A proven way to ease anxiety naturally is with a bout of cardio, says Michael Otto, PhD, co-author of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety. Getting your heart pumping increases the release of mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters, like serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA, which is why you can feel like you're sweating off stress during Spinning class.
The good vibes continue: A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (jogging, not sprinting) makes you more resilient against stressors hours later, like preparing for that big meeting with your boss. And over the long term, "people who work out consistently report less overall stress, anxiety and depression," Otto says.
Instead of leaning on caffeine (which can prevent you from falling asleep later, causing drowsiness again the next day), get moving. Folks who meet the recommended physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes a week are 65 percent less likely to feel tuckered out during the day, a 2011 study found. "Exercisers fall asleep faster, suffer fewer middle-of-the-night wake-ups and have a reduced risk of sleep disorders," says study co-author Brad Cardinal, PhD, co-director of the sport and exercise psychology program at Oregon State University.
The supporting muscles around your spine become less resilient with age; sitting hunched over a computer all day weakens them further. But the new thinking is that rest isn't usually the answer. "Research has shown that a better fix, in most patients, is strength training," advises Wayne Westcott, PhD, an exercise scientist at Quincy College in Massachusetts. "It can lessen pain by 30 to 80 percent in 10 to 12 weeks." Developing your lower-back, abdominal and oblique muscles takes pressure off your spine and improves range of motion, both preventing and treating pain.
Look no further than your local gym: In a Journal of Sexual Medicine study, women who hit the treadmill for 20 minutes were more physiologically aroused while viewing an erotic video than the group that didn't work out. "Exercise increases circulation to every area of your body," explains ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, MD, co-author of V Is for Vagina, and that makes us more game for bedroom action. Mentally, regular workouts may help us get over body hang-ups, she adds. And the feel-good endorphins released during exercise can bust through fatigue or stress that drags down sex drive. (Having increased stamina won't hurt, either.)
If you've been using willpower to resist those 3 p.m. chocolate urgesand failing miserablytry a little activity instead. Here's why: "In the throes of a craving, your brain is saying 'feed me dopamine!'that neurotransmitter that taps into the reward center of your brain. You can satisfy the call with carbsor with exercise," says John Ratey, MD, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Both fixes raise your dopamine levels significantly, but only one will have a favorable effect on your tush.
During menopause and the years leading up to it, 80 percent of women will suffer from symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy BMIcrucial if you're feeling the heat, since overweight women report more severe symptomsand dials down stress, which can trigger flashes, says Dr. Dweck. It doesn't take much: One 30-minute walk or run on the treadmill quelled hot flashes by up to 74 percent over a 24-hour period, according to a study published in the journal Menopause.
Aerobic workouts are a natural cold-fighter, coaxing immune cells out of body tissues and into the bloodstream, where they attack invading viruses and bacteria, explains David Nieman, DrPH, a professor at Appalachian State University, whose research shows that five days of cardio a week reduced sick days by 43 percent.