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The Connection Between Exercise and Skin Health

Usually, when you think about the ways in which exercise can benefit the body, things like better weight management, improved fitness levels and increased muscle mass come to mind.

However, did you know that exercise can have a direct impact on the health of your skin too?

It does this in a few different ways…

Increased Blood Flow

One of the most instantly rewarding ways in which exercise can benefit your skin is all down to the way in which it boosts blood flow.

Your blood is what carries oxygen and nutrients to your skin cells, meaning that amping this up a bit results in your skin receiving a greater amount of oxygen and nutrients. These are what it needs in order to really thrive, so giving your skin more of this will only be a good thing.

In addition to feeding your skin, your blood also serves another important purpose when it comes to skin health…

An increase in circulation means that your lymph nodes will work even better.

What do your lymph nodes do?

They are responsible for pumping waste out of your body and your skin, detoxifying the skin of unwanted substances.

Illustration of good blood flow versus muddy blood flow

These toxins are definitely something that you don’t want around, as they can cause deep, long term damage to your skin cells.

Decreased Stress

When it comes to the many ways out there in which you can relieve stress, exercising has been proven to be one of the most effective.

Why?

For a couple of different reasons:

  • Increased endorphins released by the brainthese are basically chemicals that make you feel good, and exercise triggers your brain to release more of these
  • Has similar effects to meditationdue to the way in which your brain engages with physical exercise, the results of this are similar to meditation, meaning that it can ease away the stresses of the day while boosting optimism and energy

Now, you might be thinking…

What does stress have to do with the health of my skin?

Quite a bit, actually!

Stress triggers your body to release cortisol, which is the hormone that helps your body to deal with stress.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this when it happens once in a while. In fact, this is what helped our earliest ancestors to survive and evolve, as the cortisol gave them the ability to quickly choose between “fight or flight”.

However, chronic stress is where the problem lies, as this means that your body constantly has cortisol flowing through it.

This can result in a few different skin issues:

  • Dryness cortisol prevents your skin to properly retain moisture, meaning that skin ends up dry and dehydrated. In the long run, this can lead to flare-ups in conditions such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Excess oilwhile dryness may be one symptom of stress, excess oil is another. Since your skin is not able to stay fully hydrated any more, your oil glands try to compensate for this, producing excess oil. This can result in an increase in inflammation and breakouts
  • Accelerated agingcortisol, and the inflammation that it causes, rapidly accelerates the aging process, destroying your skin’s supplies of collagen and elastin. This leads to premature fine lines and wrinkles, as well as sagging skin
  • Rednesscapillaries expand and blood flow increases during times of stress, leading to a redness and puffiness in the skin. Conditions such as rosacea may also flare up

Can exercise really help with all of that?

Definitely. Just five minutes of exercise can bring about stress-relieving results, so imagine what a longer session could do!

Improved Sleep

When it comes to the health of your skin, quality sleep is absolutely vital.

During the day, your skin concentrates on protecting itself from environmental onslaughts, whether this may be UV exposure, pollution, bacteria or anything else. However, at night time, when you are asleep, it is able to focus on healing and regenerating, making these hours particularly crucial.

The time during which you are asleep also leads to the body secreting growth hormones, which contribute to the increase in cell production that happens at this time.

Illustration of the different stages of a normal sleep cycle

While your skin does produce new cells during the day, studies show that it does this much faster at night, with its peak being around 2am. 

Convinced that you need plenty of quality sleep in order to maintain a healthy complexion?

Well, regular exercise is a great way to ensure that you are getting a good night’s sleep.

How?

In a couple of different ways:

  • Improved sleep quality exercise results in your body spending more time in the deep sleep stage of the sleep cycle, and this is the time during which your skin can really work to its full potential
  • Increased sleep quantity exercise will tire you out, meaning that you will likely fall asleep much easier at nights, and will not wake up as much through the night

Do you suffer from insomnia?

Research shows that exercise can significantly help with insomnia. In fact, just one single session will help you to fall asleep much easier that night

Acne Relief

Acne is usually caused when the pores in the skin become clogged up with dirt, oil and other unwanted substances. This leads to inflammation within the pores, which results in breakouts.

However, exercise can help to prevent all of this from happening…

How?

Well, when you exercise, you sweat.

Your pores then dilate, and this results in the sweat washing away trapped dirt and oil.

In fact, some dermatologists would go as far as to say that working up a sweat is the equivalent of a mini-facial.

Do you find that sweating makes your acne worse?

While this is common, it is quite easy to get around this.

The reason as to why sweating can have the opposite effect for some people is all down to how long you let the sweat remain on your skin for.

It is absolutely vital that you clear the sweat away as much as you can while you are exercising, before showering your face and body as soon as you are done.

Why?

Because, as mentioned above, sweat will unclog your pores of blockages. However, if the sweat remains on your skin, your pores will only end up sucking all of this back in, along with the new sweat.

As you can imagine, the fact that this blockage has now increased in size means that breakouts will also increase in frequency and severity.

A Stronger Immune System

Exercise is a fantastic way to boost up your immune system.

How does it do this?

It triggers the body into producing more white blood cells.

These white blood cells strengthen your immune system, preventing bacteria, viruses and more from attacking your body.

How does this affect your skin?

Well, parts of your immune system cells actually lie within your skin, and the two are directly connected. 

This is why allergens, which trigger your immune system to react, show up as skin symptoms, including redness, rashes, itching and more. 

By keeping your immune system as strong as possible, you will be able to really help your skin to flourish.

How Much Exercise is Actually Needed?

Convinced that exercise can give you a healthier complexion?

If so, you are probably wondering how much exercise you need to actually do…

Here are the average recommendations:

  • Aerobic Activity 150 minutes of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, a week. You can also do a combination of both
  • Strength/ Power Trainingexercises for all major muscle groups should be done at least twice a week. Make sure that your muscles are tired out after strength training, otherwise this is a sign that you are not working them hard enough

If you want it even simpler, just aim for about 30 minutes of physical activity a day.

But what exactly is aerobic activity and strength training?

Well, aerobic activity is simple…

This is basically anything that gets your heart beating faster.

In the recommendations above, moderate aerobic activity would refer to exercises such as swimming, a brisk walk, or even mowing the lawn. On the other hand, vigorous aerobic activity would include exercises such as dancing or running.

How about strength training?

This type of exercise makes use of some form of resistance to encourage your muscles to contract, helping to build their strength and size.

Illustrated examples of power training versus aerobic training

Ways to Make Exercising Fun

Many people simply do not enjoy exercising, but this only means that you haven’t yet found the right exercise for you

As mentioned above, aerobic exercise can involve just about anything that gets your heart rate up.

Try to get creative when it comes to finding new exercises to have a go at, such as:

  • Turn on your favorite music and dance around the house
  • Watch TV on an exercise bike rather than a chair, taking a break from pedalling during the commercials
  • Try exercising with friends or family, as research shows that this can help you to enjoy it more
  • Give exergaming a try, which basically refers to video games that get you moving
  • Download some workout apps to give you some extra motivation
  • Have a go at some childhood games, such as skip rope, hula hooping and pogo sticks
  • Have a pillow fight with your children
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible

If you really don’t enjoy exercising, the key is to find an activity that gets your heart rate up without you actually realizing it.

Skin Care While Exercising

While exercising may be key when it comes to healthy skin, you do need to ensure that you are still taking good care of your skin while exercising.

As mentioned earlier, one important step to take is to wipe away any sweat as often as you can, so that this does not end up clogging up your pores.

A shower after a workout is also essential, as this will wash away the remainder of your sweat.

Are you going to be exercising outdoors?

If so, don’t forget about sun protection!

This is vital throughout the year, even in the winter months. In fact, if you are exercising around snow, water or glass, these substances actually reflect and magnify the sun’s UV rays, making your skin even more susceptible to damage.

Make sure that the sunscreen you choose is:

  • Broad-spectrum
  • Has an SPF of at least 30
  • Waterproof, so that your sweat doesn’t wash it away

Do you find that sunscreen gets into your eyes and stings while you are exercising?

This is a common problem that many athletes face.

The answer is to use one of the newer pH-balanced formulas, as these will not cause any stinging or irritation if it enters into your eyes.

Are you exercising somewhere with harsh winds or cold temperatures?

These conditions can be extremely drying on your skin, so you should take some extra steps to ensure that your skin remains safe and protected.

To begin with, physically cover up your skin as much as possible, because this extra barrier between your skin and the environment can make a huge difference.

Woman in ski goggles and full winter gear

You will also need to ensure that you are keeping your skin thoroughly moisturized.

Both winds and cold temperatures will strip your skin of its moisture, so adding this back in through the use of a moisturizer can help in a big way.

This is especially important if you suffer from psoriasis or eczema…

Why?

Because these conditions mean that the natural protective barrier on your skin is damaged. The cold temperatures and winds will only damage this even more, resulting in flare-ups of both conditions.

Many people don’t quite realize just how strong the connection between exercise and skin health is, but the two really are directly linked. While a lack of exercise can be detrimental to your skin, regular exercise can have the opposite effect, making it so important to incorporate this into your life.

Lionesse

By Lionesse

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