You know that exercise does a body good: The Surgeon General tells us, and numerous studies confirm, that regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, promotes mental well-being, and helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints. But can activity be a ‘beauty good,’ too? We worked with Dr. Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist from the University of Maryland, to identify non-fitness related traits associated with attractiveness, like healthy teeth, smooth skin, good hair, upright posture, and even confidence. We then sought out other experts to see if exercise was beneficial to these factors. Here’s what we learned.
Your Overall Health Is Reflected In Your Looks
Dr. Provine explains, “While standards of beauty vary across cultures, youth and healthiness are always in fashion because they are associated with reproductive fitness.” Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, a New York based Dermatologist says that numerous studies show that, by improving overall health, moderate exercise contributes to a youthful (read: more attractive) appearance. “Exercise has been shown to not only keeps us fit, but to have a cascade of positive effects that benefit our bodies in countless ways.”
Perspiration Can Improve Dry Skin, Acne and Other Skin Conditions
Sweating regulate your body temperature, hydrate your skin and balance the levels of electrolytes such as sodium and calcium in your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Sweat is released through the pores, and this can help to clear pores of dirt, trapped oils, dead skin cells and bacteria,” Dr. Mariwalla says. “It leaves the pores cleaner and the skin clearer.” A study by scientists at the Eberhard-Karls-University at Tubingen in Germany found that that sweat also contains a natural antibiotic that helps defeat certain bacteria –and bacteria on our skin is one cause of acne. However, exercise can also exacerbate skin issues, including acne and eczema, if the skin is not cleansed immediately after exercise. So rinse the entire body and face after a workout.
Exercise Stimulates Circulation, Which Improves Skin Tone and Texture
The Texas Heart Institute reports that a person who exercises vigorously and regularly has lower levels of circulating stress-related hormones, which helps improve the health of the blood vessel lining. Moderate exercise everyday can strengthen the heart and arteries, making the circulatory system more efficient. That improved circulation floods our skin with oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood cells. Dr. Mariwalla says this improves your skin tone and curbs sallowness. The results: A healthier complexion with clearer skin with a more healthy coloration. But consistency counts: Researchers at the Institute found that the heart goes back to its baseline strength after just 2-3 weeks off of exercise.
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Exercise Reduces Puffiness, Water Retention and Bloating
Our eyes may be our most dynamic flirting feature, so you don’t want them looking puffy, red or tired. The key to keeping the skin around your peepers pristine? Lymphatic flow. This process of your lymph system removes toxins, and according to the National Lymphedema Network, exercise helps to stimulate it. Dr. Mariwalla explains, “Because exercise improves lymphatic flow, it can help to reduce water retention in our bodies and improve under eye puffiness and dark circles.” And on the bloating front, St. John’s Hopkins Medical Center reports that getting 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week not only delivers the usual benefits - reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes – it also may help rid your body of excess gas.
Exercise Can Improve Hair Health and Promote Hair Growth
Exercise improves circulation, and increased blood flow is good for our hair follicles. “Like it does to our skin, when we exercise, blood floods our cells and hair follicles and delivers essential nutrients and oxygen necessary for healthy hair and hair growth,” Dr. Mariwalla says. This is one of the reasons why scalp massage is recommended for men and women experiencing hair loss. Exercise also helps to reduce DHT, a hormone that halts hair growth, and similarly lowers levels of cortisol in the body. Studies have shown that high levels of cortisol can cause hair shedding and loss.
Exercise Can Help Delay Wrinkles
Our skin is made up of two proteins that give it its youthful appearance: collagen and elastin. As we age, collagen and elastin degradation can result due to a variety of factors, including sun exposure, oxidative stress and chronological aging. A study by Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark found that prolonged exercise stimulated collagen and elastin production and improved skin thickness. The thinner our skin, the more prone it is to fine lines and wrinkles. Because exercise promotes the production of these proteins, our skin is more hydrated, better protected and more resistant to wrinkling and warding off skin maladies.
Exercise Increases Sex Drive and Feelings of Attractiveness.
Working out delivers not only a healthier body, but also a better body image and sex life. A Pennsylvania State University study found that older women felt more attractive after 4 months of walking and regular yoga – even if they didn't lose weight! But exercise can also put you in the mood for love at any age by increasing blood ﬂow down below. British scientists compared the hormone levels of 10 middle-aged men who ran more than 40 miles a week with 10 healthy, but sedentary men, and found that the pavement pounders had 25 percent more testosterone and four times more HGH those sitting around. Improved testosterone fuels sex drive in both men and women.
Exercise Boosts Mood and Confidence
Multiple studies show that men who are less stressed and more confident are deemed more attractive. The Mayo Clinic explains that exercise is a mood booster because it releases endorphins which lower our stress levels, improve self-confidence and contribute to a sense of well-being. Research tells us that just 20 minutes of exercise regularly can promote endorphin production.
Exercise Helps Improve ‘Beauty Sleep”
Multiple studies demonstrate that working out can promote longer, more restful sleep. Aside from the obvious side effect of exertion (being tired afterwards), Shawn Talbott, Ph.D. and author of The Metabolic Method, explains that exercise reduces sleep-inhibiting cortisol in our bodies. Since Cortisol is the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, it puts our bodies into a highly alert state, making us ready to duke it out or sprint for safety, but not saw off zzz’s. But that same cortisol can actually fuel our workouts. The National Sleep Foundation recommends exercising at least three hours before you go to bed so as not to disrupt healthy sleeping patterns.
Exercise Contributes to a Sexier Smile
Research from British universities found that teeth are "the human equivalent of a peacock’s tail" – a.k.a. vital to attracting a mate. The Journal of the American Dental Association reports that researchers found that subjects who exercised and had healthy eating habits were 40 percent less likely to develop periodontitis, or gum disease. Another study conducted at the Jordan University of Science and Technology showed that individuals who exercised regularly had far superior oral health than non-exercisers. One possible reason could be that improved circulation is better able to deliver essential nutrients to our teeth and gums.
However…Beware of High-Impact or Excessive Exercise
While moderate, daily exercise is good for us, Dr. Mariwalla warns that more extreme workouts are not necessarily better - and in many cases can contribute to premature aging of the body. “Just look at professional athletes and you see this in their bodies after retirement.” She warns against activities such as extreme long distance running or heavy weight lifting. “A lot of our youthful glow is in our face, and the fat pads in our faces give us a more youthful look.” If the fat pads are reduced due to excessive exercise and weight loss, there will be hollows in the cheeks and under the eyes, contributing to a gaunt look and an older appearance. Overly strenuous exercise can also exacerbate conditions like varicose veins and rosacea.
Also…Beware of Other Beauty-Sabotaging Factors When Exercising
In most outdoor activities, environmental factors can contribute to extrinsic aging, including skin damage from the sun’s rays. Dr. Mariwalla recommends always wearing a sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30 and is designed for physical fitness and sweat resistance. “Wear a hat too,” Mariwalla says, “and sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection in the lenses.” Whenever swimming, Mariwalla advises wearing goggles and a swim cap, and immediately cleansing the skin and hair afterwards to avoid dryness and other conditions associated with chemicals in pools.
Final Tip: Choose Low-Impact Workouts For Beauty Benefits
Dr. Mariwalla explains, “Exercise such as yoga, lightweight resistance training, swimming or other exercises in a pool are often better for the body because they are not as hard on ligaments, organs and joints.” These kinds of workouts can also be effective in improving posture, a trait associated with attractiveness. “Exercise programs that involve yoga, Pilates and stretching can create leaner, longer muscles, improving posture, height and encouraging the metabolism.” A leaner physique can contribute to a taller appearance.
Tracy O'Connor is an expert on beauty and style.