend) before training again. So Outside magazine made a brilliant recommendation after the research came out: head to happy hour with friends once in a while. Previous studies like this one have found that social interaction after exertion can help balance hormones faster, so a post-run outing may actually speed your recovery.
4. The link between burpees and brainpower just keeps getting stronger
This review, which looked at a group of past prospective studies that together contained data on more than a million adults, found that those who exercised more had a significantly lower risk of developing depression. In fact, the least fit were 75 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with depression than the fittest. Another study published this year found exercise may also be effective in treating depression, and yet another found that increased muscle strength improved brain function in older adults with cognitive impairment.
5. Exercise may even balance out your eating habits
Spending a week sampling Italy’s pastas may not mess with your long-term health as long as you’re active. This (very small) new study measured the glucose tolerance and abdominal fat of lean, active adults before and after they consumed 30 percent more calories than normal for one week. The researchers found that exercise had a surprisingly protective effect—for those who worked out regularly, glucose tolerance did not change and fat tissue was protected from the inflammatory changes that usually result from overeating.