There are many benefits of exercise that go beyond weight loss. For example, research shows that regular physical activity can improve mental and physical health and boost mood. Indeed, if exercise were a pill, everyone would want to take it because of the fantastic health benefits it can provide.
Benefits of Exercise Review
There are many ways regular physical activity can improve your health.
Physical Health Benefits of Exercise
Your tissues and organs need oxygen to function properly, and research shows that aerobic exercise significantly oxygenates the entire body.
For example, there is scientific evidence that exercising at the maximum amount of oxygen your body uses while working as hard as it can (VO2 max) may decrease the risk of developing numerous lifestyle-induced diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and breast, colon, and prostate cancer. (1)
Another reason high-intensity aerobic activity may help prevent disease is that it immunity. (2)
Here are a few specific benefits of exercise.
Exercise Helps Your Body Manage Blood Glucose Levels
Elevated blood glucose levels can lead to type 2 diabetes, a condition that can ravage every organ in the body if left untreated. Unfortunately, an increasing number of Americans are affected by blood sugar issues. According to the CDC, “34 million Americans have diabetes…and 88 million American adults have prediabetes.” (3)
Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are consistently higher than expected but not yet high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Though it may sound like a minor issue, prediabetes can still damage organs and cause health complications. Additionally, approximately 25% of those with prediabetes will develop full-blown diabetes in three to five years. The percentage is thought to increase over the long term significantly. (4)
Research suggests that the health benefits of exercise regarding diabetes are considerable. For example, multiple studies show that structured exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing excess glucose in the bloodstream. In addition, a particular type of cardio exercise called “high-intensity interval training” can help burn excess glucose. All of this may prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. (5, 6)
Regular Exercise May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, killing more than 650,000 people each year. (7)
There is scientific evidence that regular cardiovascular exercise — i.e., moderate-intensity aerobic activity — supports heart health by strengthening the heart muscle and improving circulation. Moreover, exercise can help improve many risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stress.
For example, studies show that vigorous exercise like running can significantly lower cholesterol levels and that endurance exercise lowers triglycerides. (8) Other studies focusing on hypertension found the blood-pressure-lowering effects of exercise training are “clinically significant.” (9) And finally, multiple studies suggest that exercise and physical activity are great stress relievers! (10)
Exercise Can Defend Against Weight Gain and Obesity
Yes, exercise can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, but not necessarily for its thermic effect. Though exercise indeed burns calories, it takes nearly two hours of walking or a little over an hour of jogging to burn off a Big Mac. (11) So, exercise isn’t the best weight control strategy if you’re relying on calorie burn alone.
But regular exercise does something much more important for weight: it increases insulin and leptin sensitivity. (12) Insulin sensitivity helps regulate blood sugar levels, and leptin sensitivity helps regulate appetite, a one-two punch for weight control.
Regular Physical Activity Improves Your Sleep
Sleep plays a crucial role in mental health. The body repairs tissue during sleep, and it also maintains the hormonal balance essential for proper body function and weight control. Though adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, 35.2% get less than that. (13, 14)
Fortunately, regular physical activity or structured exercise may help you get the quality shut-eye you need. Exercise has long been associated with better-quality sleep, and various clinical research trials support this. For example, in a study published in the Sleep Medicine journal, researchers concluded that: “Aerobic physical activity with sleep hygiene education is an effective treatment approach to improve sleep quality, mood, and quality of life in older adults with chronic insomnia.” (15)
The exact link between exercise and sleep is unknown, but research shows that aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow-wave, aka deep sleep, you get. Deep sleep is crucial for brain and body rejuvenation. (16)
Exercise Helps You Live Longer
Numerous research studies suggest that regular exercise may significantly reduce the risk of dying from any cause.
In a 2020 meta-analysis of earlier studies on “the association of physical activity, sedentary time, and total mortality,” researchers discovered that: “People…who exercised moderately for about 11 minutes a day, were significantly less likely to have died prematurely than people who moved less, even if all of them belonged to the group that also sat the most.” (17)
Though 11 minutes is beneficial for longevity, researchers found that about 35 minutes of brisk walking or other moderate-intensity physical activity created the most significant improvement in lifespan, regardless of the amount of sitting time. (18, 19)
Mental Health Benefits
Some of the benefits of exercise also include improved mental health.
Physical Activity Improves Mood
Exercise is associated with improved mood, but it has been challenging to identify a causal relationship between the two. In other words, it is difficult to know whether physical activity improved mood or whether people move less when they’re sad or depressed.
But in 2019, researchers finally identified a causal relationship between exercise and depression. Using an activity tracking device, researchers witnessed a 26% decrease in the odds of becoming depressed with each significant increase in physical activity. (20) The increase in physical activity needed to reduce the risk of depression is equivalent to 15 minutes of running or an hour of moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking. (21)
But if you want to boost your mood, try to pick up your pace. Research shows that during high-intensity exercise, your body releases “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins that provide the “runners high” that athletes describe. (22)
Exercise Can Help Keep Your Mind Sharp
Strong scientific evidence suggests that exercise and general physical activity may boost brain function and delay cognitive decline.
A 2015 study found that concentration was significantly increased after 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise compared with concentration without exercise. Conversely, sedentary behavior was associated with poor visual attention and slower task-switching ability. This study also showed that “cardiorespiratory fitness (volume of maximum oxygen consumption) was positively associated with reasoning-related cognitive function.” (23)
The positive effect of cardiorespiratory fitness on cognition makes sense because moderate – to high-intensity exercise significantly increases blood flow, thereby flooding the brain with rejuvenating oxygen. (24)
And finally, exercise has been shown to reverse age-related cognitive decline in mice. The area of the brain most affected is the hippocampus, responsible for memory, learning, and other cognitive processes. (25) And in humans, a large-scale meta-analysis suggests that regular physical activity protects against cognitive decline as occurs in dementia. (26)
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