We all think we know the benefits of exercise – but do we?

Whether you get your fitness fix in the gym, on the court, in the studio or in the pool, there are obvious upsides to physical activity. In the short term, there’s the post-exercise mood boost that makes even the sweatiest cycling class or core-challenging weights session worth it.

What’s more, you can enjoy social gains, such as making friends through exercise.

In the longer-term, scientific studies have repeatedly shown positive effects that cover everything from the immune system to reducing stress and easing anxiety. 

Exercise is widely regarded as important for healthy ageing, particularly when it comes to mobility. What’s more, a recent study published in the British Medical Association’s Heart journal suggests that if people in their early 70s exercise for twenty to forty minutes per day, they are less likely to experience heart problems later in life.

So that’s what we do know. But research from the last few years reveals there may also be hidden benefits of exercise – with some big surprises among the results!

We’ve rounded up the most unexpected ways your fitness routine could be having a positive effect on your life.

Gym goers at an indoor cycling class

1. Turn back time

Forget expensive skincare, exercise could be the way to put the brakes on the ageing process. A study found that people over 40 who regularly work out have the skin composition of twenty- or thirtysomethings. Another study says moderate physical activity can slow down cell ageing, keeping your DNA young.

2. Good night

Exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly and even improve sleep quality, according to Johns Hopkins. You don’t have to exhaust yourself with a high-intensity workout (unless you want to) – 30 minutes of moderate activity should do the trick.

3. An unexpected boost

There’s good news if you’ve had the Covid vaccines and you’re committed to your fitness routine. According to a study by Glasgow Caledonian University, regular physical activity – anything that gets you a bit out of breath – can increase the effectiveness of the vaccine by up to 40%.

An adult woman dancing in a living room with a child

4. Find that focus

Research from Holland suggests exercise can help children concentrate at school. A study of schoolchildren found that those who took part in a mix of lessons and exercise sessions showed improved attention spans compared with those who had spent the whole school morning seated. All the more reason to inspire your children to love exercise!

5. Unleash your creativity

Finally writing that novel? Taking up painting as a hobby? Whatever your creative outlet, exercise may have a part to play: a Stanford University study discovered that walking on a treadmill or outdoors enhances the flow of ideas.

6. The eyes have it

Is too much screen time giving you dry eyes? Amazingly, the answer may lie in the gym rather than at your local chemist. Participants in a recent study who exercised five times per week were found to have improved tear secretion compared to those who exercised once a week.

Diverse group exercising on space hoppers

7. Future-proof your brain

We’ve already mentioned the benefits of exercise for mental wellness. But getting active can also boost brain health as we get older, says a recent study, contributing to improved cognitive ability.

8. Get smarter

Next time you go to your regular yoga class, remember that your practice isn’t just improving your strength, mood and flexibility – it may also be making you smarter. According to one study, yoga can improve functions such as memory and concentration.

9. Health = wealth

Fancy a pay rise? People who exercise typically earn 6-10% more than their more sedentary workmates, according to an American study.

Feeling inspired? Discover the latest fitness trends that can help you supercharge your routine.