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Top Health Benefits of Exercise

How Exercise Can Help You Protect and Improve Your Health

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Updated January 20, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What if there was one thing you could do to live longer, have more energy, potentially avoid heart disease, cancer, stroke and injury -- all while boosting your sex life, mood, self-confidence and body image -- would you do it? That one thing does exist. Unfortunately, there are too many of us who aren't taking advantage of it.

Exercise is one of the few activities you can do that can improve every aspect of your life, body and mind.

If you're like many of us, you struggle to find the motivation to exercise regularly, but thinking about how it can improve your life may be just what you need to take that first step.

1. Exercise Helps You Lose Weight and Prevent Obesity

Besides watching your calories, studies show that exercise is one of the most powerful tools for weight loss. The calories you burn during cardio and strength training help you lose weight, prevent future weight gain, and avoid obesity.

This is critical, since being overweight or obese can put you at risk for a variety of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, gallstones, depression, low self-esteem and more.

How to Exercise for Weight Loss

2. Exercise Protects You from Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American adults. Exercise not only protects you from heart disease, it can actually change how your heart works, making it stronger, more efficient, and better able to function as you age.

What's even better is that a little exercise, regardless of whether you lose weight, can make a difference. Exercising for your heart can start with as little as 20 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Being active can also help you avoid things that strain your heart, like being overweight, having high blood pressure, or being highly stressed. Exercise can even help you recover from heart attacks and prevent or reduce the risk of future heart problems.

3. Diabetes Prevention and Management

Of all the health problems we suffer from, diabetes can be the most maddening. In the simplest terms, diabetes affects how your body digests food. Your body can't break down sugar, which leads to high glucose levels and potential health problems like nerve damage, kidney failure, vision problems, heart disease and depression.

The top risk factor for getting type 2 diabetes is being obese, which is one reason that exercise is such a powerful tool. Exercise also helps manage blood glucose levels and enhance insulin sensitivity. In fact, one study showed that high intensity interval training may improve insulin action in sedentary adults, and another found that adding muscle helps manage glucose levels and decrease the risk of complications due to diabetes.

4. Exercise Improves Your Sex Life

We bet you never thought hitting the treadmill could have this effect. It may sound like an infomercial promise, but exercise can indeed improve your sex life. There's a long list of the benefits exercisers may experience in the bedroom, including:

  • Enhanced sexual performance and pleasure
  • Increased sex drive; more frequent sex
  • Increased sexual satisfaction
  • Fewer problems with erectile dysfunction

A healthy exercise program can also contribute to higher self-esteem and more confidence, two characteristics that draw people to you, both physically and emotionally. And don't forget, sex burns calories too. A 150-pound person can burn about 72 calories during 15 minutes of vigorous sex. Go for an hour and you'll burn up to 288 calories.

5. Exercise Lowers High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, which is considered anything over 149/90 mm Hg, can contribute to a number of health problems including coronary heart disease, stroke and congestive heart failure. Losing weight and watching your salt and alcohol intake are the best ways to lower your blood pressure, and studies have found that 3 to 5 moderate-intensity workouts a week (30 to 60 minutes each) is sufficient to reduce high blood pressure. Regular exercise may even protect you from developing high blood pressure, which can be a problem as we age.

6. Exercise Makes You Smarter

Exercise not only strengthens your body, it can also strengthen your mind. One study found that moderate exercise by older adults can reduce the odds of mild cognitive impairment by 30% to 40%.

Some experts believe that exercise can, in fact, keep our minds sharp because it improves circulation throughout the body and the brain, which boosts your attention and ability to concentrate.

Exercise may even protect us from developing Alzheimer's disease. In one study, researchers found that older adults who exercise at least 3 times a week are less likely to develop dementia.

Exercise can even make you more productive at work. People who exercise during the day perform better, manage their time more efficiently, and are mentally sharper.

7. Exercise Gives You More Energy

It may be ironic, but if you've ever felt too tired to workout, exercise is one thing that may cure you. Getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and eating a nutritious diet are all important for energy, but one major factor is movement. Studies show that exercise increases feelings of energy and lessens feelings of fatigue. Exercise also teaches the body how to produce more energy, making it more efficient at burning fat.

Get started:

  • Start small: Move more all day -- take the stairs, stretch or take short walks.
  • Warm up: Give your body more time to make the transition to exercise by gradually increasing your pace.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration can contribute to feelings of fatigue.
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