Exercise has many healing and preventative benefits for physical and mental health. Any amount of exercise, even if it falls below the proposed amount, is likely to bring benefits.
Exercise benefits both mental and physical health. According to the National Institute on Aging, studies show that “taking it easy” is risky.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that “regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health,” and everyone can benefit.
As early as 1953, a groundbreaking epidemiological study in The Lancet showed that coronary heart disease rates were lower among physically active London bus managers than among less active bus drivers.
According to a recent review, researchers have linked physical inactivity to more than 40 chronic conditions since this early report.
This article looks at some specific benefits of regular exercise for mental and physical health.
1. Improves cardiovascular health
Regular exercise is good for heart health. Potential benefits include:
- Improving cholesterol levels
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing the risk of heart attacks and heart disease
- Reducing the risk of stroke
Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is an important benefit of exercise.
A person can start to experience the benefits of regular exercise right away, although the CDC recommends that adults do 150 minutes a week with at least moderate intensity.
The benefits continue to increase as people are more active.
2. Helps with diabetes management
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), different types of exercise may benefit people with or at risk of type 2 diabetes by:
- Improving blood sugar control
- Reducing cardiovascular risk factors
- Weight loss support
- Supporting overall wellbeing
- Delaying or preventing the development of type 2 diabetes
Exercise may also benefit people with type 1 diabetes by:
- Improving cardiovascular fitness
- Strengthening muscles
- Improving insulin sensitivity
The ADA says, “Physical activity and exercise should be recommended and prescribed to all people with diabetes as part of managing blood sugar control and overall health.”
3. Reduces risk of some types of cancer
The National Cancer Institute states that “there is strong evidence that higher levels of physical activity are associated with a lower risk” for the following types of cancer:
- large intestine
- chest bladder
- uterus (endometrium)
For example, an analysis of 26 breast, prostate and colorectal cancer studies carried out in 2016 found a 37% reduction in cancer-specific mortality when comparing the most active patients with the least active.
There may also be a link between physical activity and a reduced risk of other types of cancer, but the evidence is less clear.
4. Improves mental health and mood
Physical activity can help reduce anxiety, and this benefit can start right after a moderate or intensive training session.
longer term, regular exercise can also help reduce the risk of depression.
5. Improves bone health
Regular exercise can help prevent the loss of bone density that comes with aging, says the CDC.
Moderate or vigorous muscle strengthening and aerobic exercise, as well as bone-strengthening programs, can help.
Real benefits for bone density start with just about 90 minutes of exercise per week.
Stress exercises such as walking and dancing as well as resistance exercises are particularly good for bone health.
6. Helps build and strengthen
Muscle strength training helps build strong muscles, which is especially important for adults as they get older.
7. Increases the chance of living longer
“Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity delays death for all reasons,” according to a 2018 report from the Ministry of Health and Human Services.
Even better, the benefits accumulate with modest amounts of moderate to vigorous exercise. The biggest jump occurs when a person goes from “inactive” to “insufficiently active.”
8. Helps with
Maintaining a moderate weight According to the CDC, there is good evidence that exercise can help maintain weight over time, although it may take more than recommended to do so.
In general, losing weight and then holding off also requires a healthy, balanced diet.
It’s easy to overestimate the number of calories that exercise burns.
The CDC gives a few examples of the calories that a person weighing 154 pounds would burn during an hour of activity for:
- Hiking: 370 calories
- light gardening: 330 calories
- Run or jog at 5 miles per hour: 590 calories
9. Can help with chronic pain
In 2017, a review of Cochrane Reviews, which systematically examine the evidence for specific interventions, examined whether exercise and physical activity help with chronic pain in adults.
The study concluded that a definitive answer would require more research.
The authors note that while the quality of evidence was generally low, “there is some evidence of improved physical function and a variable effect on both psychological function and quality of life.”
None of the interventions appeared to cause any damage. The authors of the review found limited evidence of an improvement in pain severity.
10. Helps falls for older adults
According to the CDC, physical activity, which includes more than one type, such as aerobic exercise, balance training, or muscle strengthening, may help reduce both the risk of falling and the risk of injury from falls in older adults.
11. Helps you sleep
Exercise helps people sleep, and some of the benefits can start right away. Regular exercise can help by:
- Increasing sleep efficiency, improving sleep quality
- and deep sleep
- Reducing daytime sleepiness
- Reducing the need for sleep medication
12. Helps with osteoporosis
Because exercise can improve bone health, it can treat or prevent osteoporosis.
Regular exercise also helps prevent falls and fractures associated with muscle weakness and balance disorders, which is particularly important for people with osteoporosis.
13. Improves brain function and reduces risk of dementia
Regular exercise can reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in adults.
For people over 50 years of age, exercise also improves certain aspects of cognition, such as processing speed.
A study from 2016 reviewed the findings that suggest that physical activity, cognitive activity (such as learning new skills), and a Mediterranean diet “brain health” in older adults.
The results suggest that these behaviors, possibly in combination, may help keep the cognitive manifestations of aging and neurodegenerative diseases in check.
Regular exercise can reduce the risk of many serious illnesses, improve mental health and mood, and extend lifespan. Movement benefits everyone.
Some benefits come from a very small increase in physical activity for people who are currently inactive.
Even if a person is far from reaching recommended weekly activity levels, these first small steps are important and worthwhile.