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Top Health Benefits of Exercise

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Updated June 21, 2014

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

8. Exercise Reduces LDL Cholesterol and Raises HDL Cholesterol

There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make that can help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise good cholesterol (HDL), including eating healthy, quitting smoking and regular exercise. Being sedentary is a major risk factor for high cholesterol, but one study found that walking or jogging about 15 to 20 miles a week can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (good cholesterol). Other studies have found that working at or above 75% of your maximum heart rate, which is a higher intensity, is the best way to raise HDL and lower LDL.

Interval training is one way to introduce high intensity training into your workouts. By alternating work intervals with recovery time, you get the benefit of high intensity training without the discomfort of long, hard workouts.

9. Exercise Decreases Symptoms of Mild to Moderate Depression

Depression is frustratingly common for many of us, and while there are medications and therapies that can help, exercise is another method of treatment that can provide relief. Studies have shown that exercise can help you fight mild to moderate depression because it:

  • Lifts your mood and gives you energy
  • Offers distraction from your worries
  • Helps you feel more confident and in control
  • Releases feel-good hormones while reducing stress

Even clinically depressed people can find help through exercise. In one study, depressed patients who exercised ranked it as "the most important element in comprehensive treatment programs for depression."

Any type of exercise, including cardio, weight-training, and mind/body activities like yoga, can work.

10. Exercise Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can take a toll on your body, mind, and emotional well-being, but exercise can help even if you're experiencing chronic stress.

Studies show that consistent exercisers manage their stress more effectively and tend to have lower levels of stress than people who don't exercise. Exercise is also a great way to prevent stress, especially if you consistently exercise at least 3 times a week for 20 or more minutes.

Anxiety is another problem that often accompanies stress and depression, leaving you feeling agitated, uneasy and struggling to calm down. Studies show that aerobic exercise is one way to reduce anxiety, although you'll want to experiment with different intensity levels to find what works best for you.

11. Exercise Reduces Your Risk of Stroke

Another health problem that can sometimes be prevented with exercise is stroke. Strokes can happen when blood can't circulate to the brain, and the three major risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. Exercise can help with both high blood pressure and diabetes, and it may actually reduce your risk of experiencing a stroke. Studies show that people who are moderately active have a 20% lower risk of stroke and, if you're more active, those numbers only get better. Exercise can mitigate those contributing factors and may widen the interior of blood vessels, contributing to better circulation.

Exercise can also help people recovering from a stroke. One study found that stroke survivors who participated in a walking program were able to walk faster and longer and had better mobility than non-exercisers.

12. Exercise Reduces Your Risk of Certain Types of Cancer

Another great benefit of exercise is a reduced risk of certain types of cancer, including colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and multiple myeloma. One study found that moderate to vigorous exercise offers the best protection and that exercisers have a 30% to 40% reduced risk for colon cancer as opposed to non-exercisers. Another study suggests that modifying our lifestyles can reduce the threat of cancer. By eating a healthy diet, staying at a healthy weight, exercising, watching your alcohol intake and quitting smoking, you may actually protect yourself from some types of cancer as you get older.

13. Exercise Helps Protect You from Osteoporosis

Bone health is a major concern for women, especially those who are postmenopausal. A number of things can contribute to osteoporosis, including smoking, drinking too much, and a family history of osteoporosis, but one preventable cause is being sedentary.

Experts believe that children who exercise can build strong bones and carry that strength into adulthood, giving them some protection against osteoporosis. As adults, we can maintain strong bones and, perhaps, build stronger bones by choosing weight-bearing activities like running, walking, aerobics or any other movement that involves impact. High-intensity strength training is another way to build stronger bones, all while building lean muscle tissue and burning calories.

Most evidence shows that working at higher intensities and greater frequency is the best way to increase bone density. This 30-Day Quick Start Guide can help you get started.

14. Exercise Boosts Your Self-Esteem, Body Image and Confidence

Many studies show that exercise not only gives you energy, it can actually improve self-esteem and confidence. This isn't surprising when you consider that how we feel about ourselves is often wrapped up in how we look, how satisfied we are with ourselves and how competent we perceive ourselves to be. Exercise can improve all of those things. By improving your strength, endurance, balance and coordination, you feel stronger and more confident.

One study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that even a small amount of exercise can improve body image. Researchers reviewed more than 50 studies and found that people who exercise are less critical of their bodies than non-exercisers, regardless of their weight loss results.

15. Exercise Boosts Your Mood

If you're feeling cranky, one of the best things you can do to improve your mood is exercise. We're not sure exactly how it works, but one study shows that just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can reduce tension, fatigue and anger while increasing feelings of vitality and energy. Cardio seems to be the best way to boost your mood, but other activities can work as well.

10-Minute Workouts to Lift Your Mood

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