The Remarkable Way Exercise Can Help Keep Skin Looking Young

by Sarah Ban

You don't need to hear again, for the millionth time, how good exercise is for you. It's pretty well-established at this point. We all know it; we all believe it. Our only problem is actually getting off our butts and doing it. Regular exercise improves mental health, reduces stress, increases energy levels, improves overall physical health, increases confidence, promotes better sleep -- yeah, it does whole a lot! And you may have already been familiar with those particular benefits, but did you ever guess exercise can be good for your skin? It's actually true and there are studies to prove it. Exercising has been shown to increase skin elasticity, give you a healthy glow and even combat common skin conditions like acne. The knowledge that you can fight aging and acne with some exercise might even put an extra pep in your step and really rev up your workout regimen.  

The Science Behind Exercise and Skin Aging

As we age, particularly once we're past the age of 40, the dermis (the layer below the uppermost layer) becomes thinner and thinner, which leads to sagging, crepeyness and wrinkles. A thicker dermis, on the other hand, keeps skin more elastic and less likely to appear loose and saggy. Now, while there’s nothing wrong with looking older (it does indicate wisdom and long life lived, after all), there’s a way to slow down the process.

Science has shown that the thinning process can be delayed and even reversed through regular exercise. Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario first noticed changes in the skin via exercise through their work with mice but eventually hypothesized the same results could be replicated in humans. Gathering together a group of male and female volunteers between the ages of 20 to 84, they made half the group participate in moderate to vigorous exercise at least three times a week. At the completion of the study, this group showed a thicker dermis than their sedentary counterparts. Granted—this study was conducted on only 29 people (and the skin sample they observed were from the bum), but the results are still astounding enough to consider a workout as an anti-aging strategy.

The researchers took the study one step further when they chose volunteers aged 65 and above and put them on a moderate exercise regimen. After three months, they noticed that the study subjects' skin was closer in appearance to the skin of those between the ages of 20 and 40. Pretty amazing, right? Scientists have concluded that the reason for the changes may be in substances called myokines, which are created by working muscles. When myokines enter the bloodstream, they are able to induce changes in cells, including, presumably, skin cells. This finding is enough to get us to hop on the nearest treadmill ASAP!

Another study found that exercise may, in fact, lengthen telomeres, which are the parts of chromosomes that affect aging of cells.Telomeres are made up of DNA and protein that help to keep chromosomes stable. They tend to shorten with time, and as they shorten, cells weaken and ultimately die. Longer telomeres keep cells, including skin cells, healthy and alive. Exercising enough to halt the shortening of telomeres can potentially keep you looking younger for longer.

How Exercise May Improve Your Complexion

Whether you're running or lifting weights, your heart rate and blood flow increase, which has quite a few benefits for your skin. A boosted circulation increases oxygen and the delivery of nutrients to skin cells. Extra blood, oxygen and nutrients also boost collagen production, keeping skin firm. Increased blood flow further allows waste, like free radicals, to be flushed out from the skin. (Free radicals cause skin cell damage that can ultimately lead to wrinkles, so getting rid of them is a top priority in having beautiful, youthful skin.)

Exercising can have benefits to other areas of the skin as well besides just the face. Developing firm musculature throughout the body can improve the tautness of skin and reduce the appearance of cellulite. That’s all on top of the healthy glow that usually follows an especially vigorous workout session.

How Exercise May Tame Acne & Eczema

Running and other cardiovascular exercises are known for their ability to reduce stress, which can also manifest itself on the skin, many times as acne and eczema. Reducing the stress hormone cortisol through regular workouts can help keep these conditions under control. It should be noted, though, that sweat can still contribute to forming pimples if you are already prone to them, so make sure to cleanse immediately after tending to your fitness routine. If you have eczema, choose workout clothing that wicks perspiration from the skin because going from dry to wet conditions can cause eczema flare-ups. 



With studies showing that exercise can positively impact your skin even after 65 years of age, there’s really no reason to feel like it’s too late! Add to that the fact that even only 30 minutes of exercise three days a week can greatly improve your appearance, making your skin look more youthful, more glowing and smoother too.

If anything, moving your body will make you feel happier—and that’s enough reason to do anything!