The Top 10 Benefits of Regular Exercise
Exercise is defined as any movement that makes your muscles work and requires your body to burn calories.
There are many types of physical activity, including swimming, running, jogging, walking, and dancing, to name a few.
Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. It may even help you live longer (1Trusted Source).
Here are the top 10 ways regular exercise benefits your body and brain.
It produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity to the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression (3Trusted Source).
Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how intense your workout is. It seems that exercise can benefit your mood no matter the intensity of the physical activity.
In fact, in a study in 24 women diagnosed with depression, exercise of any intensity significantly decreased feelings of depression (4Trusted Source).
The effects of exercise on mood are so powerful that choosing to exercise (or not) even makes a difference over short periods of time.
One review of 19 studies found that active people who stopped exercising regularly experienced significant increases in symptoms of depression and anxiety, even after only a few weeks (5Trusted Source).
To understand the effect of exercise on weight reduction, it is important to understand the relationship between exercise and energy expenditure (spending).
Your body spends energy in three ways:
- digesting food
- maintaining body functions, like your heartbeat and breathing
While dieting, a reduced calorie intake will lower your metabolic rate, which can temporarily delay weight loss. On the contrary, regular exercise has been shown to increase your metabolic rate, which can burn more calories to help you lose weight (Trusted Source6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
Additionally, studies have shown that combining aerobic exercise with resistance training can maximize fat loss and muscle mass maintenance, which is essential for keeping the weight off and maintaining lean muscle mass (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
Exercise plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones.
Activities like weightlifting can stimulate muscle building when paired with adequate protein intake.
As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to an increased risk of injury. Practicing regular physical activity is essential to reducing muscle loss and maintaining strength as you age (14Trusted Source).
Some research suggests that high impact exercise (such as gymnastics or running) or odd impact sports (such as soccer and basketball) may help promote a higher bone density than no impact sports like swimming and cycling (16Trusted Source).
One older study found that 6 weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 people who had reported persistent fatigue (19).
In fact, exercise seems to be more effective at combating CFS than other treatments, including passive therapies like relaxation and stretching or no treatment at all (20Trusted Source).
And let’s not forget the fantastic heart and lung health benefits of exercise. Aerobic exercise boosts the cardiovascular system and improves lung health, which can significantly help with energy levels.
As you move more, your heart pumps more blood, delivering more oxygen to your working muscles. With regular exercise, your heart becomes more efficient and adept at moving oxygen into your blood, making your muscles more efficient (21Trusted Source).
Over time, this aerobic training results in less demand on your lungs, and it requires less energy to perform the same activities — one of the reasons you’re less likely to get short of breath during vigorous activity (22).
Additionally, exercise has been shown to increase energy levels in people with other conditions, such as cancer (23Trusted Source)
Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease (24Trusted Source).
Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, heart health, and body composition. It can also decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels (25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).
More specifically, exercise can help reduce or prevent the following chronic health conditions.
- Type 2 diabetes. Regular aerobic exercise may delay or prevent type 2 diabetes. It also has considerable health benefits for people with type 1 diabetes. Resistance training for type 2 diabetes includes improvements in fat mass, blood pressure, lean body mass, insulin resistance, and glycemic control (29).
- Heart disease. Exercise reduces cardiovascular risk factors and is also a therapeutic treatment for people with cardiovascular disease (30Trusted Source).
- Many types of cancer. Exercise can help reduce the risk of several cancers, including breast, colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, lung, liver, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, thyroid, gastric, and esophageal cancer (31Trusted Source).
- High cholesterol. Regular moderate intensity physical activity can increase HDL (good) cholesterol while maintaining or offsetting increases in LDL (bad) cholesterol. Research supports the theory that high intensity aerobic activity is needed to lower LDL levels (32Trusted Source).
- Hypertension: Participating in regular aerobic exercise can lower resting systolic BP 5–7 mmHG among people with hypertension (33).
In contrast, a lack of regular exercise — even in the short term — can lead to significant increases in belly fat, which may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (24Trusted Source).
Your skin can be affected by the amount of oxidative stress in your body.
Oxidative stress occurs when the body’s antioxidant defenses cannot completely repair the cell damage caused by compounds known as free radicals. This can damage the structure of the cells and negatively impact your skin.
Even though intense and exhaustive physical activity can contribute to oxidative damage, regular moderate exercise can actually increase your body’s production of natural antioxidants, which help protect cells (35Trusted Source, 36Trusted Source).
In the same way, exercise can stimulate blood flow and induce skin cell adaptations that can help delay the appearance of skin aging (37Trusted Source).
Exercise can improve brain function and protect memory and thinking skills.
To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. It can also stimulate the production of hormones that enhance the growth of brain cells.
Plus, the ability of exercise to prevent chronic disease can translate into benefits for your brain, since its function can be affected by these conditions (38Trusted Source).
Regular physical activity is especially important in older adults since aging — combined with oxidative stress and inflammation — promotes changes in brain structure and function (39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
Exercise has been shown to cause the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s vital for memory and learning, to grow in size, which may help improve mental function in older adults (39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source, 41Trusted Source).
Lastly, exercise has been shown to reduce changes in the brain that can contribute to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (42Trusted Source).
With regard to sleep quality, the energy depletion (loss) that occurs during exercise stimulates restorative processes during sleep (45Trusted Source).
Moreover, the increase in body temperature that occurs during exercise is thought to improve sleep quality by helping body temperature drop during sleep (46Trusted Source).
Many studies on the effects of exercise on sleep have reached similar conclusions.
One review of six studies found that participating in an exercise training program helped improve self-reported sleep quality and reduced sleep latency, which is the amount of time it takes to fall asleep (47Trusted Source).
One study conducted over 4 months found that both stretching and resistance exercise led to improvements in sleep for people with chronic insomnia (48Trusted Source).
Getting back to sleep after waking, sleep duration, and sleep quality improved after both stretching and resistance exercise. Anxiety was also reduced in the stretching group (48Trusted Source).
You can be flexible with the kind of exercise you choose. It appears that either aerobic exercise alone or aerobic exercise combined with resistance training can both improve sleep quality (51Trusted Source).
Although chronic pain can be debilitating, exercise can actually help reduce it (52Trusted Source).
In fact, for many years, the recommendation for treating chronic pain was rest and inactivity. However, recent studies show that exercise helps relieve chronic pain (53Trusted Source).
In fact, one review of several studies found that exercise can help those with chronic pain reduce their pain and improve their quality of life (53Trusted Source).
Several studies also show that exercise can help control pain associated with various health conditions, including chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia, and chronic soft tissue shoulder disorder, to name a few (53Trusted Source).
Engaging in regular exercise can strengthen the heart, improve blood circulation, tone muscles, and enhance flexibility, all of which can improve your sex life (57Trusted Source).
Interestingly enough, one study showed that regular exercise was associated with increased sexual function and desire in 405 postmenopausal women (60Trusted Source).
A review of 10 studies also found that exercising for at least 160 minutes per week over a 6-month period could help significantly improve erectile function in men (58Trusted Source).
What’s more, another study found that a simple routine of a 6-minute walk around the house helped 41 men reduce their erectile dysfunction symptoms by 71% (61Trusted Source).
Yet another study demonstrated that women with polycystic ovary syndrome, which can reduce sex drive, increased their sex drive with regular resistance training for 16 weeks (62Trusted Source
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