The list of benefits that exercise has is seemingly endless. Regular workouts may lower the risk of a number of chronic health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, some types of cancer and even mental conditions like depression. Plus, it’s a great stress reliever. These are all good things – but what about your skin? Does exercise have benefits for the part of your body that’s the first to show your age?
Can Exercise Lower Your Risk for Skin Cancer?
According to a study published on Science Daily, daily caffeine and exercise could help keep skin cancer at bay. In one study, mice at high risk for skin cancer that got a daily dose of caffeine and ran on a treadmill experienced 62% fewer malignant skin tumors compared to those that didn’t exercise and got no caffeine. Both caffeine and exercise alone reduced the incidence of skin cancer but the combination was best. Although this study was carried out in mice, researchers believe the results will ultimately hold true in humans as well.
Why would exercise be of benefit? Researchers believe caffeine and exercise help to reduce inflammation, and inflammation plays a role in skin cancer. One caveat. Indoor exercise is better for the health of your skin unless you consistently wear a high SPF sunscreen. Exposure to sunlight is the number one risk factor for skin cancer. Keep your skin protected whether you’re exercising or not.
Does Exercise Have Skin Anti-aging Benefits?
Some sources say that intense exercise ages your skin – all the bouncing around causes premature skin sagging. There’s no evidence this is true. In fact, exercise may be beneficial because it helps keep inflammation in check. Although you generate free radicals during exercise, your body becomes better at dealing with them so they’re less damaging. One reason exercise lowers the risk of chronic diseases comes from its ability to reduce inflammation and make your body more efficient at dealing with free radicals and oxidative stress. Free radicals also damage collagen and elastin tissue that keeps your skin firm and youthful. Regular exercise may actually slow the skin aging process by helping your skin deal offset free radical damage. Again, if you exercise outdoors and don’t wear a sunscreen consistently, you’ll accelerate the skin aging process by exposing your skin to damaging ultraviolet light.
Exercise and Skin: Does Exercise Help or Hinder if You Have Acne?
Some people who have acne are afraid to work up a sweat. They’re convinced that sweating makes their acne worse. A study published in Pediatric Dermatology found no increase in acne outbreaks among exercisers who sweated during their workout. Another study carried out by Stanford University School of Medicine also found no link between exercise-induced sweating and acne. It also showed no link between the amount of sweating during exercise, time spent sweating or the interval between exercise and showering and acne outbreaks. Some people believe that sweating during exercise helps to open up clogged pores and release pore-clogging materials that trigger acne.
Here’s something to keep in mind. If you have acne on your body, avoid tight-fitting clothing when you work out. There’s a type of acne called acne mechanica that’s triggered by wearing tight clothing that doesn’t allow your skin to breathe. If possible, wear moisture-wicking fabrics. Stress is an acne trigger for some people and a vigorous workout helps to keep stress in check.
Exercise Brightens Your Skin
Ever notice the glow your skin has after a workout? Exercise increases heart rate and blood flow, delivering more nutrients to the outer layer of your skin as well as the deeper layer called the dermis. It’s the increased blood flow and oxygen that gives your skin that post-exercise glow. Who needs blush after a workout?
Some Skin Conditions May Be Aggravated By Exercise
Exercise can aggravate certain skin conditions including rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema. If you have rosacea, exercise in a cool environment. Heat can worsen the redness and skin flushing that people with rosacea experience. If you have eczema or psoriasis, wear loose clothing so sweat doesn’t build up. Sweat can aggravate both conditions. Be sure to moisturize before and after exercise.
Why Do Some Runners and Athletes Look Older?
You may have noticed that some athletes and runners look older than their age. This is more common in long-distance runners who have a very low body fat percentage. When you lose body fat, you also lose the subcutaneous fat that gives your face a more youthful appearance. If you lose a lot of weight for any reason, you may notice that your face looks less youthful due to loss of body fat. This is most apparent in people over the age of 40. Runners and other athletes that participate in outdoor sports also get more exposure to sunlight and age prematurely due to that. To protect your skin from damage, wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 40 or greater that blocks UVA and UVB rays every day. It’s the best way to protect your skin against premature aging.
The Bottom Line?
Exercise may have benefits for your skin – but be aware of the pitfalls. It can aggravate some skin conditions and can lead to premature aging if you exercise outdoors without sunscreen. Take steps to protect your skin.
Science Daily. “Caffeine and Exercise May Be Protective Against Skin Cancer Caused by Sun Exposure, Study Suggests”
Pediatr Dermatol. 2008 Jan-Feb;25(1):126-8.
Medscape Medical News. “Exercise Does Not Appear to Increase Risk of Acne”
WebMD. “Skin Benefits From Exercise: Tone Skin, Collagen and More”
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