Sweaty Beauty

Exercise and the Epidermis

While the link between nutrition and skin health is widely studied and established, the relationship between exercise and good skin is not as derivative as one might think — you needn’t merely rely on tying exercise to good health which manifests as great skin. The direct link to exercise and the skin is pretty intuitive — increasing blood flow to the skin provides a visceral glow we can immediately feel — this is because vascular health is exquisitely bound in healthy skin.

The large number of blood vessels in the skin make it vascular in essence and these promote circulation and clean the skin. The pink, youthful appearance of skin is a direct result of healthy blood flow. The deficiencies always highlight the impact of this — anemia — a condition that indicates the lowered count of red blood cells (RBCs) makes its sufferers look like Casper, the friendly ghost (granted this is less evident in dark-skinned people but the sallowness is irrefutable). This is because RBCs contain hemoglobin that is instrumental in transporting oxygen to one’s tissues and any lack is usually indicted by a mild paleness of the skin. In the same vein, let’s consider hypoxia — where one is breathing in air with less oxygen than necessary — the first sign is paling skin. Based on these negative examples, it becomes trivial to understand that it is crucial to tend to vascular health for optimal skin.

Apart from healthy nature walks and deep breathing practices like pranayama in yoga here are the ways in which exercise is great for the skin. It’s all bog-standard but is so valuable that it bears repeating.

  1. Sweaty Beauty — it’s not merely a matter of that attractive short term glistening from a great workout but sweating is a magnificent way to rid the body of toxins — we must not forget that the skin is as much an organ of excretion as the liver and kidneys. Exercise is effective in increasing the blood flow to the skin, increasing neuronal stimulation and urges the sweat glands to expel toxins. This comes with a necessary and equally intuitive caveat to clean the skin after sweating to guard against bacterial or fungal infections that may result from dirt clogging the pores.
  2. Toney Muscley— healthy skin is less superficial than one thinks — muscle tone is crucial in the appearance of good skin. The easy way to see how this works is to notice the reduction of cellulite once a good exercise regime is adopted. I get that it is genetic etc but the manner in which it whittles away cellulite makes the link between muscle tone and good skin. It is for this reason that strength training is particularly important to good skin care rather than an eternity of sun-seeeking cardio.
  3. Bloody Pumpy — blood flow boosts from exercise are not merely momentary but regular exercise has been shown to boost blood flow enough to reverse Type 2 diabetes. This movement of bloodflow is critical in moving oxygen and all the wonderful skin-friendly nutrients to the skin’s surface.
  4. Stressy Lessy — the endorphin releasing benefits of exercise have long been touted as the key to good moods but this is linked directly to optimal skin. Think about it — if one is less frowny there’s less of a chance of those wrinkles ☺ Also some acne breakouts are stress-related. And exercise impacts learning and memory and executive function — these are crucial to eliminating stress. And I know that several people use exercise as a time for meditation which while not exactly optimal is better than nothing. Chade Meng Tan has a whole chapter on Walking Meditation — which was a big theme for some of my more contemplative heroes — Jefferson, Wordsworth, Turner.
  5. Oily Glowy — This goes beyond the glisten of sweat — exercise stimulates and releases natural oils that impart a sustained glow to the skin.

And we need look no further than the views of the first fitness hero Jack LaLanne to see all this logic pithily synthesized -

Yes, exercise is the catalyst. That’s what makes everything happen: your digestion, your elimination, your sex life, your skin, hair, everything about you depends on circulation. And how do you increase circulation?

Charles Duhigg — whose book The Power of Habit has been languishing in my Kindle calls exercise a keystone habit — a tiny change that ripples beneficially into the rest of one’s life. See this quote from the book.

It’s not completely clear why…‘Exercise spills over,’ said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. ‘There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

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