By now, most of us have come to terms with the fact that exercise, even in small amounts, is good for you. It’s part of the reason that the exercise and fitness industry has ballooned into a multi-billion-dollar industry. But as that industry has expanded, so has our understanding of exercise, especially with regard to aspects not normally associated with health or fitness. One of the things it might not actually do: help you lose weight.

With some experts expecting more than a million people to join a gym in the month of January alone, no doubt to make good on those ambitious New Year’s resolutions, that concept could be alarming. Fortunately, a number of studies have found some unexpected positive by-products of regular exercise.

Scientists have already found that exercise enhances brain function, especially if it is accompanied by music.  A slew of other studies just in the past few years show that exercise also slows aging, delays dementia, reduces migraines, and even speeds up the healing of wounds. But there is so much more we only thought we knew about exercise and the people who do it, most of whom, it turns out, are regular drinkers.

In areas not necessarily related to fitness and health, we’ve already discussed how researchers believe that exercise can actually make people smarter, with moderate exercise resulting in a 5-10% improvement in cognition. While there hasn’t been any cause and effect cited, researchers have also found that wealthy people exercise more as well, although their wealth isn’t necessarily tied to their level of physical fitness.  But one major misconception about exercise is how it helps people lose weight, which is the reason many people start doing it in the first place.

Exercise no doubt has certain physical benefits. Scientists have found that it doesn’t just improve the functioning of the heart, but even alters cardiac structure depending on the type of exercise a subject engages in. But when it comes time to lose weight, exercise can underperform.

Without diet, exercise tends to be an inefficient weight-loss solution. Unfortunately, health experts now find that exercise actually stimulates hunger and appetite, which could help explain how Americans are statistically getting fatter even though more of them are enrolled in gyms than ever before. In fact, some researchers now find that exercise might not even continually burn fat. Exercise is directly tied to improved body image, but in terms of real hard statistics, that gym membership you got for 2010 might not be as effective as you hoped, no matter how disciplined you are. Sorry.