Many people exercise primarily to lose weight, but there are plenty of other reasons to lace up your sneakers. Let’s take a look at just 9 of the many benefits of exercise; some may surprise you.
1. Increases energy level
It may be tempting to flop onto the couch after a long, stressful day at work. But one of the best ways to fight post-work fatigue is to work out.
Ever heard the phrase, “you have to spend money to make money?” The same principle applies to energy expenditure. As you exercise, your body responds by increasing blood circulation, producing new mitochondria, and releasing endorphins. This results in a natural surge of energy that will outlast a light workout and leave you feeling refreshed.
Besides putting a pep in your step, exercise can also improve your mood. In one study, participants reported lower levels of negative feelings such as anger, confusion, and tension immediately after exercising. So next time you need to blow off steam, go for a light jog and see how you feel.
2. Improves sleep
Physical activity can have profound effects on sleep. In fact, studies suggest that regular exercise can help you sleep better, fall asleep sooner, and sleep for longer with fewer disruptions in the night. If you suffer from insomnia or poor sleep, consider starting an aerobic exercise routine. Hitting the gym during the day may help you hit the hay later.
3. Helps prevent falls
Sticking to your workout routine, even as you age, can help you avoid household accidents. About 1 in 4 adults over age 65 will fall this year, with 20% of those falls resulting in injury. But a routine of strength training and balance exercises can help combat muscle loss, improve proprioception, and ultimately reduce your risk of falling at home.
4. Rehabilitates muscle function
Generally, a stronger body is less susceptible to injury—and less likely to end up in rehab. But when you do get injured, exercise will help improve muscle function and get you back on your feet sooner.
Similarly, regular stretching can help mobilize stiff muscle tissue and relieve pain. That’s why you’ll see a twofold approach of stretching and strengthening exercises in many of my PT treatment videos.
5. Fights obesity
Not to be Captain Obvious, but exercise is a great way to get in shape. In order to sustain the energy needed to complete your workouts, your body will use up its fat reserves, boosting your metabolism and helping you drop some pounds.
Although it’s possible to lose weight through diet alone and skip exercise, you’ll have less success in the end. Research shows that dieters who engage in both strength and endurance exercise are less likely to regain their weight loss later on.
6. Reduces risk of chronic illness
On a related note, exercising regularly can help you steer clear of common diseases associated with obesity—such as hypertension, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea—as well as heart disease and severe illness from Covid-19. So the sooner you establish a physically active lifestyle, the greater impact your exercise habits can have on your overall health.
7. May enhance immune function and reduce cancer risk
The benefits of exercise on the human body reach far and wide, even affecting the immune system. Research suggests that physical activity may enhance the body’s ability to fight infections, from everyday common colds to more serious illnesses like cancer.
Don’t believe it? Dozens of studies, sampling millions of subjects, have linked regular exercise to a lower risk for several types of cancers, including breast and colon cancers—two of the most common cancers for men and women.
8. Strengthens your brain
The cognitive benefits of exercise are about as robust as the physical ones, and they pertain to all types of people.
In patients with major depression, for example, regular physical activity has been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms as well as medication. Other studies suggest that exercising while pregnant can reduce the likelihood of later developing postpartum depression.
Regular exercise can also pay dividends to your brain as you grow old. Studies show that people who perform regular aerobic exercise in midlife are less likely to develop dementia in their golden years. And it’s never too late to capitalize on the cognitive benefits of exercise. Physical activity can help treat dementia in the elderly by improving memory function and staving off gray matter loss.
9. Lengthens your years
Unsurprisingly, people who regularly exercise tend to live longer. In fact, some studies suggest that a higher level of activity can lengthen your life expectancy by up to 7 years.
That may seem unbelievable, but it makes sense. Think about it: if you maintain a healthy weight, get sufficient rest, manage stress and anxiety well, optimize your heart health, and aren’t likely to fall in your own home, odds of living are in your favor.
How much should we exercise?
Because exercise is so good for us, health organizations all over the world have published recommendations for optimal levels of activity. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, adults should aim for 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. Qualifying activities are anything that get you moving and elevate your heart rate, such as dancing, cycling, or brisk walking.
Additionally, the ODPHP suggests that adults strength-train twice each week, such as by lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises like push-ups. Overall, it’s better to move more often than to do so all at once; several 10-minute power walks done every couple of hours may be more beneficial than 2.5 hours at the gym once a week.
How much do we actually exercise?
In reality, less than 23 percent of Americans meet these recommendations, and it shows. Obesity is more prevalent than ever, and lack of physical activity is costing the US an estimated $117 billion in health costs annually.
So even though the benefits of exercise are so robust, too many Americans are sitting on the sidelines, missing out.
If that’s you, don’t feel pressured to sign up for the next 5k and force yourself to do something you dread. There are as many ways to exercise as there are reasons to do it.
Ways to Exercise
Although jogging and weight-lifting are among the most popular forms of exercise, you’ll be much more likely to sustain exercise that you enjoy.
For example, maybe you hate running but love swimming laps. As long as the activity elevates your heart rate and requires large muscle movement, then it probably counts as exercise. Take a spin class, join a hiking group, or go out for a night of dancing knowing you’re doing your health a favor while having fun.
I know it’s hard to squeeze in time to exercise when you’re on a busy schedule. But there may be more opportunities than you think, such as cycling to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or mounting your desk onto a foldable treadmill if you work from home.
Even if all you have is a few minutes at your desk, light physical therapy can help improve mobility and reduce muscle strain. Or, for something more vigorous, consider squeezing in a 10-minute session of high-intensity interval training from the Nike Training Club app.
Finding an exercise that suits you
Your age, level of fitness, and overall health can help you determine what type of exercise suits you best.
For instance, adults over the age of 65 should choose scalable exercises that will help improve their balance, maintain lean muscle mass, and mitigate bone density loss. Working adults can undo work stress and tech neck through yoga classes and flexibility exercises. And regular physical activity can help adolescents avoid depression, improve self-esteem and achieve a healthy weight early in life.
Benefits of Exercise: Summary
With so many ways to exercise, there’s no reason why you can’t get in those recommended 150 minutes of physical activity each week, or at least come close. Your efforts will be worth it. Considering the enormous benefits of exercise, beginning a sustainable workout routine is one of the best things you can do for your health.