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Why exercise helps

The idea that exercise is a crucial tool in the fight against weight gain isn't new. It does, after all, burn calories. But Peeke contends that exercise also is beneficial because it helps cut stress, which in turn helps you keep weight off.

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"During vigorous exercise, the body secretes biochemicals called beta endorphins, which calm you down and decrease the levels of stress hormones in your body," she says. How much exercise does it take? That depends, Peeke says. "Some people need more vigor than others," she says, "but for some, even a vigorous 10-minute walk will work."

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Exercise may reduce stress in another way. "Just getting up and moving for five minutes is helpful," says Peeke, "because you have distracted yourself from what's causing you stress and allowed your quiescent body to move and stretch and awaken."

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Of course, five minutes of exercise may help, but it won't do much if you also hope to burn some calories. For a bigger payoff, Peeke suggests 45 minutes of exercise every day, even if you break it up into 15-minute sessions.

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For Alison McCormick, the idea of a scientific link between exercise, stress, and weight gain wasn't very surprising. "I intuitively knew that exercise would help me feel less stressed out, and now that I'm running two miles three times a week, I do feel calmer," she says. And, by the way, she's lost 7 pounds.

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Daryn Eller is a freelance writer in Venice, Calif. Her work has appeared in Health, Fitness, and many other publications.

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