Health Benefits of Exercise

Despite the many health benefits of physical activity, from reduced risk of illness to improved psychological well-being, most people do not get enough exercise.
Health Benefits of Exercise

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, more than 60 percent of U.S. adults do not engage in the recommended amount of activity and about 25 percent are not active at all.

Based on a review of the science, the general health benefits of exercise include:1
  • Reduce the risk of developing and/or dying from heart disease
  • Reduce high blood pressure or the risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of premature death
  • Reduce high cholesterol or the risk of developing high cholesterol
  • Reduce the risk of developing colon cancer and breast cancer
  • Reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce or maintain body weight or body fat
  • Build and maintain healthy muscles, bones and joints
  • Reduce depression and anxiety
  • Improve psychological well-being
  • Enhance work, recreation, and sport performance

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which publishes exercise recommendations for healthy adults2, the goals of a comprehensive activity plan include the maintenance of muscular strength and endurance, joint flexibility and cardiorespiratory fitness.

Determining the Level of Benefit
The level of benefit that an individual gains from exercise is based on three factors: the frequency, intensity level and length of the activity.

For example, aerobic exercise that is performed less than two days per week, at less than a moderate level of intensity and for less than 10 minutes generally does not develop and maintain physical fitness in healthy adults.

Despite this, many health benefits from physical activity can be achieved at lower intensities of exercise if the frequency of the activity and amount of time spent doing the exercise are increased. If health, rather than fitness, is the goal, physical activity can be accumulated through the day in shorter, 10-minute increments, and at intensities lower than those required to increase physical fitness.

Individual Recommendations
Recommendations should be used in the context of an individual's needs, goals and initial abilities. Exercise regimens should be designed to include cardiorespiratory, muscular strength and endurance, and joint flexibility components. In addition, warm-up and cool-down periods that include flexibility exercises are recommended.

The important factor is to design a program that provides the proper amount of physical activity to get the greatest benefit at the lowest risk. Emphasis should be placed on factors that will lead to a lasting lifestyle change.

This content is reviewed regularly. Last updated November 5, 2011.

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RELATED INFORMATION

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FOOTNOTES

1Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health.

2American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. The recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and flexibility in healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Jun;30(6):975-91.

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