The benefits of physical activity can be felt both inside and out. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, alleviates depression and anxiety and can even boost mental alertness.
Don’t take our word for it: a 2010 review looked at more than 40 studies and found that regular physical activity not only helps people keep within a healthy weight range, but can cut their risk of developing two dozen physical and mental health problems. The review, by the UK’s University of East Anglia, revealed that exercise can help cut the risk of some cancers, dementia, sexual problems, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression and high blood pressure.
Physical activity also provides social interaction - joining a sports team, walking to a park with friends or joining a tennis club are all great ways to spend time with other people while you get some exercise.
With a huge shift in the way modern society functions – from a physically active lifestyle to one that is predominantly sedentary – it’s more vital than ever to understand how physical activity benefits us.
Here are 10 key benefits to getting your heart rate pumping with physical activity.
1. Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Worried about heart disease or high blood pressure? The US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says physical activity can strengthen your heart and help it pump blood and deliver oxygen to your body. Several studies have also shown that regular physical activity boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL – otherwise known as ‘good’ cholesterol) and decreases unhealthy triglycerides (the amount of fat in your bloodstream). This keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
2. Prevent Illness
It’s not just your heart that will thank you for exercising. According to Australia’s National Public Health Partnership, physical activity reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, colon cancer, obesity and injury, with many studies supporting these findings.
3. Depression and Anxiety
Whether you use it to kick-start your morning or blow off steam after a stressful day, one of the biggest benefits of physical activity is that it can improve mood and relieve stress, anxiety and depression. Physical activity decreases stress hormones and releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
Australia’s Black Dog Institute reports that numerous studies have shown that people who exercise regularly (even when they engage in non-vigorous physical activity) experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who don’t exercise regularly. And both aerobic exercise and strength training have been found to be beneficial in alleviating depression.
4. Get Stronger
It’s no secret that physical activity like resistance training or weight training can give you muscles you never knew you had, but did you know it has other significant functional benefits? These include improving and increasing joint function, bone density and muscle, tendon and ligament strength.
For example, it can help significantly in preventing and managing osteoporosis, as can other forms of exercise. According to the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel, exercises that are good for osteoporosis include: resistance training (using free weights such as dumbbells and barbells, elastic-band resistance, body-weight resistance or weight-training machines); weight-bearing aerobics (including dancing!); and exercises that improve posture, balance and body strength, such as Tai Chi.
5. Aid Weight Loss
Looking to get to or stay at a healthy weight? Both diet and physical activity play a critical role in controlling your weight. Everything you eat contains calories, and everything you do uses calories.
It follows that the more you do, the more calories you use. Even simpler forms of physical activity – like taking the stairs instead of the lift – will help burn extra calories.
6. Longer Life
Research by the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the US National Cancer Institute found that the more physical activity you engage in, the longer you’re likely to live. The study, of more than 650,000 people over 10 years, found that around 150 minutes of brisk walking per week can equate to an extra 3.4 years of life expectancy.
It also found that obese people (those with a body mass index of more than 30) can enjoy the benefits of physical activity. By engaging in exercise, they’re likely to live 3.1 years longer than someone of a normal weight who doesn’t engage in physical activity.
7. Boost Memory
The effect of physical activity on your brain has been well documented, and recent research from the USA confirms physical activity has benefits for memory. Comparing a group who had exercised for one month with one that hadn’t, researchers found the active group performed better in memory tests.
With physical activity extending your life expectancy, you want to make sure you can remember the good times!
8. Improve Your Sex Life
According to a study from the University of Arkansas, physical activity boosts blood flow to the genital region, making it easier for women to hit ‘the big O’. And it’s not just the ladies who feel the benefits. The same study shows that men have a good reason to get fit too – burning at least 200 calories a day can significantly lower their risk of erectile dysfunction. Sounds like a good reason to get into men’s fitness!
9. Sleep Easier
Running to the medicine cabinet or the doctor for sleeping pills is one way to battle insomnia, but aerobic exercise might be the best prescription. A study by Oregon State University shows people sleep significantly better and feel more alert if they have at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week.
10. Have Fun!
Physical activity doesn’t have to be all about strict fitness exercises to reduce blood pressure or lose weight. It can also be a time to catch up with friends, unwind or enjoy the outdoors. Go bushwalking, join a community soccer team or take a dance class. Physical activity will help you maintain a healthy, happy life.