7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity





7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity

Want to feel better, have more energy and live longer? Look no further than regular, old-fashioned, sweat-inducing exercise.

By introducing a moderate amount of exercise into your daily life, you can significantly improve your overall health, well-being and quality of life. And the health benefits of exercise can be achieved by virtually everyone, regardless of age, sex, race or physical ability.

The merits of exercise — ranging from preventing chronic health conditions to boosting your confidence and self-esteem — are hard to ignore.

Need more convincing? Take a look at seven ways exercise can have a positive impact on your health.


1. Strengthen your cardiovascular and respiratory systems

The term “cardiovascular system” refers to the circulation of your blood through your heart and blood vessels. With each beat of your heart, a surge of blood is released into your body’s intricate web of blood vessels. Blood pressure — the force that’s exerted on your artery walls as blood passes through — helps keep the blood flowing smoothly. A buildup of plaques in your arteries, caused by cholesterol and other products in your bloodstream, can interrupt your blood flow and cause life-threatening damage to your cardiovascular system.

When you exercise regularly, your entire cardiovascular system benefits because exercise:

·         Lowers the buildup of plaques in arteries by increasing the concentration of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — and decreasing the concentration of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol — in your blood

·         Prevents the onset of high blood pressure if you’re at increased risk of developing it

·         Lowers your blood pressure if you already have high blood pressure

Regular exercise also benefits your respiratory system by promoting rhythmic, deep breathing. Your lungs actually develop greater capacity, so you’re better able to take in oxygen to nourish your cells.

Exercise strengthens your heart and lungs. Your blood travels more efficiently, bringing much-needed oxygen from your lungs and nutrients to the rest of your body. This is one of the reasons why you generally feel refreshed and more energetic after exercise.

Considering all these factors, exercise enhances your cardiovascular and respiratory health, and helps reduce your risk of related diseases.


2. Keep bones and muscles strong

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to prevent the bone-weakening disease osteoporosis. Strength training exercises — such as lifting weights or working with resistance tubes — are particularly helpful. Also important are exercises that bear your body’s weight, such as walking and jogging.

Strength training and weight-bearing exercises help preserve bone mass and may even increase bone density. This means your bones may grow stronger. By strengthening your muscles and bones, you can also improve your balance and coordination, reducing your risk of falls.


3. Manage your weight

Exercise helps you achieve or maintain a healthy weight by burning calories. Your body requires a certain amount of energy to continue the functions you need to sustain life. And if you exercise, your body works harder and needs more fuel (calories). Even after you stop exercising, your body continues to burn calories at a modestly increased rate for a few hours. The more intensely you exercise, the more calories you burn.

By burning more calories than you take in, you can reduce body fat, giving you a healthier body composition. Losing body fat can make you look and feel better and can reduce your risk of obesity. Maintaining a healthy body weight eases pressure on your bones and joints, which can help prevent conditions such as arthritis.


4. Prevent and manage diabetes

Regular exercise, coupled with a healthy diet, is an important way to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes, a condition that affects the way your body uses blood sugar.

Exercise can help insulin work better and can lower your blood sugar. As your muscles contract during exercise, they use sugar for energy. To meet this energy need, sugar is removed from your blood during and after exercise, which lowers your blood sugar level.

Exercise also reduces blood sugar by increasing your sensitivity to insulin — allowing your body to use available insulin more efficiently to bring sugar into your cells.


5. Ease depression and manage pain and stress

Exercise fights depression by activating the neurotransmitters — chemicals used by your nerve cells to communicate with one another — associated with avoiding depression. Those neurotransmitters are serotonin and norepinephrine. The levels of those neurotransmitters and their balance with each other play a role in how you react to daily events. When you experience depression, the level of serotonin, norepinephrine or both may be out of sync. Exercise may help synchronize those brain chemicals.

Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins — other neurotransmitters that produce feelings of well-being, provide for “natural” pain relief, and help you relax. So, did you have a stressful day at work and need to blow off some steam? A workout at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help you calm down.


6. Reduce your risk of certain types of cancer

Regular exercise helps lower the risk of cancers of the colon, prostate, uterine lining (endometrium) and breast. Although it hasn’t been proved, researchers think that exercise helps combat colon cancer by helping digested food move through the colon more quickly.

Exercise lowers the risk of breast and uterine cancers by reducing body fat and decreasing estrogen production. Estrogen, in turn, has been shown to support the growth of some female cancers, including breast and endometrial cancers.

Researchers are uncertain about how exercise lowers the risk of prostate cancer.


7. Sleep better

A good night’s sleep helps maintain your physical and mental health. Moderate exercise at least three hours before bedtime can help you relax and sleep better at night.


Exercise for health and a longer life

The strength and endurance gains of regular exercise make daily tasks — such as grocery shopping or doing yard work — much easier on your body. Exercise promotes psychological benefits, too. If you look and feel better about yourself, you’ll be more confident and have greater self-esteem.

Another plus is a longer life expectancy. In a study of Harvard graduates, men who burned 2,000 or more calories a week by walking, jogging, climbing stairs or playing sports lived an average of one to two years longer than did those who burned fewer than 500 calories a week by exercising.

You not only might live longer if you exercise regularly, but also might live more years independently and with a better quality of life.

July 26, 2005

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