We have all heard it many times before - regular exercise is good for you, and it can help you lose weight. But if you are like many Americans, you are busy, you have a sedentary job, and you haven't yet changed your exercise habits. The good news is that it's never too late to start. You can start slowly, and find ways to fit more physical activity into your life. To get the most benefit, you should try to get the recommended amount of exercise for your age. If you can do it, the payoff is that you will feel better, help prevent or control many diseases, and likely even live longer.
What are the health benefits of exercise?
Regular exercise and physical activity may:
- Help you control your weight. Along with diet, exercise plays an important role in controlling your weight and preventing obesity. To maintain your weight, the calories you eat and drink must equal the energy you burn. To lose weight, you must use more calories than you eat and drink.
- Reduce your risk of heart diseases. Exercise strengthens your heart and improves your circulation. The increased blood flow raises the oxygen levels in your body. This helps lower your risk of heart diseases such as high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and heart attack. Regular exercise can also lower your blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
- Help your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels. Exercise can lower your blood sugar level and help your insulin work better. This can cut down your risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. And if you already have one of those diseases, exercise can help you to manage it.
- Help you quit smoking. Exercise may make it easier to quit smoking by reducing your cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It can also help limit the weight you might gain when you stop smoking.
- Improve your mental health and mood. During exercise, your body releases chemicals that can improve your mood and make you feel more relaxed. This can help you deal with stress and reduce your risk of depression.
- Help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. Exercise stimulates your body to release proteins and other chemicals that improve the structure and function of your brain.
- Strengthen your bones and muscles. Regular exercise can help kids and teens build strong bones. Later in life, it can also slow the loss of bone density that comes with age. Doing muscle-strengthening activities can help you increase or maintain your muscle mass and strength.
- Reduce your risk of some cancers, including colon, breast , uterine, and lung cancer.
- Reduce your risk of falls. For older adults, research shows that doing balance and muscle-strengthening activities in addition to moderate-intensity aerobic activity can help reduce your risk of falling.
- Improve your sleep. Exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
- Improve your sexual health. Regular exercise may lower the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. For those who already have ED, exercise may help improve their sexual function. In women, exercise may increase sexual arousal.
- Increase your chances of living longer. Studies show that physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from the leading causes of death, like heart disease and some cancers.
How can I make exercise a part of my regular routine?
- Make everyday activities more active. Even small changes can help. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk down the hall to a coworker's office instead of sending an email. Wash the car yourself. Park further away from your destination.
- Be active with friends and family. Having a workout partner may make you more likely to enjoy exercise. You can also plan social activities that involve exercise. You might also consider joining an exercise group or class, such as a dance class, hiking club, or volleyball team.
- Keep track of your progress. Keeping a log of your activity or using a fitness tracker may help you set goals and stay motivated.
- Make exercise more fun. Try listening to music or watching TV while you exercise. Also, mix things up a little bit - if you stick with just one type of exercise, you might get bored. Try doing a combination of activities.
- Find activities that you can do even when the weather is bad. You can walk in a mall, climb stairs, or work out in a gym even if the weather stops you from exercising outside.
- Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Health Benefits of Water-Based Exercise (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Physical Activity and Health: The Benefits of Physical Activity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Real-Life Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity (National Institute on Aging)
- Staying Active at Any Size (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) Also in Spanish
- Step It Up! Get Active for Your Health (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Why Exercise? (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Why Physical Activity Is Important (for Girls) (Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Evaluating the Health Benefits of Low-Frequency Step-Based Physical Activity-The "Weekend Warrior"...
- Article: Heating Up to Keep Cool: Benefits and Persistence of a Practical...
- Article: Prevalence of physical activity levels and perceived benefits of and barriers...
- Benefits of Exercise -- see more articles
- Exercise, lifestyle, and your bones (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Give your heart a workout (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Move More: Making Physical Activity Routine (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) - PDF