- Get Motivated to Exercise Center
- 7 Most Effective Exercises Pictures
- 10 Benefits of Walking
- How to Build a Better Butt Slideshow
Benefits of Exercise
Need a reason to work out? Here are 7 to start
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
What if someone told you that a thinner, healthier, and longer life was within your grasp? Sound too good to be true? According to a wealth of research, exercise is the silver bullet for a better quality of life.
Not only does regular exercise aid in weight loss, it reduces your risk for several chronic diseases and conditions. Finding activities that you enjoy and that become part of your daily routine is the key to a long and healthy life.
The list of health benefits is impressive, and the requirements are relatively simple -- just do it.
Ward Off Disease
Research has confirmed that any amount of exercise, at any age, is beneficial. And, in general, the more you do, the greater the benefits. The National Academy of Sciences has recommended that everyone strive for a total of an hour per day of physical activity. Sounds like a lot, but the hour can be made up of several shorter bursts of activity (it can be walking, gardening, even heavy housecleaning) done throughout the day.
Physical activity is an essential part of any weight-loss program, to maximize your fat loss while keeping valuable muscle mass. But exercise has many other health and longevity benefits. It can help prevent or improve these conditions:
1. Heart Disease.
Regular activity strengthens your heart muscle; lowers blood pressure; increases "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins or HDLs) and lowers "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins or LDLs); enhances blood flow; and helps your heart function more efficiently. All of these benefits reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Researchers at Duke University suggest that the amount of physical activity, rather than its intensity, has the biggest impact on improving blood lipids (cholesterol). According to The New England Journal of Medicine, these researchers also found that any exercise is better than none -- although more is better.
3. Type II Diabetes.
This disease is increasing at alarming rates -- by 62% since 1990 -- and 17 million Americans now have it. Physical activity can enhance weight loss and help prevent and/or control this condition. Losing weight can increase insulin sensitivity, improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and reduce blood pressure -- all of which are very important to the health of people with diabetes.
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Frank Hu, MD, of the Harvard School of Public Health found that a brisk walk for one hour daily could reduce the risk of type II diabetes by 34%.
Overweight and obese conditions can be prevented or treated with exercise along with a healthy diet. Activity helps to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass, thus improving your body's ability to burn calories. The combination of reduced calories and daily exercise is the ticket to weight loss. And controlling obesity is critical, as it is a major risk factor for many diseases. Lowering your body mass index (BMI) is a sure way to reduce your risk of dying early and to live a healthier life.
5. Back Pain.
Weight-bearing exercise (such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing, or lifting weights) strengthens bone formation and helps prevent the osteoporosis or bone loss often seen in women after menopause. Combine a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D with regular weight-bearing exercise for maximum results.
According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, data from the Nurses' Health Study showed that women who walked four or more hours per week had 41% fewer hip fractures than those who walked less than an hour a week.
Latest Exercise & Fitness News
Daily Health News
7. Psychological Benefits.
Improved self-esteem is one of the top benefits of regular physical activity. While exercising, your body releases chemicals called endorphins that can improve your mood and the way you feel about yourself. The feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as "euphoric" and is accompanied by an energizing outlook. Exercise can help you cope with stress and ward off depression and anxiety.
And these are just a few of the ways exercise improves your health. Studies have suggested it can also help with certain types of cancer, improve immune function, and more.
Putting It All Together: Exercise and a Healthy Diet
Exercise alone produces modest weight loss; when combined with a reduced-calorie diet, the effects are much more impressive.
In a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that people who exercised regularly and ate a healthy, modest-calorie diet lost weight and improved cardiorespiratory fitness regardless of the length or intensity of their workouts.
Another study published in JAMA showed that it is never too late to reap the benefits of physical activity. Sedentary women 65 years and older who began walking a mile a day cut their rates of death from all causes by 50%.
If exercise is so good for us, why aren't people doing it?
Some 64% of men and 72% of women fail to fit in activity on a daily basis, according to data from the 2000 National Health Interview Survey. Americans today are no more active than they were a decade ago.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a combination of aerobic exercise (the type that makes you breathe harder, like walking or jogging) for cardiovascular conditioning; strength training (like lifting weights or calisthenics) for muscle toning, and stretching to improve your range of motion.
Strive for doing all three types, but remember that any exercise is better than nothing. Here are some easy ways to work physical activity into your life:
- Adopt a dog and take it for walks every day.
- Do things the old-fashioned way -- get up and change the television channel; open the garage door manually; use a push lawnmower.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk briskly whenever you can.
- Minimize use of your car; walk to destinations within a mile.
- Take up tennis or any other game or sport you enjoy.
- Join a gym or health club.
Next time you are tempted to skip exercising, keep these wonderful health benefits in mind and remember, every little bit helps. You may not feel up to a rigorous workout, but how about a walk in the neighborhood?
Don't pass up a chance of a lifetime -- that is, a longer and healthier one.
Originally published Jan. 27, 2004.
Medically updated Dec. 9, 2004.
SOURCES: The New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 7, 2002. Stroke, Sept. 19, 2003. Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 16, 2001. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 13, 2002; Sept. 10, 2003; May 14, 2003.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top Benefits of Exercise Related Articles
Cholesterol SlideshowDo you know the different cholesterol levels and what they mean? Learn the alphabet soup of cholesterol testing: LDL, HDL, good, bad, and triglycerides. Pictures show tests, treatments, and critical foods from eggs to avocados.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) Overview
Congestive heart failure (CHF) refers to a condition in which the heart loses the ability to function properly. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, myocarditis, and cardiomyopathies are just a few potential causes of congestive heart failure.
Signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure may include fatigue, breathlessness, palpitations, angina, and edema. Physical examination, patient history, blood tests, and imaging tests are used to diagnose congestive heart failure.
Treatment of heart failure consists of lifestyle modification and taking medications to decrease fluid in the body and ease the strain on the heart. The prognosis of a patient with congestive heart failure depends on the stage of the heart failure and the overall condition of the individual.
Diabetes Foot ProblemsLearn more about diabetes related foot problems. For people with diabetes, too much glucose in the blood can cause serious foot complications such as nerve damage, infection, and ulcers. Find tips for proper foot care to help prevent serious complications.
Diabetic Diet for Type 2 DiabetesA type 2 diabetes diet or a type 2 diabetic diet is important for blood sugar (glucose) control in people with diabetes to prevent complications of diabetes. There are a variety of type 2 diabetes diet eating plans such as the Mediterranean diet, Paleo diet, ADA Diabetes Diet, and vegetarian diets.Learn about low and high glycemic index foods, what foods to eat, and what foods to avoid if you have type 2 diabetes.
Exercise QuizTake our Exercise and Fitness Quiz and learn to maximize your fitness level with simple exercises that do not require major changes to your lifestyle.
Heart Disease SlideshowHeart disease prevention includes controlling risk factors like diet, exercise, and stress. Heart disease symptoms in women may differ from men. Use a heart disease risk calculator to determine your heart attack risk.
Heart Disease QuizTake our Heart Disease Quiz to get answers and facts about high cholesterol, atherosclerosis prevention, and the causes, symptoms, treatments, testing, and procedures for medically broken hearts.
IBD SlideshowWhat is inflammatory bowel disease? IBD can include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Learn more about testing, treatments, and the home care needed to manage inflammatory bowel disease.
Liver disease can be cause by a variety of things including infection (hepatitis), diseases, for example, gallstones, high cholesterol or triglycerides, blood flow obstruction to the liver, and toxins (medications and chemicals). Symptoms of liver disease depends upon the cause and may include nausea, vomiting, upper right abdominal pain, and jaundice. Treatment depends upon the cause of the liver disease.
MigraineMigraine headache is a type of headache associated with a sensitivity to light, smells, or sounds, eye pain, severe pounding on one side of the head, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. The exact cause of migraine headaches is not known. Triggers for migraine headaches include certain foods, stress, hormonal changes, strong stimuli (loud noises), and oversleeping. Treatment guidelines for migraines include medicine, pain management, diet changes, avoiding foods that trigger migraines, staying hydrated, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly. Prevention of migraine triggers include getting regular exercise, drinking water daily, reducing stress, and avoiding trigger foods.
Normal Blood Sugar Levels in Adults with Diabetes
People with diabetes can manage and prevent low or high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia) by keeping a log of your blood sugar levels when you are eating and fasting and eat foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar, for example, buttered potatoes, candy, sugary desserts, and fatty foods.
Blood tests, for example, the hemoglobin A1c test (A1c test) and urinalysis can diagnose the type of diabetes the person has. Diabetes during pregnancy, called gestational diabetes, should be managed by you and your OB/GYN or another healthcare professional.
Extremely high levels of blood glucose in the blood can be dangerous and life threatening if you have type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes.
If you or someone that you are with has extremely high blood glucose levels, call 911 or go to your nearest Urgent Care or Emergency Department immediately.
To prevent and manage high blood glucose levels in people with diabetes keep a log of your blood sugar levels, eat foods that are high in carbohydrates sugar, for example, buttered potatoes, candy, sugary deserts, and fatty foods that you can share with your doctor and other healthcare professionals.
Obesity (Weight Loss)Obesity is the state of being well above one's normal weight. A person has traditionally been considered to be obese if they are more than 20% over their ideal weight. That ideal weight must take into account the person's height, age, sex, and build.
Parkinson's DiseaseParkinson's disease is a slowly progressive neurological disease characterized by a fixed inexpressive face, a tremor at rest, slowing of voluntary movements, a gait with short accelerating steps, peculiar posture and muscle weakness, caused by degeneration of an area of the brain called the basal ganglia, and by low production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Most patients are over 50, but at least 10 percent are under 40.
Staphylococcus or staph is a group of bacteria that can cause a multitude of diseases. Staph infections can cause illness directly by infection or indirectly by the toxins they produce. Symptoms and signs of a staph infection include redness, swelling, pain, and drainage of pus. Minor skin infections are treated with an antibiotic ointment, while more serious infections are treated with intravenous antibiotics.
Triglyceride TestTriglycerides are a common form of fat that we digest. Triglycerides are the main ingredient in animal fats and vegetable oils. Elevated levels of triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, fatty liver disease, and pancreatitis. Elevated levels of triglycerides are also associated with diseases like diabetes, kidney disease, and medications (for example, diuretics, birth control pills, and beta blockers). Dietary changes, and medication if necessary can help lower triglyceride blood levels.
Upper Respiratory InfectionAn upper respiratory infection is a contagious infection of the structures of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx. Common causes of an upper respiratory infection include bacteria and viruses such as rhinoviruses, group A streptococci, influenza, respiratory syncytial, whooping cough, diphtheria, and Epstein-Barr. Examples of symptoms of upper respiratory infection include sneezing, sore throat, cough, fever, and nasal congestion. Treatment of upper respiratory infections are based upon the cause. Generally, viral infections are treated symptomatically with over-the-counter (OTC) medication and home remedies.