Why exercise is so good for your health


Exercise. It's something we all know we should do more of, but finding the motivation can be tough. Especially when you're balancing work, family, and other responsibilities.

But the truth is, making time for exercise provides enormous benefits for both your physical and mental health. From reducing your risk of chronic diseases to sharpening your thinking skills, exercise can transform your health in so many positive ways.

Here are the top reasons why exercise is so good for you, and how getting active can significantly improve your overall wellbeing.

Exercise Keeps Major Diseases at Bay

Exercise Keeps Major Diseases at Bay

Exercise helps prevent and manage many chronic diseases. In fact, regular physical activity is as effective as medication for many conditions.

What types of diseases can exercise help prevent? The list is extensive.

Physical activity reduces your risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Certain cancers including breast, colon and lung cancer

How does exercise produce these benefits?

Exercise helps control blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and body weight. It also raises your "good" HDL cholesterol. These factors all reduce your risk of chronic disease.

Exercise also helps improve circulation and boosts your heart's ability to pump blood more efficiently throughout your body. A stronger cardiovascular system makes your heart beat slower at rest.

Additionally, being active stimulates the release of certain hormones in your body that have anti-inflammatory effects. Chronic inflammation is linked to most diseases, so this can protect your body from many conditions.

Simply put, physical activity is one of the best preventive medicines out there. Just 150 minutes of moderate activity per week can significantly lower your risk of chronic disease.

Exercise Boosts Your Energy Levels

Have you ever felt completely drained at the end of a long workday? Maybe you can barely drag yourself off the couch some evenings. A lack of exercise can definitely cause low energy levels.

Here's why: when you're inactive, less blood and oxygen circulate within your tissues. This leaves your muscles deprived of oxygen and your overall energy stores depleted.

Physical activity is the best remedy for boosting energy. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently.

Being active on a regular basis also strengthens your heart muscle so it can pump more blood with each beat. This improves blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout your body, providing an energizing effect.

Most people report having significantly more energy when they exercise regularly, even if only for 30 minutes a day. Physical activity can be a cure for fatigue and make you feel more alert.

So if you're constantly feeling tired and sluggish, get moving. Exercise is a natural and healthy energy booster.

Exercise Can Improve Your Mood and Reduce Anxiety

Need an instant mood lift or stress reliever? Go for a walk, swim, bike ride or pop in an exercise video. Being active can give an immediate boost to your outlook.

Why does exercise have this effect? Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, chemicals in your brain that elevate your mood. Endorphins also act as natural pain relievers.

Additionally, exercise reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. At healthy levels, cortisol isn't necessarily bad. But chronic stress can cause cortisol to remain elevated, which can damage your health in several ways.

Physical activity is a proven treatment for anxiety. Studies show exercise can be just as effective as medication in reducing symptoms.

Here are some of the ways regular exercise helps ease anxiety:

  • It serves as a distraction from worrying thoughts.
  • It increases confidence as your fitness improves.
  • It reduces muscle tension that often accompanies anxiety.
  • It improves sleep and self-esteem.

So if you're feeling down or worrying too much, get moving. A quick workout can provide an immediate mental lift.

Exercise Keeps Your Brain Sharp

Want to boost your thinking and memory skills? Make exercise a habit. Physical activity has a profound, beneficial effect on your brain function.

Here are some of the ways regular exercise improves your mental acuity:

  • It increases blood flow to the brain, supplying more oxygen and nutrients. This spurs the growth of new brain cells.
  • It stimulates the release of growth factors chemicals that aid the growth of brain cells.
  • It elevates levels of brain chemicals involved in learning and memory.
  • It shrinks the risk of age-related brain tissue loss.

Studies demonstrate that aerobic exercise can significantly improve focus, planning, reasoning and memory — even reversing age-related decline in cognitive function.

Exercise enhances the connections between brain cells called synapses. Stronger synapses allow for faster and more efficient nerve signaling.

Physical activity also activates genes involved in producing dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters that regulate mood and thought processes.

So if you want to boost your mental abilities, make time for exercise. Even short, intense workouts can sharpen thinking skills.

Exercise Helps You Sleep Better

Do you regularly have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? You're not alone. Around 50-70 million American adults suffer from sleep disorders.

Lack of exercise is one factor that can interfere with quality sleep. Sedentary habits lead to poor sleep in several ways:

  • They produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which disrupts sleep.
  • They cause inflexibility, muscle tension and restricted breathing, also interfering with sleep.
  • They result in lower body temperature, which promotes sleepiness.

Conversely, regular exercise helps normalize your sleep patterns. Here's how:

  • It raises body temperature slightly, which causes sleepiness several hours later.
  • It reduces anxiety and lowers cortisol levels that interfere with sleep.
  • It promotes deep, restorative REM sleep.
  • It improves breathing patterns, resulting in better sleep.

Aim for 20-30 minutes of moderate activity daily for optimal sleep benefits. But even a brief workout is better than none.

Exercise is healthy insomnia medicine!

Exercise Supports Your Immune System

Ever notice how you tend to catch fewer colds when you exercise regularly? That's because physical activity gives your immune system a boost.

Being inactive is linked to increased risk of infections. Lack of exercise may impair immune function in several ways:

  • It results in fewer natural killer cells that destroy viruses.
  • It reduces antibodies and lymphocytes (white blood cells).
  • It causes inflammation, which can suppress immunity.

Conversely, regular moderate exercise supports immune system health. Here are some of the benefits:

  • It increases circulation, which enhances the travel of immune cells through your body.
  • It reduces chronic inflammation.
  • It flushes bacteria from airways and lungs.
  • It causes positive changes in antibodies and white blood cells.

A stronger immune system means you'll get fewer colds, viruses and other bugs. So if you want to avoid seasonal illnesses, keep exercising.

Just don't overdo it. Very long or intense exercise may temporarily suppress immunity. Moderation is key.

Exercise Helps You Manage Your Weight

Looking to shed some pounds? Exercise needs to be part of your weight loss strategy. Physical activity is a powerful way to burn extra calories and trim excess body fat.

To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Regular exercise makes it easier to maintain a calorie deficit.

Here are some of the ways exercise aids weight control:

  • It burns calories, leading to weight loss over time. Thirty minutes of brisk walking torches 200-300 calories.
  • It reduces appetite signals in the brain, curbing overeating.
  • It builds metabolism-revving muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat.
  • It lowers body fat by stimulating fat breakdown.
  • It reduces chronic inflammation linked to obesity.

For best results, combine exercise with healthy eating. Focus on whole, minimally processed foods and cut back on sugar and refined carbs.

Weight loss aside, exercise provides many other obesity-related benefits. Physical activity reduces blood pressure, insulin resistance, triglycerides and other heart disease risk factors exacerbated by excess weight.

Exercise Strengthens Your Bones and Muscles

By now it's clear exercise provides whole-body health benefits. It's also one of the most effective ways to strengthen your musculoskeletal system.

Regular physical activity is essential for building and maintaining strong muscles and bones. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • It stimulates new bone tissue growth, improving bone strength.
  • It increases muscle mass and preserves strength as you age.
  • It reduces age-related muscle loss called sarcopenia.
  • It prevents osteoporosis by enhancing bone density.
  • It improves balance, mobility and agility, reducing injury risk.

To improve bone health, weight-bearing and resistance exercises are most effective. Try activities like walking, jogging, tennis or strength training.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity daily. Or break it up into a few 10 minute sessions if that's easier to fit into your day.

As a bonus, stronger muscles and bones make everyday activities like getting up from a chair or lifting groceries much easier.

The Takeaway

Regular exercise provides astonishing benefits for both physical and mental health. It reduces your risk of chronic disease, boosts energy and mood, sharpens your thinking skills, helps you sleep better, supports immunity, aids weight control and strengthens bones and muscles.

Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking. Or 75 minutes weekly of vigorous exercise such as jogging.

Even small amounts of exercise are beneficial if you're mostly sedentary. Work your way up gradually and focus on finding activities you enjoy.

The health improvements are well worth making exercise a lifelong habit.

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