Regular physical activity is an important part of effective weight control. It helps to control your weight by using excess calories that otherwise would be stored as fat. Exercise also helps prevent many diseases and improve your overall health.
Your weight is determined by the number of calories you eat each day minus what your body uses. Everything you eat contains calories , and everything you do uses calories, including sleeping, breathing, and digesting food. Any physical activity in addition to what you normally do will burn those extra calories.
Balancing the number of calories you expend through exercise and physical activity with the calories you eat will help you achieve your desired weight. The key to successful weight control and improved overall health is making physical activity a part of your daily routine.
What Are the Health Benefits of Exercise?
Research consistently shows that regular exercise, combined with healthy eating, is the most efficient and healthful way to control your weight.
In addition to helping to control your weight, research shows that regular physical activity can reduce your risk for several diseases and conditions and improve your overall quality of life. Regular exercise can help prevent:
- Heart disease and stroke. Daily physical activity can help prevent heart disease and stroke by strengthening your heart muscle, lowering your blood pressure, raising your HDL ("good" cholesterol) and lowering LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), improving blood flow, and increasing your heart's working capacity.
- High blood pressure. Regular exercise reduces blood pressure in people with high blood pressure (hypertension).
- Diabetes. By reducing body fat, physical activity can help to prevent and control type 2 diabetes.
- Back pain. By increasing muscle strength and endurance and improving flexibility and posture, regular exercise can prevent back pain.
- Osteoporosis. Regular weight-bearing exercise promotes bone formation and may prevent many forms of bone loss associated with aging.
Regular physical activity can also improve mood and the way you feel about yourself. Exercise is likely to reduce depression and anxiety and help you to better manage stress.
What Type of Exercise Is Best?
It does not matter what type of physical activity you perform -- sports, planned exercise, household chores, yard work, or work-related tasks -- all are beneficial.
Over the past few years, exercise advertisements have targeted simplified exercise routines for weight reduction and maintenance. Some exercise advertisements sell the belief that one machine will work your entire body and give you the results you need. However, many of these machines may only be good for one type of conditioning, such as cardiovascular; these machines also have limitations to the type of exercise you can do and they are not good for everyone. To determine the best type of exercise program for you, talk to your doctor and a certified athletic trainer.
How Much Exercise Should I Do?
Studies show that even the most inactive people can gain significant health benefits if they accumulate just 30 minutes or more of physical activity per day.
For the greatest overall health benefits, experts suggest 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (see below) 3 or more times per week plus some form of anaerobic exercise (see below) such as muscle strengthening activity and stretching twice a week.
If you have been inactive for a while, you may want to start with less strenuous activities such as walking or swimming at a comfortable pace. Beginning at a slow pace will allow you to become physically fit without straining your body. Once you are in better shape, you can gradually do more strenuous activity.
What Is Aerobic Exercise?
Aerobic exercise is any activity involving large muscles, done for an extended period of time. Aerobic exercise can be done for weight loss, but it also provides cardiovascular benefits. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, biking, jogging, swimming, aerobic classes and cross-country skiing.
What Is Anaerobic Exercise?
Anaerobic exercise usually refers to resistance training. Anaerobic exercise is done primarily for increased muscle mass. Weight training is a form of anaerobic exercise.
Moderate-intensity activities include some of the things you may already be doing during a day or week, such as gardening and housework. These activities can be done in short spurts -- 10 minutes here, 8 minutes there. Alone, each action does not have a great effect on your health, but regularly accumulating 30 minutes of activity over the course of the day can result in substantial health benefits.
To become more active throughout your day, take advantage of any chance to get up and move around. Here are some examples:
- Take a short walk around the block
- Rake leaves
- Play actively with the kids
- Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator
- Mow the lawn
- Take an activity break -- get up and stretch or walk around
- Park your car a little farther away from your destination and walk the extra distance
The point is not to make physical activity an unwelcome chore, but to make the most of the opportunities you have to be active.
Before You Get Started
Before starting any exercise program, be sure to talk with your doctor. He or she can offer suggestions about which type of program would be best for you.
Reviewed by the Department of Nutrition Therapy at The Cleveland Clinic.
Edited by Charlotte Grayson, MD, WebMD, August 2004.
Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004
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