The 12 Best Reasons You Should Exercise

The promise of thinner thighs or a slimmer midsection is what gets a lot of people off the couch. And exercise can help you lose fat, preserve muscle, and keep off the excess weight you manage to lose. But if you think those are the only reasons you should exercise, you’re missing a lot. Here are a dozen others.


1. Sleep

A 16-week exercise program (30 to 40 minutes of brisk walking or low-impact aerobics four times a week) improved the quality, duration, and ease of falling asleep in healthy older adults. Exercise may improve sleep by relaxing muscles, reducing stress, or warming the body.

2. Gallstones

Active women are 30 percent less likely to have gallstone surgery than sedentary women. In one study, women who spent more than 60 hours a week sitting at work or driving were twice as likely to have gallstone surgery as women who sat for less than 40 hours a week.

3. Colon cancer

The most active people have a lower risk of colon cancer—in two studies half the risk—compared to the least active people. Exercise may lower the levels of a certain hormone-like substance called prostaglandin E2 that accelerates colon cell proliferation and slows intestinal motility. What you want is increased motility to speed the movement of any carcinogens through the colon.

4. Diverticular disease

In one study, the most active men had a 37 percent lower risk of symptomatic diverticular disease than the least active men. Most of the protection against diverticular disease—pockets in the wall of the colon that can become inflamed—was due to vigorous activities like jogging and running, rather than moderate activities like walking.

5. Arthritis

Regular moderate exercise, whether aerobic or strength-training, can reduce joint swelling and pain in people with arthritis.

6. Anxiety and depression

Getting people with anxiety or depression to do aerobic exercises like brisk walking or running curbs their symptoms, possibly by releasing natural opiates.

7. Heart disease

In one study, men with low fitness who became fit had a lower risk of heart disease than men who stayed unfit. In another, women who walked the equivalent of three or more hours per week at a brisk pace had a 35 percent lower risk of heart disease than women who walked infrequently. Exercise boosts the supply of oxygen to the heart muscle by expanding existing arteries and creating tiny new blood vessels. It may also prevent blood clots or promote their breakdown.

8. Blood pressure

If your blood pressure is already high or high-normal, low-or moderate-intensity aerobic exercise—three times a week—can lower it. If your blood pressure isn’t high, regular exercise helps keep it that way.

9. Diabetes

The more you move, the lower your risk of diabetes, especially if you’re already at risk because of excess weight, high blood pressure, or parents with diabetes. In one study, women who walked at least three hours a week had about a 40 percent lower risk of diabetes than sedentary women.

10. Falls and fractures

Older women assigned to a home-based (strength-and balance-training) exercise program had fewer falls than women who didn’t exercise. Exercise may prevent falls and broken bones by improving muscle strength, gait, balance, and reaction time.

11. Enlarged prostate

In one study, men who walked two to three hours a week had a 25 percent lower risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate) than men who seldom walked.

12. Osteoporosis

Exercise, especially strength-training, can increase bone density in middle-aged and older people. Bonus: postmenopausal women who take estrogen gain more bone density if they exercise.

These are all good reasons you should exercise, but we’d love to hear of any others you think we should add. Let us know in the comments what we missed. 

Sources: N. Eng. J. Med. 341: 777, 1999. J. Nat. Cancer Inst. 89: 948, 1997. Ann. Intern. Med. 122: 327, 1995. Gut 36: 276, 1995. J. Amer. Med. Assoc. 277: 25, 1997. J. Psychosom. Res. 33: 537, 1989. Arch. Intern. Med. 159: 2349, 1999. J. Amer. Med. Assoc. 273: 1093, 1995. N. Eng. J. Med. 341: 650, 1999. J. Clin. Epidem. 45: 439, 1992. J. Am. Med. Assoc 282: 1433, 1999. Brit. Med. J. 315: 1065, 1997. Arch. Intern. Med. 158: 2349, 1998. Arch. Intern. Med. 158: 2349, 1998. J. Bone Min. Res. 11: 218, 1996.


3 Replies to “The 12 Best Reasons You Should Exercise”

  1. Most people miss the most important reason.
    # 1 The Brain, Body and Mind are all one and connected. Movement of all kinds improves the working of the Brain and Body.
    I could go on but I hope you get the point.
    People who are recovering from brain injuries have better long-term outcomes if they get up and get moving as soon as possible.
    People who used an exercise bike for 6 months saw an increased density and connectivity in their brain’s white matter. The finding was seen in both people with schizophrenia and people with no clinical diagnosis.


    Yep, the benefits to the BRAIN are more compelling than most of those. Vincent is right on target. Although this is not controversial at all, it may be hard to quantify precisely.

    It makes a great deal of sense just based on the basic mechanics of the brain. Our brains are not inert, and typically burn 20% or more of our calories (although I will joke and say clearly individual mileage varies) so there is a lot of cellular activity going on. The brain depends on blood flow, both for calories coming in and waste products going out (e.g. free radicals left over from cellular “calorie combustion”). Those free radicals (left over electrons) are very destructive to surrounding tissue, if left to accumulate for even a few minutes the results will KILL YOU. The oxygen in our blood binds and absorbs the free electrons and carries the resulting CO2 away from the brain to the lungs for release. Basically, the blood is both food delivery van and hazmat disposal unit carrying away the toxic leftovers. Both functions are critical for healthy life.

    Think about it, you can survive WEEKS without food, and DAYS without water, but only MINUTES without oxygen to the brain. You might pass out in 30 seconds or less without it! That’s why.

    Especially for aging adults it seems the need to sustain or even improve your cardiovascular system to support circulation to the brain is CRITICAL to your health. I have seen a number of neurology reports that link lower circulation in the brain with degraded cognitive ability and even disease conditions where parts of the brain are shutting down. In most cases the damage seems seem to be irreversible. I don’t mean to indicate this is the only factor, just that it is an obvious one we should not overlook.

    So anything that improves BOTH A) oxygen uptake/lung capacity and B) blood circulation is likely better than any pill or supplement a healthy person can take. There is such a magic thing that does both A & B: exercise.

    Remember, besides the brain ALL our cells are producing those free radicals. Improving the body’s ability to carry out this basic function has to be important.

    However, I am not sure how many scientific studies have tried to isolate all the other variables to quantify a causative effect or just a correlation. So I understand why maybe the hard evidence to put it on this list is less clear. I believe the number of studies is growing as the link is better appreciated over the past decade. Stay tuned!

  3. I go to water aerobics classes 5 days a week year round. I’m sure it improves my health but the reason I go back is because it makes me HAPPY! I always leave feeling better and happier than I did when I walked in.

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