Doing your cardio or performing aerobic exercise (the kind that makes you huff-and-puff and gets your heart pounding) is great for cardio-vascular health. It lowers resting heart rate and strengthens the heart muscle. But are you aware of the many other ways your body benefits from doing regular cardio? Here are a few more reasons to get up, keep moving, and do it now!

Improve your cholesterol numbers with regular exercise. Vigorous physical activity seems to raise your HDL “good” cholesterol, which helps to lower and keep in check the LDL “bad” cholesterol. The latter numbers make you more likely to build up harmful plaque in arteries which can result in strokes and heart attacks.

Exercise can help fight many forms of pain in the body. A sedentary life paired with poor nutrition can lead to all kinds of aches and pains and stiffness. Moving around, staying active and stretching helps to keep your weight down and your joints limber. As you age, your knees and other joints can suffer the pain of osteoarthritis. Don’t give into it! Aerobic activities like walking, biking, swimming and cycling can ease the pain and inflammation in arthritic joints. Just be sensible and don’t overdo it.

Aerobic exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve cognitive functions. A single workout session can increase blood flow to the part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex which helps you think clearer, remember longer, and organize information more efficiently. Some studies suggest that active people are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia because exercise helps prevent such factors as obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes which can be precursors to dementia.

Exercise bolsters the immune system. A stronger, fitter person is more resilient against the bacteria and viruses that cause flu and colds. Aerobic activity helps your circulatory and lymphatic systems to ward off germs that can knock out a less healthy person for days or weeks. Flex those muscles, fight those nasty bugs!

Regular exercise improves your mood and leads to better sleep. Running, walking, cycling, swimming and weight training can ease depression, soothe anxiety, and alleviate crippling panic attacks. Part of the reason might be that physical activity seems to enlarge the hippocampus-an area of the brain that manages emotion and slows the breakdown of brain cells caused by stress, poor nutrition, and environmental pollutants. Additionally, people who exercise report better sleep patterns which help them arise most mornings refreshed and revitalized.

So how much exercise do you need to feel and look better and live a longer, healthier life? Standard recommendations call for 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day for starters. Upping your cardio game plan to 300 minutes/week or higher can lead to even greater benefits. Always keep your doctor posted about your exercise program, especially if you are just beginning!