Whether you’re trying to manage chronic disease or you’re simply health-conscious, you probably don’t have to be convinced of the health benefits of exercise.
Exercise is one of the aspects of maintaining your health that won’t ever go out of style and likely won’t change, unlike fad diets and controversial nutrition topics.
You likely are aware that exercise is good for your health, but do you know why? We’ll look at just a few of the specific benefits of exercise below.
What counts as exercise?
You might think of exercise as going for a run or lifting weights at the gym. There is much more to what counts as exercise, though! Many things you already enjoy likely count as exercise.
Things that increase your heart rate, breathing rate, and work your muscles can be counted as exercise.
Some things are considered light exercise like going on a leisurely walk or working in your garden. Things like bike riding, jogging, and non-competitive swimming are typically considered moderate-intensity activities. Vigorous physical activity would include sprinting, jumping rope, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
Target heart rate
One way to determine the intensity of your workouts is to use your target heart rate. To find your target heart rate, you need to first calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
Your target heart rate is between 50-85% of your maximum heart rate. (This target will vary depending on your fitness level and other health conditions, of course.)
That means that if you’re 50 years old (maximum heart rate of 170), exercise should cause your heart rate to fall between 85 (50%) and 145 beats (85%) per minute.
10 physical health benefits of exercise
1. Lower diabetes risk
Getting regular physical activity helps improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin and helps reverse insulin resistance. A single bout of exercise can improve insulin sensitivity for up to 16 hours afterward!
2. Fight inflammation
Chronic low-grade inflammation contributes to the aging process and increases the risk of chronic disease in both young and older people. Exercise helps fight inflammation, a leading cause of several types of chronic disease like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Exercise helps combat inflammation by reducing adipose tissue (fat tissue) inflammation and increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines, which are types of proteins involved in your immune system response.
3. Improve heart health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Physical activity can reduce your risk of heart disease by promoting healthy cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure, and fighting inflammation. Physical activity also improves blood flow which benefits your cardiovascular health.
4. Boost bone density
Low bone density is called osteoporosis and is more prevalent in women than men. Older adults are more likely to develop osteoporosis than younger people, but it can impact other age groups due to genetic factors.
Certain types of exercises can boost your bone density which reduces your risk of fractures. Weight-bearing exercises like walking and resistance training seem to carry the greatest benefit compared to non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming.
5. Support a healthy immune system
Regular, moderate physical activity helps strengthen your immune system. Physical activity is correlated with an improved immune system response and lower incidences of infections.
Research shows that 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise is beneficial to your immune system. High-intensity exercise of a long duration can hinder your immune function and cause upper respiratory infections.
Interestingly, vigorous physical activity can increase the number of pro-inflammatory cytokines compared to moderate exercise, further supporting the fact that moderate-intensity exercise is more advantageous to your immune function than vigorous exercise.
6. Improve strength and balance
Loss of balance and coordination is especially problematic for older people, which increases their risk of falls.
Strength training, including weight lifting and resistance training, helps promote lean muscle mass and boosts strength. The stronger your muscles are, the better they can support your body and keep you balanced.
7. Weight management
Exercise burns energy and fat to provide your body with fuel. That’s why regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight or promote weight loss.
To lose a pound of fat, your body needs to have a calorie deficit of around 3,500 calories. You can achieve this calorie deficit by eating less, exercising more, or a combination of both.
8. Promote healthy pregnancy
You shouldn’t stop exercising if you become pregnant. There are several benefits of exercise during pregnancy, including reducing your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean birth (C-section).
Regular physical activity can also help reduce pregnancy-related aches and pains, constipation, and help maintain your physical fitness during pregnancy.
9. Naturally boost testosterone levels
Weight lifting is especially beneficial for boosting testosterone levels. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) may also help. Endurance exercises like running for hours can have a negative impact on testosterone levels.
10. Reduce arthritis symptoms
Though it might seem counterintuitive, exercise is crucial for managing arthritis. Some of the benefits of exercise for people with arthritis include improved joint mobility, strengthened muscles supporting your joints, reduced pain, and better energy levels.
10 mental health benefits of exercise
1. Improved focus
You might have a difficult time focusing on tasks due to stress, or maybe you have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Regardless of the cause, exercise can help improve your ability to focus. That’s because exercise increases your brain’s production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which help you focus.
2. Better mood
One of the primary benefits of exercise on mental health is its ability to boost your mood. Exercise increases levels of endorphins which are hormones that promote a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing.
3. Better self-esteem
When you’re in a better mood, you’re more likely to feel good about yourself. Taking care of yourself in the form of regular physical activity can also boost your self-esteem.
If you’re not convinced, a study on 264 adults found a link between physical activity and increased self-esteem as well as improved body image.
4. Improvement in anxiety symptoms
Many people suffer from anxiety, whether it’s generalized anxiety, social anxiety, or another type.
Exercise can help fight anxiety by boosting endorphins and serotonin levels, which are hormones that can influence anxiety symptoms. Regular exercise has been scientifically proven to help symptoms of anxiety.
5. Fights depression
Exercise is a natural way to improve your mood and fight depression. According to Harvard University, exercise can be as effective as antidepressants for some people.
Exercise helps with depression because of its ability to increase feel-good hormones like endorphins and serotonin.
6. Higher stress resilience
We all have stress in our lives, both positive and negative. While some level of stress is normal and even healthy, it can wreak havoc on your mental health if your stress levels go unchecked.
One of the benefits of exercise is that it helps reduce cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. Exercise also lowers your sensitivity to stress. That means you’ll likely be more resilient to future stressors if you exercise regularly.
7. Better sleep
Exercise can help improve both sleep quality and duration. However, vigorous exercise too close to bedtime might keep you awake because it raises your heart rate and stimulates your nervous system.
8. Tap into creativity
Exercise stimulates certain parts of your brain, including areas responsible for your creativity. Being in a good mood can also help your creativity levels.
A study concluded that exercise positively impacts both mood and creativity levels.
9. Be more productive
When you’re feeling more energized and positive, thanks to the feel-good exercise hormones, you’re more likely to tackle your to-do list. On the other hand, feeling fatigued, stressed, and being in a bad mood can make it hard to motivate yourself to get things done.
Employers value the impact exercise has on their employees’ productivity. Some employers encourage physical activity by providing free gym memberships and allowing breaks for physical activity for their employees.
10. Better memory
According to Harvard University, “many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory are larger in volume in people who exercise than in people who don’t.”
If you’re looking for a good reason (or twenty of them) to exercise, you don’t have to look far. Exercise is a natural mood booster that translates into several other mental health benefits.
Regular physical activity also protects you against some of the most common types of chronic disease like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Regular, consistent exercise is the best way to gain these health benefits. Finding an activity that you enjoy and that increases your heart rate will help you reap the numerous benefits of exercise.