Exercise offers a multitude of rewards, some obvious, some not.
Done regularly, exercise can lower blood pressure, improve blood cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It helps prevent and treat diabetes, enhances the immune system, improves sleep and may even reduce the risk of some cancers. Staying physically active is vital for maintaining strong muscles, healthy bones and limber joints, enabling us to carry out daily tasks with vigor. It reduces falls among older people and can help relieve arthritis pain. And it’s as important for your brain as for the rest of your body. If that weren’t enough, it can help control weight—and obesity itself raises the risk of many chronic diseases.
It’s no surprise, then, that exercise is strongly associated with lower mortality rates.
Many people love to exercise (or learn to love it) and find it improves their mood, reduces stress, anxiety and depression, and makes them feel energetic. What’s more, exercise often comes with a health-promoting mind-set—that is, people who work out are likely to have or develop other good habits, such as eating healthfully and not smoking. Starting to exercise can be a marker for a turning-over-a-new-leaf mentality—the desire to take better care of yourself.
You don’t have to train for marathons to get the benefits of physical activity. Brisk walking, cycling or working vigorously around the house or yard most days of the week (better yet, daily) will go a long way towards keeping you healthy. If you’re already doing that, you can benefit more by increasing the frequency, intensity or duration of your activities.
Unfortunately, more than half of Americans—including increasing numbers of young people—don’t exercise regularly, and one-quarter partake in no leisure-time physical activity. One of the best things we can do for our national health is to change that.