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The Benefits of Exercise

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Updated January 07, 2014

Engaging in regular exercise is one of the best things you can to do to improve your sense of well-being, to prevent heart disease and several other important medical problems, and to improve your chances of remaining healthy and hale well into your old age.

How Does Exercise Make You Healthy?

Regular exercise has several beneficial effects on your body that can improve the function of your musculoskeletal system, your cardiovascular system, your respiratory system, your metabolism, and even your brain.

Musculoskeletal benefits of regular exercise:

  • Increases the size and strength of your muscle fibers.
  • Increases the strength of your ligaments and tendons.
  • Increases the number of capillaries that supply blood to your skeletal muscles.
  • Increases the number and the size of the mitochondria (the power plants) in your muscle tissue, which allows your muscle to burn more energy.
Cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise:
  • Improves your overall cardiac function, so that you pump more blood with each heart beat.
  • Reduces your blood pressure, especially if you have essential hypertension.
  • Improves your overall vascular function.
Respiratory benefits of regular exercise:
  • Improves your lung capacity.
  • Increases blood flow to your lungs (allowing the lungs to deliver more oxygen into the blood).
Metabolic benefits of regular exercise:
  • Increases your muscles' ability to burn fat more efficiently.
  • Increases the mobilization of fatty acids into the bloodstream from your fat deposits. (These last two effects of regular exercise "tune" your metabolism into more of a fat-burning machine.)
  • Reduces your triglycerides.
  • Increases your HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).
  • Reduces insulin resistance.
Other benefits of regular exercise
  • Improves your immune function, which reduce your chance of getting some infections.
  • Appears to reduce your chances of getting breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, and other gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Helps prevent gallstones.
  • Helps prevent the physical and cognitive declines of aging.
  • Can significantly reduce your risk of Alzheimer disease

How Does Exercise Reduce Cardiovascular Risk?

Given all these benefits, it is easy to see how regular exercise can help to prevent cardiovascular disease.

In addition to the direct effects of exercise on the heart, regular exercise improves several important cardiac risk factors. Exercise lowers blood pressure, helps prevent obesity, reduces triglyceride levels, increases HDL cholesterol levels, improves insulin resistance (and thus helps to prevent or even reverse metabolic syndrome), and has even been shown to be helpful in smoking cessation.

So it should not be surprising that countless studies have strongly suggested that regular exercise helps to prevent heart disease, and further, helps to reduce the rate of mortality, in both men and women, and in all age groups.

How Much Exercise Do You Need, And How Can You Get Started?

Sources:

Shephard, RJ, Balady, GJ. Exercise as cardiovascular therapy. Circulation 1999; 99:963.

LaMonte, MJ, Eisenman, PA, Adams, TD, et al. Cardiorespiratory fitness and coronary heart disease risk factors: the LDS hospital fitness institute cohort. Circulation 2000; 102:1623.

Fletcher, GF. How to implement physical activity in primary and secondary prevention. A Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the Task Force on Risk Reduction, American Heart Association. Circulation 1997; 96:355.

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