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Fact Checked

5 Health Benefits of Exercise

We have all heard that exercise is good for you, it can help you lose weight, and it should be incorporated into your daily routine. 

Most New Year's Resolutions involve changes in exercise habits and getting healthier, yet more than 80% of US adults and teens are insufficiently active. The challenge is sticking to these goals and seeing the benefits of exercise. 

The good news is that it's never too late to start. You can start slow and find new ways to increase physical activity in your life. Routine exercise can make you feel better, help prevent or control some long-term conditions, and help you live longer. 

How is Exercise Defined?

Aerobic exercise: is any cardiovascular (or heart) conditioning, often called "cardio." 

  • Aerobic exercise increases your breathing and heart rate and includes activities like running, swimming, or elliptical training. 

Anaerobic exercise: is high intensity or high-power training and includes activities like weightlifting, sprinting, or jump rope. 

The American Heart Association and the CDC recommend 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise 5 days a week and two or more anaerobic exercise sessions each week. 

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What are the Benefits of Exercise?

Reduce your Risk of Chronic Disease 

Lack of exercise is the primary cause of chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and some cancers. 

Exercise strengthens your heart and improves circulation; therefore, an increase in aerobic fitness decreases cardiovascular risks. A study showed that mild exercise could reduce cardiovascular risks and higher intensity has additional health benefits. 

A meta-analysis combined 29 studies to evaluate the effect of exercise on blood pressure. The analysis showed that aerobic exercise three times a week decreased blood pressure, and increasing intensity and frequency provided an additional reduction in blood pressure. 

Exercise can lower your blood sugar levels and help your insulin to work better. A meta-analysis looking at 11 trials concluded that regular physical activity could reduce fasting insulin levels, hemoglobin A1c, and body mass, as well as decreasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Makes you Feel Happier 

Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise produces changes in the brain that regulates stress and anxiety. 

Multiple studies have shown that light, moderate, or challenging exercise improves a depressed mood.

Exercise can significantly boost your energy level and help individuals suffering from a serious illness. 

Increase Quality of Sleep 

Exercise can help you relax and sleep better. One study found that 5 days of aerobic activity per week can provide up to 65% improvement in sleep quality. 

Another study showed that exercise increased sleep quality and helped individuals sleep longer and more deeply. It also helped them feel more energized and accomplished throughout the day. 

Building and Maintaining Muscle and Bone 

As people age, they lose muscle mass and function. The reduction in muscle mass can lead to injuries and challenges moving around. 

Anaerobic exercise and adequate protein intake can produce muscle building. One study showed that exercise helps build bone density when you are younger and help prevent osteoporosis later in life. 

Improves Brain Health and Memory 

Exercise will increase your heart rate, which will increase your blood flow and oxygen to the brain. An increase in blood flow and oxygen to the brain ultimately leads to enhanced memory and learning.

Physical activity was found to improve cognitive functions and quality of life in patients who struggle with memory impairment. 

Bottom Line

Exercise has the ability to improve multiple aspects of your health. Exercise is not limited to one specific activity; there are multiple different ways to stay physically active. 

You can set a routine, whether it is swimming, running, playing a sport, or another activity, increasing your heart rate for 150 minutes per week can improve your health in many ways. 

While mild to moderate exercise (e.g., brisk walking) is usually safe for most people, make sure you speak with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. Your healthcare provider will help you decide which program is a good fit based on your individual health circumstances. 

References: 

  • Bherer L. Cognitive plasticity in older adults: effects of cognitive training and physical exercise. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015;1337:1-6. doi:10.1111/nyas.12682
  • Booth FW, Roberts CK, Laye MJ. Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Compr Physiol. 2012;2(2):1143-1211. doi:10.1002/cphy.c110025
  • Halbert JA, Silagy CA, Finucane P, Withers RT, Hamdorf PA, Andrews GR. The effectiveness of exercise training in lowering blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials of 4 weeks or longer. J Hum Hypertens. 1997;11(10):641-649. doi:10.1038/sj.jhh.1000509
  • Piercy KL, Troiano RP, Ballard RM, et al. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. JAMA. 2018;320(19):2020–2028. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.14854
  • Meyer JD, Koltyn KF, Stegner AJ, Kim JS, Cook DB. Influence of Exercise Intensity for Improving Depressed Mood in Depression: A Dose-Response Study. Behav Ther. 2016;47(4):527-537. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2016.04.003
  • Poole L, Hamer M, Wawrzyniak AJ, Steptoe A. The effects of exercise withdrawal on mood and inflammatory cytokine responses in humans. Stress. 2011;14(4):439-447. doi:10.3109/10253890.2011.557109
  • Kredlow MA, Capozzoli MC, Hearon BA, Calkins AW, Otto MW. The effects of physical activity on sleep: a meta-analytic review. J Behav Med. 2015;38(3):427-449. doi:10.1007/s10865-015-9617-6
  • Reid KJ, Baron KG, Lu B, Naylor E, Wolfe L, Zee PC. Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Med. 2010;11(9):934-940. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2010.04.014
  • Zulfarina MS, Sharkawi AM, Aqilah-S N ZS, Mokhtar SA, Nazrun SA, Naina-Mohamed I. Influence of Adolescents' Physical Activity on Bone Mineral Acquisition: A Systematic Review Article. Iran J Public Health. 2016;45(12):1545-1557.
  • •Sampath Kumar A, Maiya AG, Shastry BA, et al. Exercise and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Phys Rehabil Med. 2019;62(2):98-103. doi:10.1016/j.rehab.2018.11.001
Published October 1st, 2020 by Dr. Miriam Opara, PharmD
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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