Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Staying active is one of the best ways to keep our bodies healthy. Most Americans don’t get enough exercise and, therefore, don’t reap the health benefits. In addition to helping prevent heart disease, exercise is known to reduce stress and improve sleep, energy level, mood and even brain functioning. For people with heart disease, exercise can keep symptoms in check and prevent problems from getting worse.
Regular physical activity can relieve stress, anxiety, depression and anger. Most people notice they feel better over time as physical activity becomes a regular part of their lives.
Regular exercise also reduces the risk of many forms of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease and coronary heart disease.
Without regular activity, your body slowly loses its strength, stamina and ability to function properly. It’s like the old saying: you don’t stop moving from growing old, you grow old from stopping moving. Exercise increases muscle strength, which in turn increases your ability to do other physical activities.
Below is a list of all of the benefits that accrue from exercise:
Lowers your blood pressure
Boosts your levels of good cholesterol
Lowers LDL ("bad”) cholesterol that can clog your heart’s arteries
Improves blood flow (circulation)
Keeps your weight under control
Prevents bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis
Helps your body maintain the right balance of hormones and other factors involved in clotting and inflammation that may promote fatty buildups in the heart’s arteries
Improves mood and reduces depression by boosting “feel-good” hormones called endorphins
Improves sex drive
Keeps stress levels in check
Builds lean muscle mass, which helps you burn calories even when you’re not exercising
Improves balance and prevents falls, especially among older people
Lowers blood sugar levels, which helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
Helps prevent osteoporosis and arthritis
Helps prevent some types of cancer, and may improve the body’s response to cancer treatments
May ward off dementia, or at least delay its onset
Can help you build a healthier lifestyle overall. Research shows that people who exercise regularly are less likely to smoke and tend to choose healthier food options
Optimally, you should aim for at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity activity plus two sessions of muscle strength training per week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. For example, you could take a brisk 30-minute walk at least five times a week and do two sessions of weight lifting or Pilates.
What’s moderate intensity? Use the talking—or breath—test: If you can easily carry on a conversation with full sentences, you’re not exerting enough effort. Try increasing the intensity of your activity. If you’re walking, quicken your pace. If you’re doing a cardio workout, add some jumps. For strengthening, push yourself by adding more weight or more repetitions.
So, this is easy! Just move more, with more intensity, and sit less. You don’t have to make big life changes to see the benefits. Just start building more activity into your day, one step at a time.
(Reference citation: “Exercise and Heart Health,” CardioSmart.Org (blog) Last Reviewed: March 2019 | Medical Reviewer: Viet Le, PA, AACC
Originally Published: May 2017 | Medical Reviewers: Andrew M. Freeman, MD, FACC; Jordan M. Prutkin, MD, FACC - CardioSmart Editor-in-Chief: Martha Gulati, MD, FACC, https://www.cardiosmart.org/Healthy-Living/Move-More/Exercise-and-Heart-Health.)