10 health benefits of regular exercise
by Tobias • 12 minutes read
Last updated: 01 Jun, 2022
Exercising for at least 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes for five days a week, can greatly reduce your risk of disease.
"It can literally change your mind, your body, your metabolism, hormones, bone structure, lung capacity, blood volume, sex drive, cognitive function and so much more," says Chris Fernandez, an ACE-certified personal trainer.
How Often Should You Exercise?
Duration of Moderate-Intensity Cardio
Minimum Cardio Workouts per Week
Whichever way to choose to exercise, make it a point to vary your workouts. it's easy to get stuck in a rut if you are jogging every day or even lifting weights over and over again. By mixing up your workouts, you'll challenge your body in new ways.
A well-balanced workout routine includes aerobic exercise and resistance training, as well as mobility and recovery days, explains Leada Malek, a certified sports and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and board-certified physical therapist.
Avoid skipping rest days. If you don't let your muscles recover properly in between your workouts, you could potentially enter the realm of overtraining. This can reverse the benefits of exercise and cause muscle fatigue and weaken your immune system.
Exercise can improve cognitive function
Regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Not only is it good for your muscles and bones, it can keep your brain healthy, too.
"Exercise has the capacity to change the brain's anatomy, physiology and function for the better," after just one workout, even a walk, says Wendy Suzuki, PhD, professor of neural science and psychology at New York University.
Exertion during exercise also releases brain-derived neurotropic factors that "stimulate the birth of even more new brain cells," Suzuki says. According to a January 2011 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, these new brain cells allow the hippocampus, the section of the brain involved in memory and learning, to grow bigger while increasing memory function.
"The hippocampus is one of the most vulnerable [of the major brain structures] to neurodegenerative disease states," Suzuki states.
"Exercise does not cure Alzheimer's or aging, but the more you work out, the more cells and connections are made and the longer it takes for those aging processes to have an effect," she explains.
A study carried out by the Journal of Neurology in April 2108 monitored the exercise habits of older adults in Sweden over a 44-year period and found those that were considered high-fit (people without health conditions who were physically active) slowed down the onset of dementia by 9.5 years when compared to those deemed low-fit (who had health conditions) and medium-fit (people who engaged in little physical activity and lived with some health conditions).
It may help you live longer
The life-extending effects have been known about for centuries but only in recent years have numerous scientific studies proved this phenomenon.
A study carried out in July 2020 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who regularly exercise with a mixture of cardio and strength training had a greatly reduced risk of all-cause mortality, including from heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
In fact, research shows that as little as 5 to 10 minutes of vigorous exercise (or 15 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise) each day is linked to a lower risk of death from any cause, according to a March 2019 study in the BJM.
The effect isn't just limited to cardio exercise, research from a June 2016 study in Preventive Medicine shows that resistance exercise is also linked to your lifespan. a 15 year study found that older adults who lifted weights at least twice a week had a 46 percent lower risk of all-cause, cancer and cardiac death when compared to those that didn't lift.
If you aren't already an avid gym goer it's not too late. A June 2019 study in BMJ of 14,599 adults ages 49 to 70 found those who increased their overall physical activity to between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week had a 24 percent reduced risk of death.
It can lift your spirits
Exercise can also help your mood by decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. That's because "every single time you exercise, it's like you are giving your brain a bubble bath of mood-enhancing neurochemicals," Suzuki says.
When you move, your body releases endorphins, and serotonin, these feel good chemicals contribute to a reduction in depression, stress and anxiety and can improve emotional wellness, says Julia Kogan, PsyD, a certified group fitness instructor and coordinator of an integrative primary care behavioral health program at Jess Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.
"Additionally, when we are exercising, we are less focused on negative and troublesome thoughts that can be related to both anxiety and depression," Kogan says. "Exercise can also improve self-esteem and cognitive function and reduce social withdrawal, which can also improve mood."
"exercise is as effective as medication for mild to moderate depression," says Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the Personology podcast.
An April 2022 meta-analysis in JAMA Psychiatry found that adults who exercise for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate cardio had a lower risk of depression than those who were not physically active.
Working Out Protects Your Heart
Your heart is a muscle, a very important one.
Cardio workouts, such as running, swimming or cycling. "help the heart become more efficient and better able to pump blood throughout the body," says Rachel Bond, MD, a women's heart health and prevention specialist, and system director of women's heart health at Dignity Health in Arizona.
"This means [your heart] pushes out more blood with each beat, allowing it to beat slower, relaxing the arteries and keeping blood pressure under control," Dr. Bond says.
Exercise is a vital component in maintaining a healthy weight and reducing overall inflammation, which contributes to reducing your risk of heart disease, Dr. Bond says.
It can improve your sleep
If you are someone that struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep all night, working out during the day could help make it easier to hit the hay.
"Physical activity appears to improve sleep quality by reducing the sleep latency, or time it takes to fall asleep, and the number of interruptions waking an individual during the night. It also increases time spent in deeper stages of sleep, allowing for more restorative sleep," says Allen Towfigh, MD, medical director of New York Neurology and Sleep Medicine, P.C.
Sleep disturbance is common among those with anxiety and depression, too, Kogan notes. "When anxiety and depression are reduced, sleep quality tends to improve. So, because exercise can help with mood management, it can also improve sleep quality,"
Working out can also reduce the impact of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that disrupts breathing throughout the night. According to a study carried out by the Mayo Clinic, exercising at least 30 minutes on most days of the week can help ease symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.
The only caveat to this wonderful bit of new is to not work out too late in the evening as a workout can actually wake you up more.
"Exercise definitely triggers the sympathetic nervous system — the part of the nervous system that triggers a flight-or-fight response, which, when activated, can delay sleep onset," Dr. Towfigh says. "There are studies suggesting exercising in the morning may be more beneficial for certain individuals because it can allow your body's sympathetic nervous system to wind down before bedtime."
So if you struggle to sleep the solution could be a morning workout which could help keep you asleep through the night.
Exercise builds stronger bones
Exercise helps keep your bones strong by increasing bone mineral density levels, says Kristen Gasnick, PT, DPT, a board-certified doctor of physical therapy practicing in outpatient orthopedics.
"Bone mineral density refers to the average concentration of mineral in a defined section of bone and correlates with bone strength," she explains. "Most people reach peak bone mass by the age of 30, and levels steadily decline thereafter, especially in sedentary individuals."
The best exercises for strong bones are strength training and dynamic weight-bearing activities, like walking, running, dancing and plyometric exercises, Gasnick says.
That's because "osteocytes [bone-forming cells] comprise more than 95 percent of the cells within adult bones and respond to mechanical strain, either through joint-reaction forces, which occur when muscles are recruited during resistance training or through ground-reaction forces, which occur during dynamic weight-bearing activities," she says. "When subject to mechanical strain, osteocytes send signals to increase the activity of osteoblasts — cells responsible for building new, stronger bone."
Gasnick also suggests doing body-weight exercises, such as squats, lunges and step-ups, for older adults and anyone new to an exercise routine. "Any movement that allows the joints to bear the weight of one's body helps to build up bone strength," she says.
Once you've nailed down these movements, you can add weight to increase the intensity and build more muscle strength. "Research has indicated that load-bearing exercises that use many large muscle groups and require multi-joint movements tend to elicit the most beneficial response when it comes to improving bone health," Rothstein says.
"Handheld dumbbells are best to use to add weight to avoid the potential compression of the spine that a barbell can induce, something to be especially mindful of for those with osteoporosis," Gasnick says.
it helps you move easier
a workout a day keeps the doctor away. think of exercise like your morning multivitamin. It supports your ability to carry out everyday tasks such as walking, lifting groceries, chasing your kids or even cooking the dinner.
The more you exercise, the more you "diminish your risk of disease and musculoskeletal issues and pain," Jeff Young, CSCS, a kinesiologist and certified strength and conditioning specialist based in New York City explains
When the body is strong and well conditioned, it "increases your ability to tolerate loads, forces and stressors, and allows the different systems in the body — bone, muscle, nervous and endocrine — to communicate better with each other and function better overall," Young says.
To get you strong and help you stay strong, Young recommends building workout routines around functional movements, like the squat, hip hinge and multi-directional lunges.
Working out can help you lose weight
There are many factors that affect weight loss, but it ultimately comes down to energy balance: "You need to be in a calorie deficit," Young says. "The input side of the equation is the food we eat, and the output side is physical activity."
To be in a calorie deficit, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn from exercise. When you incorporate more movement in your day, then you are increasing your chances of expending more calories than you take in.
Young also notes that physical activity has the greatest influence on overall metabolism. "As we age, we tend to reduce physical activity. It can then negatively impact basal/resting metabolic rate and body mass, which sabotages metabolism."
Exercise can help boost a slow metabolism, which "leads to increased calorie burn and will help drive weight loss," he says. "Exercise can also reduce feelings of hunger, especially if vigorous-intensity exercise is included within the exercise regimen."
It's could reduce your risk of getting cancer
There are many risk factors for developing cancer that are simply out of your control, but your activity level is a major factor and it is one you adjust. In fact, physical activity is linked to a lower risk of 13 types of cancer, including colon, breast, endometrial and liver cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Exercise is still valuable for those that are in remission as well. An April 2020 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found people who had fought breast cancer and were currently in remission had lower rates of recurrence and death if they followed national physical activity guidelines when compared to those who did not.
Exercise may help reduce your risk of diabetes
More than 34 million people in the US have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes is a condition in which your body either resists the effects of insulin (the hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in your blood) or doesn't produce enough of it required to maintain normal levels.
What's more, 88 million american adults have been diagnosed as prediabetic, and these are only the diagnosed figures, the real number could be much higher.
However there is hope, an analysis carried out by Diabetologia in October 2016 fund that regular exercise is linked with a 26 percent reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. That's because "increased strength and conditioning improves insulin function and sensitivity," Young says.
If you are somebody that has already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes then doing aerobic and resistance training together helped improve A1C levels, a November 2010 study in JAMA showed.
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