The benefits of doing regular exercise include a reduced risk of: heart disease, stroke, bowel cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, and obesity. In addition, many people feel better in themselves. Stress, anxiety, and mild depression are also thought to be helped by exercise.
How much exercise should I take?
To gain health benefits you should do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, on most days (at least 5 days per week).
30 minutes in a day is probably the minimum to gain health benefits. However, you do not have to do this all at once. Several short bursts of activity are thought to be equally as good. For example, three 10 minute sessions of activity at different times in a day. This may make it easier to fit exercise into a busy schedule. Try to increase the amount to 40-60 minutes per day if you can.
Moderate exercise means that you get warm, mildly out of breath, and mildly sweaty. It does not have to be intense.
On most days. You cannot ‘store up’ the benefits of exercise. You need to do it regularly.
What sort of exercise?
Anything that makes your heart rate increase, and makes you at least mildly out of breath. For example: brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing, etc.
You can even use normal activities as part of your exercise routine. For example, fairly heavy housework or gardening can make you out of breath and sweaty. Consider a brisk walk to work, or to the shops, instead of using a car or bus, etc.
What are the health benefits of exercise?
Heart disease and stroke
On average, the risk of developing heart disease such as angina or a heart attack is reduced by about a third in people who exercise compared to those who do no exercise. You are also less likely to have a stroke. Exercise is good for the heart muscle, but it also reduces some ‘risk factors’ for heart disease and stroke. For example, on average, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body weight are lower in people who regularly exercise compared with those who do not.
If you already have heart disease, regular exercise is usually advised as an important way to help prevent the heart disease from getting worse.
Exercise helps to burn off excess fat. Regular exercise combined with a healthy diet is the best way of losing excess weight, and to maintain a healthy body weight.
Regular exercise helps to prevent osteoporosis (‘thinning of the bones’). The pulling and tugging on the bones by the muscles helps to stimulate bone producing cells and strengthens the bones.
Regular exercise roughly halves the chance of developing cancer of the colon (bowel cancer). There is also evidence that breast cancer is less common in women who regularly exercise
Exercise is thought to help:
- Ease stress, and improve your general well-being and self-esteem. It is difficult to measure ‘stress’. However, many people find their level of stress is reduced by regular exercise.
- Ease anxiety and mild depression.
- Make you sleep better. (But exercise during the day, not near to bed time.)
If you are over 70, you are less likely to fall and be injured if you exercise regularly.
Are there any risks with exercise?
- Injury. Sprains, and sometimes more serious injuries, are a risk if you do some types of exercise such as competitive sports. You can cut down the risk of injury by always warming up before any vigorous exercise, and by wearing the correct footwear.
- Endurance sports such as marathon running can cause stress fractures, fatigue, and may cause periods to stop in some women.
- Sudden death sometimes occurs in people who are exercising. This is rare if you are used to moderate exercise. It is more likely to occur if you do not usually do much exercise, but then do a sudden bout of vigorous exercise such as an intense game of squash. However, even in this situation, sudden death is uncommon.
If you gradually build up to do regular moderate exercise, the potential health gains greatly outweigh the small risks involved.
Some other points about exercise
- If you have a medical condition that concerns you about exercising, then see a doctor before starting an exercise programme. However, there are few reasons why exercise may be harmful. A common wrong belief is that exercise may be “bad for the heart”. On the contrary, exercise is good for most people with heart disease.
- If you are unfit and not used to exercise, it is best to gradually build up your level of exercise.
- One of the biggest obstacles is the uphill battle to become fit. Many people feel that the first few attempts at exercise are quite a struggle. Do not get disheartened. You are likely to find that each time it becomes easier and more enjoyable.
- Try and keep exercise high on your list of priorities throughout the week. If one kind of exercise becomes boring, try switching to other types to maintain the health benefits.
- Some people set their goals too high. For example, aiming for a marathon run. This may take too much time, you may lose enthusiasm, and exercise may become a drudge. Beware of this pitfall.
- Exercise is not just for young ‘sporty’ types. It is never too late to start to gain the benefits, no matter how old or unfit you are.
The bottom line: realistically, walking is likely to be the exercise chosen by many people. But, this is fine as brisk walking is an excellent moderate exercise. One medical report on summarising exercise stated: “The bottom line. Walking two miles a day can cut the risk of death by half”.