Even small amounts of physical activity can be good for your health. But do you know all the reasons why?
If the thought of exercise turns you off, it may be time to reframe your perspective. Research shows that it’s not just structured exercise but any type of physical activity that has benefits. This means anything that gets you moving—a walk with a friend, raking leaves in the yard, climbing several flights of stairs—counts, as long as it gets you moving for a sustained amount of time. And any amount of physical activity is better than none. This means getting moving for just 15 minutes a day can start to bring benefits, especially if you are usually not active.
In terms of guidelines, experts say that to maintain health, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. This is any activity that gets your large muscle groups moving continuously, such as walking, biking or jumping rope. For strength benefits, you should aim for two sessions per week that work your major muscle groups. This could be formal exercises using machines or free weights, but it can also be everyday activities with no equipment at all.
But the most important thing is to get started doing any physical activity rather than worrying about restrictive guidelines. “If you can’t make the guidelines initially, strive to achieve them over time,” says Todd Galati, exercise scientist for the American Council on Exercise. Start with short periods of physical activity, then work your way up. To get motivated, consider these six life-enhancing benefits of exercise.
1. It can help you feel more energetic.
Aerobic exercise stimulates the growth of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. Your heart uses these vessels to pump more blood and oxygen around your body, which translates to feelings of greater energy and vitality. When you first start an exercise program, you may feel tired, but soon you’ll likely find you have more stamina and energy.
2. It can help you age well.
People who engage in regular exercise have a better quality of life and live longer. Physical activity combats the effects of getting older by slowing down the aging process through increased strength of the body’s systems. Exercise increases your resiliency to disease and injury, keeping your body and mind in tip-top shape for years.
3. It can boost your metabolism.
Exercise plays an important role in weight control by burning calories that would otherwise be stored as fat. Research shows exercise increases metabolism during and up to one hour following an aerobic workout. Increased metabolism burns more calories and improves your ability to lose unwanted pounds.
4. It may help prevent chronic disease.
Regular aerobic exercise can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancer. Exercise may not eliminate all pains but it often reduces muscle and joint pain. Studies show that weight-bearing exercises build stronger bones and help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis.
5. It can mean a happier you.
Exercise has a powerful ability to improve your mood, self-image and general sense of well-being. Aerobic activity stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which are said to relieve stress. Research indicates exercise is likely to reduce depression and anxiety. After a demanding day, a single session of aerobic exercise often decreases tension and helps you relax.
6. It can help you be stronger and more flexible.
Regular exercise keeps all muscles strong—not just the ones you might generally think about—and gives you more flexibility, reducing your chances of injury. Aerobic exercise strengthens muscles, and strength training tones and builds muscles, giving you more power, increased endurance and better fitness.
You can start reaping exercise’s benefits by adding just a little activity each day. Try jumping jacks during commercials, a brisk walk at lunch or a burst of dancing to your favorite music. Start with just 10 minutes a day if you need to, and see if you can get to 150 minutes a week. But remember to check in with your doctor before you start or change your exercise routine, especially if you have a chronic health condition. Your doctor can tell you how much and what types of activity are right for you.