11 ways one type of exercise is the closest thing to a miracle drug we have

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Want an all-natural way to lift your mood, improve your memory, and protect your brain against the decline that comes with aging?

Get moving.

Exercises that get your heart pumping and sweat flowing — known as aerobic exercise, or "cardio" — have significant and beneficial effects on the brain and body, according to a wealth of recent research, including a new study published this fall.

"Aerobic exercise is key for your head, just as it is for your heart," according to an article in a Harvard Medical School blog. Here are some of the ways cardio is such a boon for our bodies.

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Cardio tones your muscles.

It was initially believed that when it comes to building muscle, cardio paled in comparison to exercises like resistance training, which are specifically designed to help you gain strength. But a recent review of 14 studies published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews found that on average, men who did 45 minutes of moderate to intense cardio 4 days a week saw a 5%-6% increase in leg muscle size.

“Aerobic exercise, if done properly, can lead to as much muscle growth as you’d expect with resistance exercise,” Ball State University exercise scientist Matthew Harber, who authored the study, told Men’s Fitness

It also raises your heart rate, improving heart and lung health.

Aerobic workouts, especially swimming, train your body to use oxygen more efficiently, a practice that gradually reduces your resting heart rate and your breathing rate — two important indicators of cardiovascular health.

A 2008 study compared blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other heart health metrics across close to 46,000 walkers, runners, swimmers, and sedentary people. The researchers found that the regular swimmers and runners had the best metrics, followed closely by the walkers. 

Aerobic workouts appear to have a positive impact on your gut.

A small study published in November suggests that cardio exercise changes the makeup of the microbes in our gut.

Those microbes play a role in inflammation levels, which can be an early warning sign of illness.

The researchers had study participants exercise 3-5 times per week for 6 weeks, and observed increases in their concentrations of butyrate, a type of fatty acid that helps keep our guts happy by tamping down on inflammation and producing energy.

"These are the first studies to show that exercise can have an effect on your gut independent of diet or other factors," Jeffrey Woods, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois who led the research, said in a statement.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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