You already know that exercise is important for heart health, for improving your physique and for giving your mood a lift. It also helps with weight control. Exercise has an impact on almost every organ in your body including your skin. Have you ever wondered whether exercise can improve the health of your skin and slow down skin aging?
How Exercise Affects the Health of Your Skin
There are a number of ways exercise enhances the health and appearance of your skin. For one, it increases blood flow, sending more oxygen and nutrients to skin cells. Ever notice how your skin glows after a workout? Your blood vessels dilate during exercise to help release heat, and some people believe this sheds toxins. This is debatable since the liver is the primary organ of detoxification. Still, the increased oxygen delivered to the surface of your skin makes your skin look brighter.
Exercise, Stress and Skin Aging
Another way exercise improves skin health and helps to slow down skin aging is by reducing stress. Stress elevates cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland just above the kidney. That’s not a good thing since cortisol accelerates skin aging by increasing the breakdown of collagen, a protein in the dermal layer of skin that gives skin its firmness and resistance to wrinkling.
Stress also creates a pro-inflammatory state that damages collagen and leads to premature skin aging. In general, exercise helps to relieve stress as long as you’re not overtraining. Adding more antioxidants to your diet from sources like fruits and vegetables also tames inflammation that accelerates the aging process. High-intensity exercise causes temporary tissue damage that increases inflammation, which is why it’s important to add more antioxidants to your diet to counter this effect.
Exercise and Acne
Some people with acne are reluctant to work out for fear it will increase their symptoms. There is some truth to this. Sweat acts as a skin irritant, increasing the risk for breakouts. One way to reduce the risk is to exercise with a clean face without makeup and cleanse again immediately afterward. Wear loose clothing to avoid irritating the skin on your chest and back. Even though sweat can exacerbate acne, regular exercise may reduce the number of breakouts longer term since it lowers cortisol levels as long as you don’t over train or do long cardio sessions that significantly boost cortisol levels.
One common skin condition that exercise can temporarily worsen is rosacea, an inflammatory skin condition that causes facial redness and pustules similar to those people with acne get. Exercise increases the facial redness of rosacea short-term. One way to reduce the risk of a flare-up is to work out in a cooler environment and break up your workout into shorter segments so you’re not working out for prolonged periods of time and getting overheated.
If you exercise outdoors, your skin will be exposed to the sun’s damaging rays, the number one cause of skin aging. You can wear sunscreen, but no sunscreen is 100% protective. Ever notice how long-distance runners frequently have skin that looks older? It comes from years of running outdoors. Keep your workouts indoors as much as possible, and if you exercise outside, work out early in the morning or later in the evening wearing a water-resistant sunscreen for protection. No amount of sun exposure is healthy for your skin.
The Bottom Line?
Moderate amounts of exercise combined with an anti-inflammatory diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables may be beneficial for your skin. The key is to avoid overtraining and, most importantly, protect your skin from sun exposure. No amount of exercise can undo the damage the sun does to your skin. Keep it covered.
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