Exercise is defined as any movement that makes your muscles work and requires your body to burn calories.

There are many types of physical activity, including swimming, running, jogging, walking, and dancing, to name a few.

Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. It may even help you live longer (1).

Here are the top 10 ways regular exercise benefits your body and brain.

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1. Exercise can make you feel happier

Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress (2).

It produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity to the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression (3).

Additionally, exercise can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain (3).

Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how intense your workout is. It seems that exercise can benefit your mood no matter the intensity of the physical activity.

In fact, in a study in 24 women diagnosed with depression, exercise of any intensity significantly decreased feelings of depression (4).

The effects of exercise on mood are so powerful that choosing to exercise (or not) even makes a difference over short periods of time.

One review of 19 studies found that active people who stopped exercising regularly experienced significant increases in symptoms of depression and anxiety, even after only a few weeks (5).

Summary

Exercising regularly can improve your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

2. Exercise can help with weight loss

Some studies have shown that inactivity is a major factor in weight gain and obesity (6, 7).

To understand the effect of exercise on weight reduction, it is important to understand the relationship between exercise and energy expenditure (spending).

Your body spends energy in three ways:

  • digesting food
  • exercising
  • maintaining body functions, like your heartbeat and breathing

While dieting, a reduced calorie intake will lower your metabolic rate, which can temporarily delay weight loss. On the contrary, regular exercise has been shown to increase your metabolic rate, which can burn more calories to help you lose weight (6, 7, 8).

Additionally, studies have shown that combining aerobic exercise with resistance training can maximize fat loss and muscle mass maintenance, which is essential for keeping the weight off and maintaining lean muscle mass (9, 10, 11).

Summary

Exercise is crucial to supporting a healthy metabolism and burning more calories per day. It also helps you maintain your muscle mass and weight loss.

3. Exercise is good for your muscles and bones

Exercise plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones.

Activities like weightlifting can stimulate muscle building when paired with adequate protein intake.

This is because exercise helps release hormones that promote your muscles’ ability to absorb amino acids. This helps them grow and reduces their breakdown (12, 13).

As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to an increased risk of injury. Practicing regular physical activity is essential to reducing muscle loss and maintaining strength as you age (14).

Exercise also helps build bone density when you’re younger, in addition to helping prevent osteoporosis later in life (15).

Some research suggests that high impact exercise (such as gymnastics or running) or odd impact sports (such as soccer and basketball) may help promote a higher bone density than no impact sports like swimming and cycling (16).

Summary

Physical activity helps you build muscles and strong bones. It may also help prevent osteoporosis.

4. Exercise can increase your energy levels

Exercise can be a real energy booster for many people, including those with various medical conditions (17, 18).

One older study found that 6 weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 people who had reported persistent fatigue (19).

Exercise can also significantly increase energy levels for people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and other health conditions (20, 21).

In fact, exercise seems to be more effective at combating CFS than other treatments, including passive therapies like relaxation and stretching or no treatment at all (20).

And let’s not forget the fantastic heart and lung health benefits of exercise. Aerobic exercise boosts the cardiovascular system and improves lung health, which can significantly help with energy levels.

As you move more, your heart pumps more blood, delivering more oxygen to your working muscles. With regular exercise, your heart becomes more efficient and adept at moving oxygen into your blood, making your muscles more efficient (21).

Over time, this aerobic training results in less demand on your lungs, and it requires less energy to perform the same activities — one of the reasons you’re less likely to get short of breath during vigorous activity (22).

Additionally, exercise has been shown to increase energy levels in people with other conditions, such as cancer (23).

Summary

Engaging in regular physical activity can increase your energy levels. This is true even in people with persistent fatigue and those with serious health conditions.

5. Exercise can reduce your risk of chronic disease

Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease (24).

Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, heart health, and body composition. It can also decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels (25, 26, 27, 28).

More specifically, exercise can help reduce or prevent the following chronic health conditions.

  • Type 2 diabetes. Regular aerobic exercise may delay or prevent type 2 diabetes. It also has considerable health benefits for people with type 1 diabetes. Resistance training for type 2 diabetes includes improvements in fat mass, blood pressure, lean body mass, insulin resistance, and glycemic control (29).
  • Heart disease. Exercise reduces cardiovascular risk factors and is also a therapeutic treatment for people with cardiovascular disease (30).
  • Many types of cancer. Exercise can help reduce the risk of several cancers, including breast, colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, lung, liver, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, thyroid, gastric, and esophageal cancer (31).
  • High cholesterol. Regular moderate intensity physical activity can increase HDL (good) cholesterol while maintaining or offsetting increases in LDL (bad) cholesterol. Research supports the theory that high intensity aerobic activity is needed to lower LDL levels (32).
  • Hypertension: Participating in regular aerobic exercise can lower resting systolic BP 5–7 mmHG among people with hypertension (33).

In contrast, a lack of regular exercise — even in the short term — can lead to significant increases in belly fat, which may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease (24).

That’s why regular physical activity is recommended to reduce belly fat and decrease the risk of developing these conditions (34).

Summary

Daily physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

6. Exercise can help skin health

Your skin can be affected by the amount of oxidative stress in your body.

Oxidative stress occurs when the body’s antioxidant defenses cannot completely repair the cell damage caused by compounds known as free radicals. This can damage the structure of the cells and negatively impact your skin.

Even though intense and exhaustive physical activity can contribute to oxidative damage, regular moderate exercise can actually increase your body’s production of natural antioxidants, which help protect cells (35, 36).

In the same way, exercise can stimulate blood flow and induce skin cell adaptations that can help delay the appearance of skin aging (37).

Summary

Moderate exercise can provide antioxidant protection and promote blood flow, which can protect your skin and delay signs of aging.

7. Exercise can help your brain health and memory

Exercise can improve brain function and protect memory and thinking skills.

To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. It can also stimulate the production of hormones that enhance the growth of brain cells.

Plus, the ability of exercise to prevent chronic disease can translate into benefits for your brain, since its function can be affected by these conditions (38).

Regular physical activity is especially important in older adults since aging — combined with oxidative stress and inflammation — promotes changes in brain structure and function (39, 40).

Exercise has been shown to cause the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s vital for memory and learning, to grow in size, which may help improve mental function in older adults (39, 40, 41).

Lastly, exercise has been shown to reduce changes in the brain that can contribute to conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (42).

Summary

Regular exercise improves blood flow to the brain and helps brain health and memory. Among older adults, it can help protect mental function.

8. Exercise can help with relaxation and sleep quality

Regular exercise can help you relax and sleep better (43, 44).

With regard to sleep quality, the energy depletion (loss) that occurs during exercise stimulates restorative processes during sleep (45).

Moreover, the increase in body temperature that occurs during exercise is thought to improve sleep quality by helping body temperature drop during sleep (46).

Many studies on the effects of exercise on sleep have reached similar conclusions.

One review of six studies found that participating in an exercise training program helped improve self-reported sleep quality and reduced sleep latency, which is the amount of time it takes to fall asleep (47).

One study conducted over 4 months found that both stretching and resistance exercise led to improvements in sleep for people with chronic insomnia (48).

Getting back to sleep after waking, sleep duration, and sleep quality improved after both stretching and resistance exercise. Anxiety was also reduced in the stretching group (48).

What’s more, engaging in regular exercise seems to benefit older adults, who are often affected by sleep disorders (49, 50).

You can be flexible with the kind of exercise you choose. It appears that either aerobic exercise alone or aerobic exercise combined with resistance training can both improve sleep quality (51).

Summary

Regular physical activity, regardless of whether it is aerobic or a combination of aerobic and resistance training, can help you sleep better and feel more energized during the day.

9. Exercise can reduce pain

Although chronic pain can be debilitating, exercise can actually help reduce it (52).

In fact, for many years, the recommendation for treating chronic pain was rest and inactivity. However, recent studies show that exercise helps relieve chronic pain (53).

In fact, one review of several studies found that exercise can help those with chronic pain reduce their pain and improve their quality of life (53).

Several studies also show that exercise can help control pain associated with various health conditions, including chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia, and chronic soft tissue shoulder disorder, to name a few (53).

Additionally, physical activity can also raise pain tolerance and decrease pain perception (54, 55).

Summary

Exercise has favorable effects on the pain associated with various conditions. It can also increase pain tolerance.

10. Exercise can promote a better sex life

Exercise has been proven to boost sex drive (56, 57, 58).

Engaging in regular exercise can strengthen the heart, improve blood circulation, tone muscles, and enhance flexibility, all of which can improve your sex life (57).

Physical activity can also improve sexual performance and sexual pleasure while increasing the frequency of sexual activity (57, 59).

Interestingly enough, one study showed that regular exercise was associated with increased sexual function and desire in 405 postmenopausal women (60).

A review of 10 studies also found that exercising for at least 160 minutes per week over a 6-month period could help significantly improve erectile function in men (58).

What’s more, another study found that a simple routine of a 6-minute walk around the house helped 41 men reduce their erectile dysfunction symptoms by 71% (61).

Yet another study demonstrated that women with polycystic ovary syndrome, which can reduce sex drive, increased their sex drive with regular resistance training for 16 weeks (62).

Summary

Exercise can help improve sexual desire, function, and performance in men and women. It can also help decrease the risk of erectile dysfunction in men.

The bottom line

Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health. Regular physical activity can increase the production of hormones that make you feel happier and help you sleep better.

It can also:

  • improve your skin’s appearance
  • help you lose weight and keep it off
  • reduce the risk of chronic disease
  • improve your sex life

And it doesn’t take much movement to make a big difference in your health.

If you aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity spread throughout the week, you’ll meet the Department of Health and Human Services’ activity guidelines for adults (63).

Moderate intensity aerobic activity is anything that gets your heart beating faster, like walking, cycling, or swimming. Activities like running or participating in a strenuous fitness class count for vigorous intensity.

Throw in at least 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms), and you’ll exceed the recommendations.

You can use weights, resistance bands, or your bodyweight to perform muscle-strengthening exercises. These include squats, push-ups, shoulder press, chest, press, and planks.

Whether you practice a specific sport or follow the guideline of 150 minutes of activity per week, you can inevitably improve your health in many ways (56).

Just one thing

Try this today: Need some ideas for how to start adding more activity into your daily routine? Check out this article for some tips and tricks to help get you going, along with a sample workout regimen!