What are the benefits of regular exercise?

Dr. Ozgen Dogan
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Exercise not only burns calories, it also increases your metabolism. That means after you've exercised and you're just going about your day, you're burning even more calories. Another wonderful benefit of exercise is that it reduces stress. Many nutritional bad habits are related to stress. You often hear stories like, "After my divorce I started putting on weight," or, "Now that I'm out of work, the scale has been creeping up." Many people overeat to suppress feelings of depression or failure. The endorphin rush that comes from exercising can be a great stress and depression buster.

Rose Reisman
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Study after study indicates that exercise helps reduce the risk of serious diseases. Improving your heart rate brings several medical benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower bad cholesterol and more good cholesterol
  • Reduced risk of obesity and weight loss
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Reduced effects of depression
  • Reduced risk of certain cancers
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduced effects of hormonal problems
  • Improved digestion and bowel functioning
  • Increased metabolic rate
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While weekend exercise might be tempting, it can be dangerous due to the risk of injury. Shoot for regular exercise, which not only keeps you ready for those weekend pickup games, but also offers these important benefits:

  • Keeps your weight under control, which reduces stress on your joints, especially your hips and knees.
  • Maintains your muscle strength to help prevent arthritis and keep your joints flexible and protect them from damage.
  • Releases endorphins, which act as your body’s natural pain medication.
Pamela Fortner, NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

Exercise increases the blood flow to working muscles, increases your energy level, can lower blood pressure, lower your resting heart rate, improves your self image, and boosts your self confidence. Exercise also promotes better sleep, strengthenes your heart and lungs, exercise helps you manage your weight, exercise helps fight chronic diseases like type II diabetes and high blood pressure, exercise improves your mood. Choose an activity you enjoy, get up and move and have fun. The fun factor will keep you motivated, and coming back for more.

Dr. John Preston, PsyD
Psychology Specialist

Regular exercise has multiple benefits for everyone, including lower risk for heart disease, hypertension and diabetes and improved joint and muscular functioning. Exercise improves your mood and brain function, and helps you get enough sleep. Also, a routine exercise program can minimize the weight-gain side effects of some medications.

Beth Oliver
Fitness Specialist

Simply put, every function of your body works better. Everything from digestion to brain function, metabolism and heart and bone health. Exercise also helps reduce stress and increases the production of the “feel good” endorphins, like serotonin. Exercising with a group, small or large, also fosters important social interaction and a sense of community.

The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are too numerous to ignore. With exercise, you can have fun, reap health benefits and feel better.

Exercise helps control weight. Extra weight is a contributing factor to conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer. As weight loss occurs, the risk of developing these diseases decreases.

Exercise improves the efficiency of your heart and reduces your risk of health problems including stroke, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and arthritis. In addition, weight-bearing aerobic exercise, such as walking, can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and its complications.

Exercise can also improve your:

  • Muscle health
  • Sleep
  • Immune system
  • Mood
  • Relaxation
  • Stamina
  • Energy
  • Sex life

The benefits of regular moderate exercise are too numerous to list, but I will site the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and touch on a few important ones.

  • Moderate exercises, like walking or jogging, may improve heart and lung function, increase endurance, mobility, improve bone density and weight control or loss from a consistent calorie burn.
  • Performing exercises using a combination of movements in differrent planes of motion, like forward and back, side-to-side and safely rotating, will increase muscular control and reactivity. These exercises simulate movements that you may experience in everyday life, like shoveling snow, picking up a child or moving quickly to avoid something. Otherwise, such movements could possibly result in pain or injury.
  • Exercises that focus on flexibility, good posture, internal balance and stability will strengthen stabilizing muscles that become weak with age and lack of use, improve posture, helping prevent neck or back pain, decrease potential for muscular injuries, relieve tightness and alleviate some types of muscle pain.
  • Mental health benefits may result. Exercise fosters a sense of well-being, may even alleviate stress and focus the mind.
  • Lastly, good health and longevity are priceless benefits to regular exercise. I imagine all the benefits above factor into these.

The phrase "use it or lose it" is true. If a person is typically sedentary and is faced with having to balance, react, climb stairs, chase a grandchild, slip on ice or any other obstacle in life, they are suddenly presented the results of not exercising: strain, injury, soreness, exhaustion, lack of muscular reaction and control, immobility and the list goes on. Think of that in terms of health care costs.

Exercising regularly will prevent the following: atrophy (losing muscle mass), loss of balance, skeletal pain from lack of use, injury from lack of flexibility, improper movement habits and so much more. Regular exercise will keep you on your toes to stay strong, balanced and agile.

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to improve your levels of wellness. Regular exercise increases your energy levels, improves emotional and psychological well-being, and boosts your immune system. Regular exercise also prevents heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and osteoporosis. At any age, people who exercise are also less likely to die from all causes than their sedentary peers.

Regular exercise is important!

Regular exercise has amazing benefits. Remember that structured exercise is not the only way to achieve physical fitness: routine tasks count as physical activity too. Physical activity:

  • Helps you live longer and prevents many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) profile, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and colon and breast cancers;
  • Improves cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness; 
  • Raises your metabolism and helps you lose weight more easily (or eat more without gaining weight);
  • Helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve your mood;
  • Helps maintain brain function in older adults;
  • Helps with digestion and promotes regular bowel movements;
  • Increases bone density;
  • Helps you age more gracefully by maintaining your looks and your agility;
  • Improves sleep quality; and
  • Improves your overall quality of life.

Remember to talk with your physician before beginning—or making substantial changes to—an exercise program. Your physician can help you select appropriate exercises based on your medical history, current fitness level, and physical fitness goals.

There are many benefits to engaging in a regular exercise program. Here are some of the benefits:

  • There is an increased blood flow to the brain and also an increase in levels of neurotransmitters. These changes can lead to a better self—image, thinking, stress control, decreased anxiety and depression, increase energy levels, improve sleep and decrease risks for stroke.
  • There is an increase in heart rate and the amount of blood that is pumped with each heart beat. This results in an increase in heart size and amount of blood that remains in the heart. This leads to increased blood flow to the heart and to all the body’s organs. This healthier heart is at a reduced risk for heart disease.
  • There is an increase in the amount of air that the lungs can take in and a reduced risk of colds and upper respiratory infections.
  • There is a decrease in body fat.
  • There is a decreased risk of colon cancer and certain other forms of cancer.
  • There is increased energy produced in muscles. This increased in energy production leads to changes in the muscle cells that allow the cells to produce more energy.
  • There is an increased sensitivity to insulin, which results in a reduction in type 2 diabetes.
  • There is an increase or maintenance of muscle tissue.
  • There is an increase in good cholesterol (HDLs).
  • There is a decrease in triglycerides (fats in the blood).
  • There is a reduced resting blood pressure.
  • There is a reduced platelet stickiness (sticky platelets can form clots).
  • There is reduced vessel inflammation (can cause damage to arteries).*

* Insel, Paul M, and Roth T. Walton. Core Concepts in Health. New York: McGraw-Hill,2008.

There are a couple reasons why exercise is so important. For one, any amount of physical activity lowers both systolic (the pressure being exerted when the heart contracts; the first or top number) and diastolic (the pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest; the bottom or second number) blood pressure, which are the most important factors in arterial aging. It lowers LDL cholesterol, raises HDL cholesterol, and decreases inflammation, among other benefits—even just walking a few extra minutes a day.

Working any muscle strengthens it, so we shouldn't be surprised that the heart muscle gets stronger from being periodically stressed, and the exercise may also strengthen blood vessels by forcing them to dilate and perhaps make them more elastic. If you haven't exercised in a while, start with walking until you can do weight lifting, and then add some kind of activity—cycling, swimming, or using an elliptical trainer to elevate your heart rate (running chronically often stresses your joints too much). By adding strength training and then stamina training, the average 55-year-old man becomes eight years younger in RealAge, and a 55-year-old woman drops 9.1 years.

Another way exercise can help you is by reducing stress, which is one of the greatest agers of your body.

But perhaps the most important reason to exercise is that it can help prevent you from ballooning up to the size of a two-bedroom condo. This is critical because if you're seriously overweight, you significantly increase your risk of heart disease. Think of it this way: The loss of even 10 percent of your body weight will significantly improve your overall and cardiovascular health and can make you nine years younger in real age.

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Benefits of regular exercise include:

Musculoskeletal system

  • Increases muscle strength and muscle mass
  • Increases flexibility of muscles and range of joint motion
  • Produces stronger bones, ligaments, and tendons
  • Lessens chance of injury
  • Enhances posture, poise, and physique
  • Prevents osteoporosis

Heart and blood vessels

  • Lowers resting heart rate
  • Strengthens heart function
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves oxygen delivery throughout the body
  • Increases blood supply to muscles
  • Enlarges the arteries that provide blood to the heart muscle
  • Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Helps lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Raises levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol

Bodily processes

  • Improves immune function
  • Aids digestion and elimination
  • Increases endurance and energy levels
  • Increases insulin sensitivity
  • Promotes lean body mass; burns fat
  • Improves sexual function in both men and women

Mental processes

  • Provides a natural release from pent-up feelings
  • Helps reduce tension and anxiety
  • Improves mental outlook and self-esteem
  • Helps relieve moderate depression
  • Improves the ability to handle stress
  • Stimulates improved mental function
  • Induces relaxation and improves sleep
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Ben Kaminsky
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

If exercise is done regularly and at a moderate intensity, any woman can enjoy the tremendous benefits of optimal health, a normal weight, and sexy, ageless skin that is not rough and irritated. Moderate exercise challenges the cardiovascular system, detoxifies the body, builds muscle and bone strength, and keeps you stay flexible so your joints can move in full range of motion with aging. Moderate exercise also increases blood flow to the skin and helps to increase cell oxygenation, nourish skin tissue and remove toxins and cell debris.

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Dr. Dianne L. Zwicke, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Heart and lung fitness is the most important health reason for regular exercise. But regular exercise can also help you to:

  • Lose weight or maintain a desirable weight
  • Control blood cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes
  • Improve your mental outlook and physical endurance
  • Reduce stress
Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

The current recommendation is that we exercise moderately (walk briskly, bike, swim, or lift weights) for thirty minutes on most days of the week. Although the intensity and duration of a workout for optimal benefit are still being debated, it is clear that even this minimum amount has enormous health benefits and less than this minimum amount also has some benefits.

Disease risk reduction

  • Reduces high blood pressure
  • Controls weight Lowers a risk for a heart disease (Physically inactive people are twice as likely to develop a heart disease as people who are regularly active)
  • Lowers a risk for colon cancer and breast cancer
  • Keeps bones, muscles, and joints healthy, easing arthritis and reducing frailty and incidence of falls and osteoporosis Lowers blood glucose and a risk for type 2 diabetes

Quality of life

  • Improves mood and sleep
  • Relieves stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Boosts energy
  • Improves self-confidence
  • Makes you look and feel better
Dr. Edward Phillips
Physical Therapy Specialist

Strong evidence from hundreds of studies proves regular exercise strengthens your muscles, lungs, and heart. It lowers your risks for early death and serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid imbalances, colon and breast cancers, and metabolic syndrome (a complex health problem marked by having at least three of the following risk factors: a large waistline, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein [HDL] cholesterol, and trouble regulating blood sugar). Staying active boosts mental sharpness in older adults and helps prevent falls that can lead to debilitating fractures and compromise independence. Getting enough exercise helps you avoid gaining weight and may help with weight loss when combined with a healthy diet.

Less compelling research suggests exercise improves everyday abilities in older adults—that is, being able to walk up stairs or through a store as you do your shopping, heft grocery bags, rise from a chair without help, and perform a multitude of other activities that permit independence or bring joy to our lives. It may help keep you from regaining weight you've managed to lose and may chip away at abdominal obesity, which plays a role in many serious ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Some studies have found that staying active may lower risks for lung and endometrial cancers. Weight-bearing activities, which work against gravity, may boost bone density and lower risk for hip fracture. And, finally, exercising during the day may help you sleep better at night.

Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum
Integrative Medicine Specialist

Exercise has many beneficial effects. Beyond its overall effects on conditioning, weight loss, and decreased risk of heart disease and other degenerative diseases, exercise also raises endorphin levels. These are your body’s natural opioids and make you feel good (which is where the expression “runner’s high” literally comes from). In addition, exercise raises growth hormone. This is a critical hormone that drops as we get older. It is taken by many people to help them stay young. The problem is that it costs $12,000 a year to take growth hormone injections. Exercise is a much less expensive way to get the same effect. Other ways to raise growth hormone include getting deep sleep and great sex.

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If you can overcome the obstacles that leave your activewear gathering dust, regular physical activity provides an impressive array of health benefits, regardless of your size. Thirty minutes of moderate activity each day (or at least 4 or 5 days a week) can help to:

  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Prevent heart disease
  • Reduce risk of stroke
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Reduce total and visceral fat
  • Improve cardiovascular function
  • Reduce risk of colon cancer
  • Prevent osteoporosis
  • Reduce risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve health outcomes for those with diabetes
  • Reduce risk of depression, elevate mood
  • Support restful sleep
  • Reduce tension and increase energy

Take the RealAge Test!

Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon

After several months of regular exercise, you will definitely be noticing changes in your body. Exercises will seem easier, your clothes will fit differently and you will have more stamina for daily activity. You may notice, however, that while you were caring for your body, your brain is thinking more clearly, you are solving problems more easily (probably during your aerobic workouts) and you will feel the bliss of accomplishment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.