Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips

Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips | Nature Knows

Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips

For much of history, high levels of intense daily exercise was probably a necessary requirement for human survival. However, in most industrialized countries the necessity for physical activity to sustain life is declining. As a result, we are seeing a decline in physical fitness in many of these populations.

The purpose of this article is to explore the scientific literature and uncover the role that physical activity plays in the maintenance of good health and the avoidance of chronic disease. We will also discuss different types of exercise and why, for some people, exercise may not be a great option.

What is Exercise? Physical exercise refers to any bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness, health, and wellbeing [ 1 ].The idea that physical activity is important for health and disease prevention is not a new concept but has been appreciated for millennia. Indeed, Hippocrates (∼450 BC) stated that the body falls sick when exercise is deficient.

The Global Burden of Disease Study carried out by the World Health Organization included physical inactivity as one of the most important risk factors threatening global health [ 2 ].In fact, research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed 23.3% of US deaths to the lack of regular exercise.

Health Benefits of Exercise 1) Enhances Cognition Exercise boosts BDNF , which increases neuronal survival, enhances learning, and protects against cognitive decline [ 3 ].One study found that three 60 minute sessions of moderate physical activity per week increased memory. This was possibly due to increased blood flow to certain parts of the brain (hippocampus) [ 4 ].

Even in old people, aerobic exercise can increase cognition, brain size, and power [ 5 ].Studies have shown that without a regular exercise regime the brain deteriorates and loses cognitive power much faster [ 6 ].In fact, one study found that elderly people who engage in aerobic exercise had bigger brains.

Non-aerobic yoga or toning exercises did not produce the same effect [ 7 ].In obese children, physical activity improved executive function and mathematics test scores [ 8 ].By supporting nerve growth, metabolism, and vascular function, exercise promotes brain plasticity [ 9 ].

Moderate physical activity increases neurotrophins, proteins that support brain plasticity (ability to change). As such, exercise is probably even more important for the young (Recent studies have shown that the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain can be increased by the consumption of natural products omega-3 fatty acids or plant polyphenols [ 11 ].

2) Supports Heart Health Many studies have shown that regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease [ 12 ].One long-term study looked at the effects of regular exercise on men and women over the age of 73.

It found that total exercise, exercise intensity, and leisure time intensity were all associated with a l ower risk of heart attack [ 13 ].For women, the beneficial effects of exercise on the heart requires just 1 hour of walking per week [ 14 ].Energy expenditure of 1600-2200 calories per week via exercise is needed for mild heart disease [ 15 , 16 ].

Low-intensity exercise (A recent study confirmed that regular walking is the best form of physical activity for heart health [ 18 ].Exercise improves heart health by reducing “bad” cholesterol ( LDL ) and increasing “good” cholesterol ( HDL ) [ 19 , 20 ].

3) Helps With Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome Aerobic and anaerobic training decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes [ 21 , 22 , 23 ].In one study, every extra 500kcal burned per week through exercise decreased the risk of diabetes by 6% [ 24 ].

40 minutes of intense exercise per week reduced the risk of diabetes in middle-aged men [ 26 ].

Weight loss via exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes by 40-60% among overweight individuals [ 27 ].Moderate physical activity for >150 minutes per week was found to be more effective than the drug metformin [ 27 ].One study showed that diabetics who walked at least two hours per week had 39-54% lower mortality [ 28 ].Inactive men with diabetes were found to be 1.

7 times more ly to die than physically active diabetics. This relationship also applies to those with metabolic syndrome [ 29 , 30 ].Resistance training (e.g. weightlifting) might help regulate blood sugar more than aerobic exercise [ 31 ]. 4) Improves Mental Health People who engage in regular physical activity experience fewer depressive and anxious symptoms [ 32 ].

Both aerobic (e.g swimming) and anaerobic (e.g. weight training) exercise effectively lower depression and enhance mood [ 33 ].Individuals who maintain a reasonable level of aerobic fitness are less ly to relapse into depression [ 34 ].People with chronic anxiety often have a dysregulated HPA axis .

Studies have shown that exercise improves the way the HPA axis modulates stress reactivity and anxiety [ 35 , 36 ].High levels of physical activity are associated with improved heart rate variability scores (stress resilience marker) [ 37 ].One study found that college students who exercised regularly experienced less stress and hassle than those who didn’t [ 38 ].

Another study found that regular physical activity buffered the stressful effects of widowhood in elderly subjects [ 39 ].Exercise increases norepinephrine , which helps the brain deal with stress more effectively [ 40 ].In one study, both African dance (rigorous exercise) and yoga caused significant improvements in stress levels [ 41 ].As well as reducing mental stress, some forms of exercise are very effective at reducing cellular stress. For example, yoga has been shown to improve antioxidant status and limit oxidative damage [ 42 ]. 5) Boosts Sleep Quality The idea that exercise helps sleep has existed for thousands of years [ 43 ].Disturbed sleep is a common symptom of anxiety. Thus, exercise’s positive effect on sleep may be […]


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Staying Active

Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips

In addition to eating high-quality foods, physical activity can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Getting regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health. It lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers, and it can also help control stress, improve sleep, boost mood, keep weight in check, and reduce the risk of falling and improve cognitive function in older adults.
  • It doesn’t take marathon training to see real health gains. A 30-minute brisk walk on five days of the week is all most people need. Getting any amount of exercise is better than none.
  • Being a “couch potato” may be harmful even for people who get regular exercise. [1-3]

Regular physical activity helps the body function better – it keeps heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other diseases at bay, and is a key component for losing weight.

  • The precise amount of exercise needed to achieve or maintain a healthy weight varies a person’s diet and genes. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association support the idea that “more activity increases the probability of success.” [4]
  • How much exercise do you need? Physical activity guidelines — including strength training and flexibility training — explain how much you should be moving. Keep exercise safety in mind, too.

Highlights from the updated evidence-based recommendations for staying active.

Physical activity can also help people maintain weight loss. [5]

  • Among the nearly 3,700 men and women who are part of the National Weight Control Registry, a group that includes only people who lost more than 30 pounds and kept them off for at least a year, the average participant burns an average of about 400 calories per day in physical activity. That’s the equivalent of about 60 to 75 minutes of brisk walking each day, or 35 to 40 minutes of daily jogging. [6] But there’s quite a bit of variation from participant to participant—some require more physical activity to keep the weight off, some require less.

The Cost of Inactivity

Exercise and physical activity benefit the body, while a sedentary lifestyle does the opposite – increasing the chances of becoming overweight and developing a number of chronic diseases.

  • Only about 30 percent of adult Americans report they get regular physical activity during their leisure time—and about 40 percent of Americans say they get no leisure-time physical activity at all. [7]
  • The Nurses’ Health Study found a strong link between television watching and obesity. [2] Researchers followed more than 50,000 middle-aged women for six years, surveying their diet and activity habits. Findings showed that for every two hours the women spent watching television each day, they had a 23 percent higher risk of becoming obese and 14 percent higher risk of developing diabetes. It didn’t matter if the women were avid exercisers: The more television they watched, the more ly they were to gain weight or develop diabetes, regardless of how much leisure-time activity and walking they did. Long hours of sitting at work also increased the risk of obesity and diabetes.
  • Researchers at Tokyo Medical University found an association between spending less time watching television and a lower risk of overweight and obesity in older adults, regardless of whether participants met physical activity guidelines. The study followed 1,806 participants between the ages of 65 and 74. Participants were put into one of four categories television viewing time. The less time spent watching television, the lower the participants’ risk of becoming overweight or obese. [8]
  • Another study analyzed the global effect of inactivity on the increase of diseases. The researchers estimated that physical inactivity accounts for 6% of the burden of heart disease, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer, and 10% of colon cancer. Inactivity also causes 9% of premature mortality. These staggering statistics put the true dangers associated with inactivity into a global perspective. [3]

Sit Time

More recently, studies have found that people who spend more time each day watching television, sitting, or riding in cars have a greater chance of dying early than people who are more active.

[3, 9, 10] Researchers speculate that sitting for many hours may change peoples’ metabolism in ways that promote obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. [1-3, 9, 11, 12] It is also possible that sitting is a marker for a broader sedentary lifestyle.

Furthermore, staying active does not mitigate the harmful effects of sit time. As you plan your daily activity routine, remember that cutting down on “sit time” may be just as important as increasing “fit time.”

Read more about the importance of physical activity on The Obesity Prevention Source.


  1. Owen, N., et al., Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev, 2010. 38(3): p. 105-13.
  2. Hu, F.B., et al., Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA, 2003. 289(14): p. 1785-91.
  3. Dunstan, D.W., et al.

    , Television viewing time and mortality: the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab). Circulation, 2010. 121(3): p. 384-91.

  4. Haskell, W.L., et al., Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2007. 39(8): p. 1423-34.

  5.  Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, U.S.D.o.H.a.H. Services, Editor. 2008
  6. Catenacci, V.A., et al., Physical activity patterns in the National Weight Control Registry. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2008. 16(1): p. 153-61.
  7. Statistics, N.C.f.H., Health, United States, 2009: With Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans. 2009: Hyattsville, MD.
  8. Inoue, S., et al., Television viewing time is associated with overweight/obesity among older adults, independent of meeting physical activity and health guidelines. J Epidemiol, 2012. 22(1): p. 50-6.
  9. Patel, A.V., et al., Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. Am J Epidemiol, 2010. 172(4): p. 419-29.
  10. van der Ploeg, H.P., Chey, T., Ding, D., Chau, J.Y., Stamatakis, E., Bauman, A.E. Standing time and all-cause mortality in a large cohort of Australian adults. Prev Med, 2014. 69C:187-191. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.10.004.
  11. Schmid, D., Leitzmann, M.F. Television viewing and time spent sedentary in relation to cancer risk: a meta-analysis. J Natl Cancer Inst, 2014.

    106(7). pii: dju098. doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju098.

  12. Chomistek, A.K., Manson, J.E., Stefanick, M.L., Lu, B., Sands-Lincoln, M., Going, S.B., Garcia, L., Allison, M.A., Sims, S.T., LaMonte, M.J., Johnson, K.C., Eaton, C.B. Relationship of sedentary behavior and physical activity to incident cardiovascular disease: results from the Women’s Health Initiative. Am Coll Cardiol, 2013.

    61(23):2346-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2013.03.031

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Top 10 Fitness Facts

Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips

From the WebMD Archives

Want to be sharper at work? Feel less tired at home? Spend some quality time with your spouse? How about enjoying a cookie without guilt?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions (and who wouldn't?), exercise is the answer.

Being physically active offers benefits far beyond the obvious. (Of course, an improved physique and a clean bill of health aren't too shabby, either.)

If you've been looking for the motivation to begin an exercise program or get back into working out regularly, here are 10 fitness facts that may help inspire you to get off the couch.

Not only does exercise improve your body, it helps your mental function, says certified trainer David Atkinson.

“Exercise increases energy levels and increases serotonin in the brain, which leads to improved mental clarity,” says Atkinson, director of program development for Cooper Ventures, a division of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas.

All that makes for a more productive day.

“It is clear that those who are active and who exercise are much more productive at work,” says Todd A. Astorino, assistant professor of kinesiology at California State University-San Marcos.

Improved productivity not only makes you a better worker, it makes things better for everyone in the workplace. Companies with less wasted work hours and less sick time end up with lower health care costs — and an improved bottom line, Astorino says.

As much as it may stress you out just to think about exercising, once you actually start working out, you'll experience less stress in every part of your life.

“Exercise produces a relaxation response that serves as a positive distraction,” says Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. He says it also helps elevate your mood and keep depression at bay.

You're not the only person who will benefit from more happiness and less stress in your life. When you're less stressed, you're less irritable, Atkinson says — and that could improve relationships with your partner, kids, and co-workers.

You might be surprised at how, say, popping in a workout tape for 30 minutes in the morning can change your whole day. When endorphins are released into your bloodstream during exercise, says Astorino, “you feel much more energized the rest of the day.”

And when you improve your strength and stamina, it's easier to accomplish everyday tasks carrying groceries and climbing stairs. This also helps you feel more energetic over the course of the day.

A common excuse among Atkinson's clients is that they're too tired to exercise, he says. While exercise may make you feel more tired at first, he says, that won't last long.

The physical tiredness you feel after working out isn't the same as everyday fatigue, he says. Besides, once your body adjusts to exercise, you'll have more energy than ever.

The key, says Atkinson, is to use your time more wisely. Think about killing two birds with one stone.

Take your kids to the park or ride bikes together, and you're getting physical activity while enjoying family time, he says. Beyond that, go for a hike, take the kids swimming, or play hide-and-seek, tag, softball, or horseshoes in the backyard.

At work, he says, schedule a meeting on the jogging track or on the golf course.

Also, forget the idea that you have to trudge to the gym and spend an hour or more doing a formal workout. Instead, you can work short spurts of physical activity into your day.

“Everyone has 20 minutes,” Atkinson says. “Everyone has 10 minutes to jump rope, and sometimes that's better than 20 minutes of walking or running.”

Indeed, squeezing in two or three bouts of 15 or 20 minutes of activity is just as effective as doing it all at once, says Astorino. Vacuuming the house in the morning, riding bikes in the park with the kids in the afternoon, then taking a brisk walk in the evening can add up to an active day.

Recent U.S. government guidelines say that to lose weight and keep it weight off, you should accumulate at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, says Astorino. But half an hour a day is all you need to reap the health and disease-fighting benefits of exercise.

Think of what exercising with a partner can do for a relationship, whether it's with a spouse, a sibling, or a friend you used to go to lunch with once a week.

Not only that, says Astorino, but exercise is always more fun when there's someone to do it with. So plan to walk with your spouse after dinner every night. Meet your sister or that friend for tennis or an aerobics class instead of lunch.

Besides, Astorino says, people who have exercise partners stay with their programs and reach their goals more often than those who try to go it alone.

“For long-term weight loss, you need to have social support,” Astorino says.

Research has shown that exercise can slow or help prevent heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis (bone loss), and loss of muscle mass, says Astorino.

It also helps ease some aspects of the aging process.

“Because exercise strengthens the muscles and joints, it is going to reduce your odds of having some of those aches and pains and problems most adults have, mostly because of the inactive lives they lead,” Bryant says.

Provided you don't overdo it, he says, exercise can even boost immune function — so you spend less time down with a cold or flu.

“There isn't a major health problem where exercise cannot have a positive effect,” says Byrant.

Not only does exercise help fight disease, says Bryant, it creates a stronger heart — the most important muscle in the body. That helps makes exercise — and the activities of daily life — feel easier.

“Your heart and cardiovascular system will function more effectively,” says Bryant. “The heart will build up less plaque. It will become a more efficient pump.”

And “when the heart becomes stronger, it pumps more blood per beat, so at rest, the heart rate is lower,” says Astorino. “It's not going to have to beat as fast” to expend the same amount of effort.

Within only a couple days after you start exercising, Astorino says, “the body readily adapts to the stimulus it's getting and it becomes easier. You will feel less fatigue. It will not take as much effort when it comes to breathing. You shouldn't have as much pain or soreness.”

Pound for pound, muscle burns more calories at rest than body fat. So the more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. And, of course, you also burn calories while you're actually exercising.

All this means that “cheating” with a cookie once in a while isn't going to take you back 10 steps. “Can you eat anything? No,” says Atkinson. “But you can afford to enjoy some of the things you really when you exercise regularly. You can better get away with those things in moderation than you can when you're not working out.”

After a few weeks of consistent exercise, you may feel your clothes fitting differently and see that your muscle tone has improved, Atkinson says.

You may also notice your newly pumped-up muscles in other ways, especially if you're a recreational golfer or tennis player, or a friendly game of pick-up basketball, says Atkinson. Exercising consistently will strengthen your muscles, increase flexibility, and improve your overall performance.

“Your muscles will work much more efficiently and you'll gain a greater sense of endurance,” says Bryant. In addition, he says, your reaction time and balance will improve.

Weight loss is the reason many people exercise in the first place. But it's certainly not the sole benefit of an exercise program.

Bryant says the long-term goal of weight loss is sold too heavily to people starting fitness programs, and that can be discouraging. People have trouble sticking with something if they don't see results quickly.

“Really, they should think about the level of functioning in the activities of daily living,” says Bryant. “That can serve as the motivation to keep them coming back for more.”

So whatever weight loss goal you have when starting a fitness program, don't make it your only goal. Strive to feel better, to have more energy, to be less stressed. Notice the small things that exercise does for you quickly, rather than getting hung up on the narrow goal of the number on a scale.

“With a goal of losing weight and enhancing health, exercise has to become a part of a person's life, not an afterthought,” Astorino says.

SOURCES: David Atkinson, certified trainer; director of program development, Cooper Ventures, a division of the Cooper Aerobics Center, Dallas. Todd A. Astorino, exercise physiologist; assistant professor of kinesiology, California State University, San Marcos. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist, American Council on Exercise, San Diego.

© 2005 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


How to Get the Biggest Benefits of Walking

Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips

Experts agree that any amount of walking is good for you, but to get the maximum benefits of walking, you need to log some mileage and increase your intensity.

The minimum prescription for good health is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking, five days per week. “More is better, but you can get a significant portion of the health benefits of walking even with just that moderate amount,” Sallis says.

Here are five research-backed ways to sneak more steps into every day—as well as get the most every step you take.

1. Walk as much as you can.

The University of Warwick study compared people with at least one sign of metabolic syndrome—a group of risk factors (high blood pressure, fat around the waist, high blood sugar, and high triglycerides and cholesterol) for heart disease—to those with no risk factors.

They found that those who got the least activity had the most risk factors, and those who walked the most—accumulating at least 15,000 steps per day—had healthy BMIs, smaller waists, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and better blood sugar control.

Many people aim for a daily goal of 10,000 steps (or about 5 miles)—and an industry of fitness tracking devices has emerged to support them—but that magic number didn’t originate from scientific research, says John Schuna Jr., Ph.D.

, assistant professor of kinesiology at Oregon State College of Public Health and Human Sciences in Corvallis. “It was first used in a Japanese marketing effort associated with one of the first commercial pedometers.

” The device was called “manpo-kei,” which means “10,000 steps meter” in Japanese. 

“The 10,000-steps goal is thought to be a realistic minimum, and it’s good, but for complete risk reduction, people should aim for more,” says William Tigbe, M.D., Ph.D.

, a physician and public health researcher at University of Warwick and lead author of the study showing that 15,000 steps per day can lead to greater benefits.

“In our study, those who took 5,000 extra steps had no metabolic syndrome risk factors at all.”

2. Pick up the pace. Another way to get more even a shorter walk is to do it faster. A study published in 2017 in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise looked at not just the total number of steps people took per day but also how quickly they took them.

“Those who had a faster stepping rate had similar health outcomes—lower BMI and lower waist circumference—as those who took the most steps per day,” says Schuna, one of the study authors. He recommends trying for a minimum of 100 steps per minute (roughly 2.5 to 3 miles per hour) or as brisk a pace as you can (135 steps per minute will get you up to about a 4 mph pace).

3. Break it up. “We cannot accumulate 15,000 steps in leisure time only,” Tigbe says. “But if you take walking breaks throughout the day, it is doable.” Aim for brisk walking bouts of 10 minutes or more at a time. You’ll get in more steps and decrease the amount of time you spend being sedentary—which is a big risk factor for heart disease.

4. Try intervals. Instead of doing an entire 30-minute walk at the same moderate pace, try high-intensity interval training. Alternate between 30-second to 1-minute bursts of faster walking, followed by a minute or two of slower-paced recovery.

In one study researchers compared people who did no exercise with those who walked at a steady, moderate pace and those who mixed high and moderate intensity. The researchers found that the group that cranked up the intensity had the greatest reductions in waist circumference and abdominal fat.

5. Take it uphill. “Think of it as getting two for one,” Sallis says. “When you increase your intensity, such as walking up a steep hill, you get the equivalent benefit in half the time.”  


Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips

The Department of Health and Human Services issued the federal government's first-ever Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in 2008 to help Americans understand the types and amounts of physical activity that offer important health benefits.

Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement of the body that uses energy. Some of your daily life activities—doing active chores around the house, yard work, walking the dog—are examples.

HHS has now released the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

This second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides science-based guidance to help people ages 3 years and older improve their health through participation in regular physical activity.

It reflects the extensive amount of new knowledge gained since the publication of the first Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans were released.

This edition of the Guidelines discusses the proven benefits of physical activity and outlines the amounts and types of physical activity recommended for different ages and populations. For example, new aspects include discussions of:

  • Additional health benefits related to brain health, additional cancer sites, and fall-related injuries;
  • Immediate and longer term benefits for how people feel, function, and sleep;
  • Further benefits among older adults and people with additional chronic conditions;
  • Risks of sedentary behavior and their relationship with physical activity;
  • Guidance for preschool children (ages 3 through 5 years);
  • Elimination of the requirement for physical activity of adults to occur in bouts of at least 10 minutes; and
  • Tested strategies that can be used to get the population more active.

Promote physical activity in your community: The Move Your Way campaign was developed to share key recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines with the public. Use the Move Your Way campaign tools and materials to help spread the word. Learn more about the Move Your Way campaign.

Preschool-Aged Children

  • Preschool-aged children (ages 3 through 5 years) should be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development.
  • Adult caregivers of preschool-aged children should encourage active play that includes a variety of activity types.

Children and Adolescents

  • It is important to provide young people opportunities and encouragement to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.
  • Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily:
    1. Aerobic: Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
    2. Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
    3. Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.


  • Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.
  • For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
  • Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

Older Adults

The key guidelines for adults also apply to older adults. In addition, the following key guidelines are just for older adults:

  • As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multicomponent physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
  • Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.
  • Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.
  • When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

Women During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

  • Women should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
  • Women who habitually engaged in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or who were physically active before pregnancy can continue these activities during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
  • Women who are pregnant should be under the care of a health care provider who can monitor the progress of the pregnancy. Women who are pregnant can consult their health care provider about whether or how to adjust their physical activity during pregnancy and after the baby is born.

Adults with Chronic Health Conditions and Adults with Disabilities

  • Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities, who are able, should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
  • Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities, who are able, should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
  • When adults with chronic conditions or disabilities are not able to meet the above key guidelines, they should engage in regular physical activity according to their abilities and should avoid inactivity.
  • Adults with chronic conditions or symptoms should be under the care of a health care provider. People with chronic conditions can consult a health care professional or physical activity specialist about the types and amounts of activity appropriate for their abilities and chronic conditions.

Safe Physical Activity

To do physical activity safely and reduce risk of injuries and other adverse events, people should:

  • Understand the risks, yet be confident that physical activity can be safe for almost everyone.
  • Choose types of physical activity that are appropriate for their current fitness level and health goals, because some activities are safer than others.
  • Increase physical activity gradually over time to meet key guidelines or health goals. Inactive people should “start low and go slow” by starting with lower-intensity activities and gradually increasing how often and how long activities are done.
  • Protect themselves by using appropriate gear and sports equipment, choosing safe environments, following rules and policies, and making sensible choices about when, where, and how to be active.
  • Be under the care of a health care provider if they have chronic conditions or symptoms. People with chronic conditions and symptoms can consult a health care professional or physical activity specialist about the types and amounts of activity appropriate for them.

Use commercials for activity breaks. Squats and stretches are quick, excellent choices.

Schedule physical activity you schedule appointments. Planning increases your success.

Content created by President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition
Content last reviewed on February 1, 2019


10 Benefits of Physical Activity for Kids

Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips

When many people decide to “get fit,” they assume it involves rigorous activity. But you don't have to spend hours in a gym to be physically active.

People can get in shape by performing everyday activities in the home.

Every time you and your child throw a softball, swim a lap, climb a flight of stairs, walk to the store, or carry packages, your health and fitness levels are improving.

  • RELATED: 12 Ways Families Can Stay Active After School

When someone is physically fit, she feels and looks better, and she stays healthier. The earlier a child starts getting in shape, the more she'll reduce her risk of numerous illnesses. Here are some of the benefits that physical activity offers your child:

1. It strengthens the heart. The heart is a muscle, and other muscles, its performance improves when it's regularly challenged by exercise.

The heart responds to exercise by becoming stronger and more efficient. Strengthening the heart muscle can help ward off heart disease—the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S.

Department of Health and Human Services—even in early childhood.

2. It helps keep arteries and veins clear. Exercise reduces the amount of harmful cholesterol and fats in a person's blood. It increases the flexibility of the walls of blood vessels, and helps to lower blood pressure. This can reduce a person's risk for heart attack and stroke.

3. It strengthens the lungs. Working hard increases lung capacity, and their efficiency in moving air in and the body. As a result, more oxygen is drawn into the body and more carbon dioxide and other waste gases are expelled. Regular exercise helps prevent the decline in oxygen intake that occurs naturally with age or as a result of inactivity.

4. It reduces blood sugar levels. Exercise prevents sugar from accumulating in the blood by triggering muscles to take up more glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy. This can reduce a person's risk of developing diabetes.

5. It controls weight. When a person is sedentary, he tends to be taking in more calories than are needed. These unused calories accumulate as fat. A person who is physically active may have a deficit of calories, which takes fat away and lowers weight. Lowered weight is good for the heart and can be beneficial in people with diabetes.

6. It strengthens bones. Just as muscles grow stronger when physically stressed, bones also respond by getting stronger.

Adults start losing bone mass in their 20s, but those who exercise regularly reach greater peak bone density (before the drop-off) than those who don't, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Increased bone density helps prevent osteoporosis, a condition in which bones lose density, weaken, and become porous and fragile.

7. It helps prevent cancer. People who exercise regularly have lower incidences of cancer. The cancers most affected include colon, prostate, uterine, and breast cancers.

8. It regulates blood pressure. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels. As the levels of stress in a person's body subsides, his blood pressure and his risk for heart disease decline.

9. It improves energy levels. Regular exercise often makes people feel more energetic, allows them to be more active, and reduces the lihood that they'll tire during the day.

10. It enhances emotional well-being. Most people report that they feel calm and have a sense of well-being after they exercise. Exercise, according to one theory, releases beta-endorphin, a natural substance in the body that is hundreds of times more potent than morphine.

A 2019 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that serotonin, a mood-regulating chemical the body produces, increases during exercise and can boost the energy and strength of our nerve cells, which may help ward off neurological disorders Parkinson's Disease. Increased levels of serotonin in the central nervous system are also associated with feelings of well-being, heightening of appetite, and lessening of mental depression.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; American Medical Association; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Aerobic exercise: Benefits for the body and the brain

Top 14 Health Benefits of Exercise + Safety Tips

Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of many health conditions, ranging from heart disease to dementia. Although all forms of physical activity provide some benefits, aerobic exercise is particularly effective because it causes the heart and lungs to work harder than usual.

National physical activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week.

Some examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • running
  • cycling
  • walking
  • swimming
  • aerobics classes

In this article, we discuss some of the benefits that aerobic exercise offers the body and brain.

Aerobic exercise benefits the body in many different ways. These include:

1. Preventing heart disease

Aerobic exercise is essential for keeping the heart, lungs, and blood vessels healthy. Regular aerobic exercise can help prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of death from this condition.

2. Maintaining a healthy weight

Share on PinterestAerobic exercise can help prevent heart disease and control blood sugar levels.

People wishing to lose weight will need to ensure that they burn more calories than they consume, resulting in a caloric deficit.

Aerobic exercise causes the body to burn calories for energy. It is a great way to push the body into a caloric deficit, leading to weight loss. However, to reach a caloric deficit, most people will also need to reduce the number of calories that they consume.

Read more about the differences between cardio and weightlifting for weight loss.

3. Controlling blood sugar levels

Keeping blood sugar levels under control is important for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. It is essential for people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar levels within a healthy range. High blood sugar can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease.

Insulin is necessary for regulating blood sugar. Aerobic exercise can increase insulin sensitivity so that the body requires less insulin to control blood sugar levels.

During exercise, the muscles also use glucose from the blood. In this way, exercise helps prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high.

4. Lowering blood pressure

High blood pressure puts stress on the blood vessels and heart. Over time, this can have serious consequences, such as increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Aerobic exercise can help keep blood pressure within a healthy range. A review of 391 trials in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercise is as effective as blood pressure medications in reducing high blood pressure.

5. Preventing and managing stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to an area of the brain becomes obstructed. It can have serious and life threatening consequences. Regular aerobic exercise reduces the risk of a stroke by keeping the blood vessels and heart healthy.

It is also important for people who have had a stroke to stay as active as possible to support recovery and reduce the risk of another stroke. A doctor will advise a person on the best way to build up activity and start exercising again after a stroke.

6. Increasing lifespan

Aerobic exercise has such a broad range of health benefits that it helps people live longer. Higher levels of aerobic activity reduce the risk of death, regardless of the intensity of the activity.

7. Improving physical functioning

The ability to perform tasks for daily living is important in maintaining independence and well-being. Aerobic exercise improves the physical capabilities that are necessary for a person to function on a daily basis. Physical fitness also helps prevent falls and the resulting injuries.

Aerobic exercise also benefits the brain in the following ways:

1. Reducing the risk of dementia

Regular aerobic exercise is one of the most effective methods of preventing Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Research has shown that people with higher levels of physical activity have a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

2. Helping with symptoms of depression and anxiety

Several clinical trials have found that aerobic exercise reduces symptoms in people with depression and anxiety disorders. Aerobic exercise also improves physical fitness, which may help prevent the onset of depression and anxiety disorders.

3. Enhancing cognitive performance

While aerobic exercise may delay cognitive decline in later life, it can also boost thought processes in children and adolescents.

Several studies have found evidence to suggest that aerobic exercise and physical fitness have links with better grades at school and improved performance on cognitive tasks, such as memory tests.

4. Improving brain health

Aerobic exercise causes many biological processes that help the brain function. The authors of a recent review article concluded that aerobic exercise could:

  • increase the size and function of key brain regions, such as the hippocampus
  • help the brain control responses to stress
  • reduce inflammation
  • increase resistance to oxidative stress

These changes are ly to contribute to the benefits of exercise on mental health and cognition.

Aerobic exercise is generally safe for most people. To avoid injuries, it is always a good idea to discuss exercise regimens with a professional.

People who have chronic health conditions should check with a doctor that their exercise plan is suitable. In some cases, people with heart conditions or high blood pressure may need to avoid high intensity exercise.

Read more about the general health benefits of exercise here.

Aerobic exercise provides a wide range of benefits for the body and brain.

National physical activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity aerobic activity every week. Getting more exercise than this will ly have additional benefits.

For some people, it may be difficult to find time for sports or regular visits to the gym. However, making small changes to daily routines can help these individuals reach the recommended amount of physical activity. For example, they could take the stairs instead of the lift or, when possible, try walking instead of driving.