The Benefits of Exercise

We often hear about the physical benefits of exercise (e.g., increasing heart health), less often are the psychological benefits promoted. Yet, engaging in a moderate amount of physical activity will result in improved mood and emotional states. Exercise can promote psychological well-being as well as improve quality of life. Exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits. It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.

Physical Health Benefits of Exercise

First, let’s check out just a few of the physical benefits of regular exercise:

  1. Weight loss and weight control
  2. Increased muscle strength and muscle mass (which helps burn calories and fat)
  3. Increased energy
  4. Improved flexibility and movement
  5. Lower risk of some types of cancer (Exercising at least 4 hours per week has been shown to lower risk of breast cancer by 37%!)
  6. Reduced risk of Diabetes 2 and metabolic syndrome
  7. Improved immune system, for overall better health
  8. Increased “good” cholesterol to keep blood flowing smoothly
  9. Lower risk of a heart attack and stroke
  10. Helps smokers quit with higher success rates
  11. Strength training & weight-bearing exercise (like walking, jogging, etc), promotes stronger bones (which is particularly helpful for women entering menopause, when bone density is lost)
  12. In short, Exercise can increase your life expectancy by an average of 7 years! (One study in New England Journal of Medicine showed that asymptomatic women who weren’t fit had twice the risk of death than those who were fit!)


Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Countless research studies show that exercise has incredible benefits not just for physical health, but for all areas of health, including mental, emotional, intellectual, and yes, even social well-being. Check these out, for a start!:

  1. Regular aerobic exercise increases levels of seratonin and dopamine in the brain, which is linked with improved mood
  2. Aerobic exercise increases endorphins, or the “feel good” chemicals in the body, improving mood and energy
  3. Exercise enhances the mind’s ability to withstand daily hassles and stressors and to regulate itself
  4. Research shows exercise can alleviate symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome and Depression in women
  5. Regular exercise has been shown equal to antidepressant use in treating Major Depressive Disorder
  6. Exercise is associated with deeper relaxation and better quality of sleep (which protects the brain and increases energy)
  7. Strength training has been shown to decrease tension and worry in the body and mind
  8. Studies show exercise reduces/treats and may prevent anxiety and panic attacks
  9. Exercise increases mental clarity and efficiency
  10. Improves cognitive functioning in middle age and beyond
  11. Exercise is associated with better thinking, learning, and judgment
  12. It can help you tap into intuition and creativity
  13. Exercise increases assertiveness and enthusiasm for life
  14. Studies show exercise leads to a higher quality sex life
  15. Group or partner exercise increases social activity and decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation
  16. Those who exercise regularly tend to have a better body-image
  17. Regular exercise is associated with higher self-esteem
  18. Overall, exercise is one of the best ways to improve happiness and life satisfaction


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Regardless of age, weight or athletic ability, aerobic activity is good for you. As your body adapts to regular aerobic exercise, you’ll get stronger and fitter.

Consider the following 10 ways that aerobic activity can help you feel better and enjoy life to the fullest.

Aerobic activity can help you:

  1. Keep excess pounds at bay Combined with a healthy diet, aerobic exercise helps you lose weight and keep it off.
  2. Increase your stamina Aerobic exercise may make you tired in the short term. But over the long term, you’ll enjoy increased stamina and reduced fatigue.
  3. Ward off viral illnesses Aerobic exercise may activate your immune system. This may leave you less susceptible to minor viral illnesses, such as colds and flu.
  4. Reduce your health risks Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke and certain types of cancer.

Weight-bearing aerobic exercises, such as walking, reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

  1. Manage chronic conditions Aerobic exercise may help lower blood pressure and control blood sugar. If you have coronary artery disease, aerobic exercise may help you manage your condition.
  2. Strengthen your heart A stronger heart doesn’t need to beat as fast. A stronger heart also pumps blood more efficiently, which improves blood flow to all parts of your body.
  3. Keep your arteries clear Aerobic exercise boosts your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good,” cholesterol, and lowers your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad,” cholesterol. This may result in less buildup of plaques in your arteries.
  4. Boost your mood Aerobic exercise may ease the gloominess of depression, reduce the tension associated with anxiety and promote relaxation.
  5. Stay active and independent as you age Aerobic exercise keeps your muscles strong, which can help you maintain mobility as you get older.

Aerobic exercise also keeps your mind sharp. At least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week appears to reduce cognitive decline in older adults.

  1. Live longer Studies show that people who participate in regular aerobic exercise live longer than those who don’t exercise regularly.


Take the first step

Ready to get more active? Great. Just remember to start with small steps. If you’ve been inactive for a long time or if you have a chronic health condition, get your doctor’s OK before you start.

When you’re ready to begin exercising, start slowly. You might walk five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening.

The next day, add a few minutes to each walking session. Pick up the pace a bit, too. Soon, you could be walking briskly for at least 30 minutes a day and reaping all the benefits of regular aerobic activity.

Other options for aerobic exercise could include cross-country skiing, aerobic dancing, swimming, stair climbing, bicycling, jogging, elliptical training or rowing.

If you have a condition that limits your ability to participate in aerobic activities, ask your doctor about alternatives. If you have arthritis, for example, aquatic exercises may give you the benefits of aerobic activity without stressing your joints.


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