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Benefits of Exercise

We have all heard it many times before - regular exercise is good for you, and it can help you lose weight. But if you are like many Americans, you are busy, you have a sedentary job, and you haven't yet changed your exercise habits. The good news is that it's never too late to start. You can start slowly, and find ways to fit more physical activity into your life. To get the most benefit, you should try to get the recommended amount of exercise for your age. If you can do it, the payoff is that you will feel better, help prevent or control many diseases, and likely even live longer.

What are the health benefits of exercise?

Regular exercise and physical activity may:

  • Help you control your weight. Along with diet, exercise plays an important role in controlling your weight and preventing obesity. To maintain your weight, the calories you eat and drink must equal the energy you burn. To lose weight, you must use more calories than you eat and drink.
  • Reduce your risk of heart diseases. Exercise strengthens your heart and improves your circulation. The increased blood flow raises the oxygen levels in your body. This helps lower your risk of heart diseases such as high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and heart attack. Regular exercise can also lower your blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
  • Help your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels. Exercise can lower your blood sugar level and help your insulin work better. This can cut down your risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. And if you already have one of those diseases, exercise can help you to manage it.
  • Help you quit smoking. Exercise may make it easier to quit smoking by reducing your cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It can also help limit the weight you might gain when you stop smoking.
  • Improve your mental health and mood. During exercise, your body releases chemicals that can improve your mood and make you feel more relaxed. This can help you deal with stress and reduce your risk of depression.
  • Help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. Exercise stimulates your body to release proteins and other chemicals that improve the structure and function of your brain.
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles. Regular exercise can help kids and teens build strong bones. Later in life, it can also slow the loss of bone density that comes with age. Doing muscle-strengthening activities can help you increase or maintain your muscle mass and strength.
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers, including colon, breast , uterine, and lung cancer.
  • Reduce your risk of falls. For older adults, research shows that doing balance and muscle-strengthening activities in addition to moderate-intensity aerobic activity can help reduce your risk of falling.
  • Improve your sleep. Exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
  • Improve your sexual health. Regular exercise may lower the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men. For those who already have ED, exercise may help improve their sexual function. In women, exercise may increase sexual arousal.
  • Increase your chances of living longer. Studies show that physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from the leading causes of death, like heart disease and some cancers.
How can I make exercise a part of my regular routine?
  • Make everyday activities more active. Even small changes can help. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk down the hall to a coworker's office instead of sending an email. Wash the car yourself. Park further away from your destination.
  • Be active with friends and family. Having a workout partner may make you more likely to enjoy exercise. You can also plan social activities that involve exercise. You might also consider joining an exercise group or class, such as a dance class, hiking club, or volleyball team.
  • Keep track of your progress. Keeping a log of your activity or using a fitness tracker may help you set goals and stay motivated.
  • Make exercise more fun. Try listening to music or watching TV while you exercise. Also, mix things up a little bit - if you stick with just one type of exercise, you might get bored. Try doing a combination of activities.
  • Find activities that you can do even when the weather is bad. You can walk in a mall, climb stairs, or work out in a gym even if the weather stops you from exercising outside.

Exercise and Physical Fitness

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. It has many benefits, including improving your overall health and fitness, and reducing your risk for many chronic diseases. There are many different types of exercise; it is important that you pick the right types for you. Most people benefit from a combination of them:

  • Endurance, or aerobic, activities increase your breathing and heart rate. They keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy and improve your overall fitness. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, and biking.
  • Strength, or resistance training, exercises make your muscles stronger. Some examples are lifting weights and using a resistance band.
  • Balance exercises can make it easier to walk on uneven surfaces and help prevent falls. To improve your balance, try tai chi or exercises like standing on one leg.
  • Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and can help your body stay limber. Yoga and doing various stretches can make you more flexible.

Fitting regular exercise into your daily schedule may seem difficult at first. But you can start slowly, and break your exercise time into chunks. Even doing ten minutes at a time is fine. You can work your way up to doing the recommended amount of exercise. How much exercise you need depends on your age and health.

Other things that you can do to make the most of your workouts include:

  • Choosing activities that work all the different parts of the body, including your core (muscles around your back, abdomen, and pelvis). Good core strength improves balance and stability and helps to prevent lower back injury.
  • Choosing activities that you enjoy. It's easier to make exercise a regular part of your life if you have fun doing it.
  • Exercising safely, with proper equipment, to prevent injuries. Also, listen to your body and don't overdo it.
  • Giving yourself goals. The goals should challenge you, but also be realistic. It's also helpful to reward yourself when you reach your goals. The rewards could be something big, like new workout gear, or something smaller, such as movie tickets.

Healthy Aging

People in the U.S. are living longer, and the number of older adults in the population is growing. As we age, our minds and bodies change. Having a healthy lifestyle can help you deal with those changes. It may also prevent some health problems and help you to make the most of your life.

A healthy lifestyle for older adults includes:

  • Healthy eating. As you age, your dietary needs may change. You may need fewer calories, but you still need to get enough nutrients. A healthy eating plan includes
    • Eating foods that give you lots of nutrients without a lot of extra calories. This includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts, and seeds.
    • Avoiding empty calories, such as foods like chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol
    • Eating foods that are low in cholesterol and fat
    • Drinking enough liquids, so you don't get dehydrated
  • Regular physical activity. Being physically active may help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid chronic health problems. If you have not been active, you can start slowly and work up to your goal. How much exercise you need depends on your age and health. Check with your health care provider on what is right for you.
  • Staying at a healthy weight. Being either overweight or underweight can lead to health problems. Ask your health care professional what a healthy weight for you may be. Healthy eating and exercise can help you get to that weight.
  • Keeping your mind active. Lots of activities can keep your mind active and improve your memory, including learning new skills, reading, and playing games.
  • Making your mental health a priority. Work on improving your mental health, for example by practicing mediation, relaxation techniques, or gratitude. Know the warning signs of a problem and ask for help if you are struggling.
  • Participating in activities that you enjoy. People who are involved in hobbies and social and leisure activities may be at lower risk for some health problems. Doing things that you enjoy may help you feel happier and improve your thinking abilities.
  • Playing an active role in your health care. Make sure that you get regular checkups and the health screenings that you need. You should know which medicines you are taking, why you need them, and how to take them properly.
  • Not smoking. If you are a smoker, quitting is one of the most important things that you can do for your health. It can lower your risk of several different types of cancer, certain lung diseases, and heart disease.
  • Taking steps to prevent falls. Older adults have a higher risk of falling. They are also more likely to fracture (break) a bone when they fall. Getting regular eye checkups, getting regular physical activity, and making your house safer can lower your risk of falling.

Following these tips can help you to stay healthy as you age. Even if you have never done them before, it's never too late to start taking care of your health. If you have questions about these lifestyle changes or need help figuring out how to make them, ask your health care provider.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that thins and weakens the bones. Your bones become fragile and fracture (break) easily, especially the bones in the hip, spine, and wrist. In the United States, millions of people either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass.

Anyone can develop osteoporosis, but it is more common in older women. Risk factors include:

  • Getting older
  • Being small and thin
  • Having a family history of osteoporosis
  • Taking certain medicines
  • Being a white or Asian woman
  • Having low bone density

Osteoporosis is a silent disease. You might not know you have it until you break a bone. A bone mineral density test is the best way to check your bone health.

To keep bones strong, eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise, and do not smoke. If needed, medicines can also help. It is also important to try to avoid falling down. Falls are the number one cause of fractures in older adults.

NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. It usually starts in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer. Some people do have episodes of depression that start in the spring or summer, but that is a lot less common. Symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Sadness
  • Gloomy outlook
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, and irritable
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

SAD is more common in women, young people, and those who live far from the equator. You are also more likely to have SAD if you or your family members have depression.

The exact causes of SAD are unknown. Researchers have found that people with SAD may have an imbalance of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects your mood. Their bodies also make too much melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, and not enough vitamin D.

The main treatment for SAD is light therapy. The idea behind light therapy is to replace the sunshine that you miss during the fall and winter months. You sit in front of a light therapy box every morning to get daily exposure to bright, artificial light. But some people with SAD do not respond to light therapy alone. Antidepressant medicines and talk therapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or combined with light therapy.

NIH: National Institute of Mental Health

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