We all like instant gratification! Who doesn’t want to start a new habit and see benefits right away? It’s clear that exercise has long-term health and fitness benefits. For example, aerobic exercise, over time, causes adaptations to take place in your cardiovascular system and blood vessels that make your heart a more efficient pump. Exercise also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in several ways. These include lowering blood pressure, by its impact on blood lipids, by reducing blood sugar and the risk of metabolic syndrome, and by helping to keep low-grade inflammation in check.
Resistance training, in contrast, causes a different set of adaptations. In response to working your muscles against resistance, muscle fibers are damaged and subsequently repair. In the process, they lay down new myofibrils, the contractile elements of a muscle, and the muscle fibers increase in size. This ultimately leads to an increase in muscle size. The increase in muscle size as well as the neurological changes associated with weight training boost strength.
The drawback is these adaptations take time. Here’s what’s surprising. Some of the health and fitness benefits of exercise are almost immediate. In other words, you start to see changes even when you first start working out. Yes, exercise really does offer immediate gratification.
The “Quick” Health Benefits of Aerobic Exercise
We know that aerobic exercise helps to lower blood pressure. Studies show that aerobic workouts reduce blood pressure in healthy individuals and people with hypertension. In fact, a meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that aerobic exercise lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings an average of 3.84 mmHg, and 2.58 mmHg. respectively. But aerobic exercise also has an immediate impact on blood pressure. One study found that a single exercise session in men with hypertension lead to a reduction in blood pressure for 13 hours after a moderate-to-vigorous exercise session. How’s that for fast results?
Likewise, a single exercise session improves insulin sensitivity, how cells respond to glucose. After a single workout, cells take up glucose more easily so that the pancreas doesn’t have to release as much insulin. This is important for metabolic health and is linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. What’s more, insulin sensitivity was improved for up to 17 hours after a single aerobic exercise session. In fact, a study of obese adults found that working out at 50% of aerobic capacity (low intensity) for a single session that burned 350 kilocalories led to an improvement in insulin sensitivity that was sustained for 19 hours.
With these results, it’s not hard to see why health care professionals recommend that people with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome exercise. Doing so helps with blood sugar control. Cells naturally take up glucose more efficiently after a workout and that helps keep blood glucose better regulated.
It’s not exactly immediate, but a NASA study found that only eight days of aerobic training increased blood volume. A boost in blood volume means you pump more blood with each heartbeat and that’s good for your stamina and exercise performance.
The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Studies show that regular physical activity improves mood and lowers the risk of depression. It also helps control anxiety and stress. You might think that a single exercise session would have few stress-relief benefits, but that’s not the case. Some research shows that even a 10-minute moderate-intensity workout, like walking, can temporarily reduce feelings of anxiety and elevate the mood. Who doesn’t feel better after a workout?
You may have also heard that exercise releases endorphins, chemicals that have a calming, mood-elevating effect. These chemicals activate the same receptors in the brain that pain medications do. It’s not clear how hard or long you have to exercise to boost endorphins. Some studies suggest that as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise is enough to boost endorphins while others suggest you need 20 to 30 minutes of activity to get an endorphin surge.
How soon you feel the endorphin rush likely varies based on how well trained you are, what type of exercise you’re doing, and for how long. A British YouGov survey found that among adults who exercise at least 3 times per week, getting the endorphins pumping takes just under 10 minutes. In fact, the survey showed that fitter people and women get an endorphin rush faster than men.
Of course, there’s also the immediate satisfaction of knowing you followed through with a workout. It takes discipline and focus to get through a workout and once you’ve completed one – it feels good! That good feeling can carry over into the rest of the day. Exercise also gets blood pumping to your brain and a vigorous exercise session of 30 minutes or more activates a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. That’s important since this portion of the brain helps you stay focused. So, you might be a bit more focused and productive after a sweat session than you were beforehand – another immediate health benefit of a workout!
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to wait for weeks to get some health benefits from exercise. You can get them from as little as 10 minutes of vigorous exercise! The good news is even small amounts of exercise are beneficial. You don’t have to run marathons or do a HIIT workout every day to get a good return on your time. You could feel the benefits after a single workout.
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