Benefits of Exercise

For most people, the secret to living a long and healthy life is this: Exercise and Don't Smoke.  Studies show that exercise tolerance is a good predictor of life expectancy in adults. That means that the more physically fit you are, the longer you will live. For example, a person who can jog ½ mile in 5 minutes is likely to live longer than one who can only walk 50 yards in 5 minutes. This has been proven in studies where large numbers of people were tested on a Treadmill, then monitored for several years. Those with the poorest performance on the Treadmill tended to die the soonest, and there was a strong correlation between fitness and longevity.

Exercise has protective effects against many diseases. The body is better able to heal when it is exercised regularly. Long term benefits of regular exercise include:
  • Preventing, managing, and curing Diabetes Mellitus.
  • Preventing a Heart Attack.
  • Preventing a Stroke.
  • Lowering Blood Pressure.
  • Lowering Cholesterol.
  • Saving Money.
  • Improving Circulation, which will improve Wound Healing, and prevent the need for Amputations.
  • Strengthening the Immune System, which fights against Infections and Cancer.
  • Improving Bowel Function.
  • Prevention or Treatment of Depression.
  • Minimizing Mental Decline over the years.
  • Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis.
  • Preventing and Improving Arthritis.
  • Preventing some forms of Cancer.
Of course, exercise alone can not prevent all of the above problems in all people, but regular exercise will reduce the likelihood, or severity, of these and other diseases. For example, if you exercise regularly, and you are unfortunately involved in a car accident, your body will suffer less damage, and heal more quickly, if is is strong prior to the accident.

In addition to all of the long term benefits of regular exercise, there are short term benefits as well. The immediate benefits of exercise are stated best in the following article taken from Men's Health Magazine.

Sudden Impacts
Eight problems that exercise can fix right now


The Long-Term benefits of exercise should be hardwired into your brain by this time: thinner waist in four months, bigger muscles by spring, feel better, look better, live longer, get chicks. But knowing how the book ends isn't always enough to make us hit the gym or clear the clothes off the ski machine.

Quit thinking about ripped abs. Concentrate instead on what one bout of exercise will do for you immediately. By the time you step off the treadmill and wipe the sweat from your forehead, the good stuff listed here will already have kicked in.

Fight off the bugs. According to an overview of studies on immune response, a dose of aerobic exercise raises your immune system's ability to recognize invading bacteria and viruses. Moderate exercise in any form for 30 to 60 minutes is ideal, says David Nieman, Ph.D., a professor in the department of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. It doesn't matter what form of exercise you do, says Nieman. "The things that matter are the intensity and duration." Nieman looked at 150 people who had walked regularly for 12 weeks. Those who had exercised moderately, Nieman found, had half the number of colds and sore throats of the least active subjects. Don't overdo it, though: After 90 minutes at high intensity, your body releases stress hormones that push the odds of illness in the other direction.

Get happy. When your manager assigns you to work the weekend trade show in the Quad Cities, head over to the gym for some strength training. Then return to the office, smile at her, and book your flight. A University of Richmond study of 39 men and women demonstrated that strength training can sweeten a foul mood. The subjects rated their own moods, warmed up for 5 to 10 minutes, then performed four sets of bench presses and squats. Afterward, the same mood test recorded less tension, depression, and anger. In a separate study at the University of New Orleans, 42 subjects reported similar results after a 50-minute bench-step class.

A 20-minute workout may be enough to trigger a better mood, and the effect can last for several hours. "You can experience the psychological benefits of exercise in a single bout of 10 or 20 minutes, whether you're in shape or not," says Robert W. McGowan, Ph.D., chairman of the University of Richmond department of health and sports science.

Bump up your metabolism. Over time, as you probably know, exercise can build muscle mass, which in turn can raise your resting metabolic rate. But research suggests that a single bout of strenuous strength training may elevate the metabolism of highly trained athletes for more than 12 hours afterward, according to Christopher Melby, Dr.P.H., of Colorado State University's nutrition and fitness laboratory. The payoff for those of us at a lower level of fitness isn't as big, but it does exist. Your metabolic rate stays elevated for about an hour after your workout. That's not much, but the harder you work out and the fitter you become, the longer your metabolism will stay in a higher gear.

Calm down. Kicking the recycling bin may have stress-reducing benefits, but you might also try some low-intensity aerobics to keep yourself off the window ledge. After 20 minutes of cycling, 10 men and five women at Indiana University were given questionnaires to gauge their anxiety levels. Researchers found a significant decrease in anxiety for at least 2 hours afterward. And it's not only high-intensity exercise that helps; in this study, the benefits were similar for moderate exercise. "You can reap the calming benefits of exercise without running yourself ragged," says Jack Raglin, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology.

Exercise can also dispel the caffeine buzz you've given yourself by downing coffee and cola all day. Between trips to the bathroom, hit the stationary bike for 30 minutes. Cycling at about 60 percent of maximum lung capacity may help reduce the anxiety brought on by a high dose of caffeine. In a study conducted at the University of Georgia, 11 men in their 20s were given either a placebo or 800 milligrams of caffeine (the amount in five to six cups of strong drip coffee) four days a week for two weeks. Then they either exercised or rested. Those who pumped the pedals had three times the reduction in caffeine-related anxiety of those who rested.

Think! Researchers at Middlesex University in England tested the creativity of 63 participants after they exercised or watched a video. "The exercisers seemed to show a greater range of ideas and creative uses for everyday objects," says Alison Dewey, an associate lecturer in psychology.

Axe your appetite. Contrary to popular belief, exercise won't make you hungrier. "Mild to moderate exercise does not stimulate hunger, and intense exercise may actually suppress your appetite for 15 to 30 minutes," says Neil King, Ph.D., a biopsychologist at the University of Leeds in England. So you can put in your gym time without worrying that you'll be tempted to knock over a candy store on the way home. But remain on guard: Research suggests that exercise can make you feel so virtuous that you'll choose more foods that are high in fat at your next meal.

Feel no pain. Or less of it, at any rate. Fourteen men and two women were subjected to 2 minutes of painful pressure on their right forefingers before and after a 30-minute cycling session, and were asked to rate the pain. Pain thresholds were significantly higher after exercise, and they stayed that way for at least 15 minutes. "Both aerobic exercise and weight lifting appear to alter pain perception," says Kelli F. Koltyn, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin, "but this alteration may last longer after aerobic exercise."

Contain your cholesterol. In a study of 26 men with elevated cholesterol, a 350-calorie workout on a stationary cycle at moderate intensity immediately lowered total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, while increasing levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Hit the cycle at least every other day. "The cholesterol-related benefits seem to wear off after 24 to 48 hours," says Stephen Crouse, Ph.D., of the applied exercise science laboratory at Texas A&M University.

- From Men's Health Magazine, March 1999

Getting Started

If you have never exercised before, it is wise to start slowly and gradually build up the intensity.  If you are more than 50 years old or have serious medical conditions, you should see your doctor first.  Walking around the block daily, or every other day, is a good start.  You can increase the distance every few days.  Stop or slow down if you feel lightheaded, short of breath, or have chest pains.

After a while, you will need to elevate your heart rate as in the table below, for at least 20 minutes, and do so at least 3 times per week. Just about any health care professional or Health Club worker can show you how to take your pulse and measure your heart rate. Your goal heart rate is based on your age.

 Goal Heart Rate (#beats/minute)

You will probably start to look and feel better after only a couple weeks of exercise.  Even if you do not notice a change on the scale, or in the mirror, your health will improve.   If you like, you can continue your low intensity exercise program and get significant health benefits such as lowering your risk of having a Heart Attack.

If you want to get all the benefits of exercise, you will need to gradually increase the duration and/or intensity of your exercise program over time.  If your goal is to lose a significant amount of weight, then you may need to do intense exercise for up to one hour per day.  Requirements vary from person to person.  Again, start slow and build up gradually over several weeks.

For those who have arthritis or other conditions that make weight-bearing exercises difficult, Biking, Swimming, and Yoga are excellent forms of exercise without impact.

Intensity Levels For Some Common Activities
Moderate Physical Activity Hard Physical Activity Very Hard Physical Activity
 Walking a mile in 15-20 min (3-4 mph)  Walking or jogging (12 min/mile)  Jogging (< 10 min/mile)
 Treading water  Swimming laps (light effort)  Swimming laps (vigorous effort)
 Bicycling (10 mph)  Bicycling (12 mph)  Bicycling (>14 mph)
 Dancing or tai chi  High impact aerobics  Step aerobics (6- to 8-in steps)
 Yard work/gardening  Mowing lawn with hand mower  Digging a ditch
 Hiking  Playing doubles tennis  Playing singles tennis
 Vacuuming  Moving furniture  Playing basketball or soccer
 Playing actively with children  Weight lifting  In-line skating
 AAFP Monograph, 10-1-2003, Adapted with permission from Blair SN, Dunn AL, Marcus BH, et al. Active living every day. 20 weeks to lifelong vitality. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics; 2001.

When starting an exercise program, you should stop or slow down if you feel lightheaded, short of breath, or have chest pains.  See your doctor if you are over 50 years old or have serious medical conditions, or if you feel lightheaded, short of breath, or have chest pains.  Exercise should be fun.