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.
Here are the top 10 ways regular exercise benefits your body and brain
1. Exercise can make you feel happier
Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
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
Additionally, exercise can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain.
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.
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.
2. Exercise can help with weight loss
Some studies have shown that inactivity is a major factor in weight gain and obesity.
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.
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.
3. Exercise is good for your muscles and bones
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.
This is because exercise helps release hormones that promote your muscles’ ability to absorb amino acids. This helps them grow and reduces their breakdown.
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.
Exercise also helps build bone density when you’re younger, in addition to helping prevent osteoporosis later in life.
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.
4. Exercise can increase your energy levels
Exercise can be a real energy booster for many people, including those with various medical conditions.
One older study found that 6 weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 people who had reported persistent fatigue.
Exercise can also significantly increase energy levels for people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and other health conditions.
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.
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.
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.
Additionally, exercise has been shown to increase energy levels in people with other conditions, such as cancer.
5. Exercise can reduce your risk of chronic disease
Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease .
Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, heart health, and body composition. It can also decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
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.
- Heart disease. Exercise reduces cardiovascular risk factors and is also a therapeutic treatment for people with cardiovascular disease.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hypertension: Participating in regular aerobic exercise can lower resting systolic BP 5–7 mmHg among people with hypertension.
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.
That’s why regular physical activity is recommended to reduce belly fat and decrease the risk of developing these conditions.
6. Exercise can help skin health
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.
In the same way, exercise can stimulate blood flow and induce skin cell adaptations that can help delay the appearance of skin aging.
The bottom line
Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health. Regular physical activity can increase the production of hormones that make you feel happier and help you sleep better.
It can also:
- improve your skin’s appearance
- help you lose weight and keep it off
- reduce the risk of chronic disease
- improve your sex life
And it doesn’t take much movement to make a big difference in your health.
If you aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity spread throughout the week, you’ll meet the Department of Health and Human Services’ activity guidelines for adults.
Moderate intensity aerobic activity is anything that gets your heart beating faster, like walking, cycling, or swimming. Activities like running or participating in a strenuous fitness class count for vigorous intensity.
Throw in at least 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms), and you’ll exceed the recommendations.
You can use weights, resistance bands, or your bodyweight to perform muscle-strengthening exercises. These include squats, push-ups, shoulder press, chest, press, and planks.
Whether you practice a specific sport or follow the guideline of 150 minutes of activity per week, you can inevitably improve your health in many ways.