Why Should You Exercise?
The overall benefit of being active and fit is an improved quality of life—being able to do things you enjoy for longer periods of time (for example, playing with the kids, gardening, dancing, or walking).
Research repeatedly shows that fitness is a strong measure of health. In a study of more than 25,000 volunteers, researchers at the Cooper Institute found that a person's fitness level was more important than body weight. Men in the study who were overweight or obese but who were physically fit had a lower risk of death than men who were a healthy weight but were not physically fit.1
Being fit improves your overall health and reduces your risk of disease.
Short-term benefits include:2
- A healthier heart. Physical activity makes demands on your heart that make it stronger and better able to function.
- Healthy muscles, bones, and joints. Resistance training such as weight lifting improves muscular strength and endurance and increases bone density, which is especially important for older adults to prevent falls and injuries.3
- Increased burning of calories. Physical activity burns calories and helps you achieve a healthy balance between the calories you take in from food and those you expend. (To find out how many calories are burned during different activities, use this Interactive Tool: How Many Calories Did You Burn?) When you exercise regularly, your body burns more calories, both during activity and at rest. Being fit may also lower your percentage of body fat and increase muscle strength and tone. Your percentage of body fat depends on genetics, lifestyle, and physical activities.
No matter what your size or shape, physical activity has important health benefits. These may include:
- Improved ability to fall asleep and sleep well.
- Increased energy.
- Increased mental acuity—sharper and faster thinking.
- Better mental health and ability to cope with stress. People who are fit may have less anxiety and depression than people who aren't active.4 And regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress.
Long-term benefits include reduced risk of:2, 5
- Dying early.
- Developing coronary artery disease.
- Developing high blood pressure. Regular physical activity can also lower blood pressure in those who have high blood pressure.6
- Developing type 2 diabetes. Physical activity may prevent type 2 diabetes through its effect on insulin, how the body processes sugar, and maintenance of body weight.
- Getting some cancers.
- Becoming obese.
- Fitness: Adding more activity to your life
- Fitness: Walking for wellness
Note: Moderate exercise is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you are at risk for or have coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other chronic conditions, your doctor may want to help you build a plan matched to your needs. He or she may want to do tests before you start a plan or want you to be more careful and watch for injuries or other problems.