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June 21, 2011

What Are the Health Benefits of Exercise?

Man running and the health benefits of exercise

Health Benefits of Exercise

Exercise is the closest thing we have to a perfect drug.  No drug comes close to matching the numerous health benefits of exercise.  The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) promotes an “Exercise is Medicine” campaign aimed at educating physicians on the health benefits of exercise, and how to prescribe exercise to patients.  That’s great, but sad that such a campaign is necessary.  Life is about motion.  How enjoyable would life be if we could not move or be mobile?   Not very enjoyable, would it?  But, to maintain this wonderful ability we must work at it on a regular basis.  This becomes more important as we age.

Unlike medications, exercise does not have to cost anything and is associated with few side effects.  Certainly, it costs money to join a health club or buy exercise equipment for your home, but that’s relatively cheap compared to the direct and indirect costs of prescription medication plus the costs of seeing a doctor and diagnostic tests.

So what are the health benefits of exercise?  First, the benefits depend on the type of exercise.  We can break exercise down into three main category types; cardiovascular (endurance), resistant or strength training, and flexibility exercises.

Our cardiovascular, nervous/mental, metabolic, and musculoskeletal systems benefit the most from exercise.  Let’s take a look at each of these systems more closely.

General Health Benefits of Exercise

  • Exercise reduces risk of premature death.
  • Exercise reduces risk of some cancers.

Cardiovascular Health Benefits of Exercise

  • Exercise improves oxygen uptake.
  • Exercise lowers blood pressure.
  • Exercise lowers the risk of dying from heart disease.
  • Exercise improves cholesterol profile.
  • Exercise reduces triglyceride levels.
  • Exercise improves lung capacity.
  • Exercise reduces platelet aggregation (reducing risk of thrombus or blood clot).

Metabolic Benefits

  • Exercise improves glycemic control reducing risk of diabetes.
  • Exercise helps to achieve and maintain optimal body weight.
  • Exercise improves metabolism.

Neurologic/Mental Benefits

  • Exercise reduces depression and anxiety.
  • Exercise improves psychological well-being.

Musculoskeletal Benefits

  • Exercise increases muscle mass (which improves metabolism).
  • Exercise improves muscular strength.
  • Exercise increases strength of tendons and ligaments (reducing risk of injury).
  • Exercise helps to maintain bone density and strength.
  • Exercise improves balance and functional ability in the elderly (reducing risk of falling).

Can you find one prescribed medication that can offer all the health benefits of exercise? Perhaps ACSM’s campaign should be “Exercise is Better than Medicine”.

See related articles.

“To Burn Calories Try this Exercise Bike Workout”

“Is Anaerobic Exercise Better Than Aerobic Exercise?”

“Boosting Nitric Oxide with Exercise”

“Aerobic Exercise: Helpful Tips”


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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

  1. Fascinating stuff! It is great to see how our body works in a coordinated fashion for its benefit. The chemical pathways are so intricate. I knew that exercise could help with mental conditions – I guess there is a link with what is said in this blog. If only people would take responsibility for their fitness by looking around for things like best Elliptical fitness machines where they can exercise in the privacy of their own homes

  2. Such a great article…I mean, just walking places instead of driving is a good start. Everyday, you should do at least one activity that gets your heart pounding, even if it’s just sprinting down the street for 30 seconds. That’s what we were meant to do. The sad thing is, we don’t HAVE to stay in motion these days, so we choose not to.

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