Health Benefits of Physical Activity

Monday is an opportunity to start fresh and introduce or recommit to healthy behaviors that can be continued throughout the week. The Monday concept can help individuals commit to physical activity goals and begin to reap the many benefits including increased strength, improved heart health, lower risk of certain cancers, better weight management, and improved mood and quality of life.

Conditioning the heart and lungs

Regular moderate to vigorous physical activity can strengthen the heart and improve lung function. Those who stay active can lower their risk of cardiovascular heart disease by lowering blood pressure, managing blood sugar and cholesterol, and reducing signs of inflammation, and also decrease other risk factors for heart disease.1 The heart and lungs work together during physical activity, with the lungs taking in oxygen and removing carbon dioxide while the heart pumps the oxygen to the muscles that are moving. With regular exercise, muscles use oxygen more efficiently, which in turn makes breathing during exercise more efficient. As an individual’s stamina increases, their lung function increases, blood circulation is improved and the heart is strengthened.2

Muscle and bone strength

Physical activity can build muscle strength and endurance. For strength training, gradually adding weight and/or increasing repetitions can have benefits for all, regardless of age. Muscle strength and endurance can improve individuals’ ability to do everyday tasks and enhance their overall quality of life.3

Bones are living tissues that can become stronger in response to exercises that are weight-bearing. These types of exercises include weight training, walking, and climbing stairs.4 With proper care, exercise can be safe for the joints. Properly warming up, cooling down and stretching can help reduce the risk of injury.5

Increased longevity and quality of life

Physical activity has been associated with improvements in quality of life, and these improvements can reinforce an individual’s motivation to continue with physical activity. Physical activity can improve quality of life through physical health, stress relief, social and emotional benefits, increased confidence and simply feeling better.6 Regular exercise can also help with sleep and can prevent or slow down the body’s natural decline as it ages. People that are active in midlife have a better chance of preserving mobility and independence as they get older.7 Higher levels of physical activity are also linked with lower risks of several cancers including, colon, breast, and endometrial cancers.8

Improved mental health

Physical activity stimulates the body’s production of natural feel good hormones and is associated with improved mood. The phenomenon of the ‘runner’s high’ is a result of the body releasing endorphins and other natural painkillers that help the runner feel good.9 As the body becomes more physically in shape, more oxygen and nutrients can make their way to the brain. Aerobic exercise and strength training sessions can help treat chronic depression. Conducting regular training sessions over the course of several weeks has demonstrated an anti-depressive effect.10 Physical activity is also associated with improved mental ability and better academic performance. Kids that get the recommended amount of physical activity have been shown to perform better at school.11 There is evidence that exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and negative mood, and improves self-esteem and cognitive functioning.12

Maintaining a healthy weight

Engaging in various physical activities burns calories and can help reduce fat. Just by walking, you can burn about 140 calories in 30 minutes. More vigorous exercises can burn over 500 calories in an hour.13 Working out regularly can help individuals avoid obesity, or reduce and even reverse effects of obesity, including reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even those suffering from diabetes can see improvements in managing blood glucose levels from a physical activity regimen.14

Social sports and exercise

There are additional benefits when doing physical activities with others. Working out with a partner can improve exercise performance over time.15 People that are active together are more likely to maintain their programs and lose more weight.16 One study looked at group activities in older adults and found that it contributed to their physical, mental, and social well-being and helped balance their health.17

For more tips and resources to promote Move it Monday, click here.

[1] Physical Activity and Your Heart. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health.

[2] Troosters, T., Dupont, L., Bott, J., Hansen, K. Your lungs and exercise. European Lung Foundation.

[3] Physical Activity and Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2015.

[4] Exercise for Your Bone Health. 2015. National Institutes of Health.

[5] Exercise and your joints. 2009. Harvard Health Publishing.

[6] Gill, D.A., et al. 2013. Physical Activity and Quality of Life. J Prev Med Public Health. 2013 Jan; 46(Suppl 1): S28–S34.

[7] 5 ways exercise improves your quality of life. Harvard Health Publishing.

[8] Physical Activity and Cancer. 2017. National Cancer Institute.

[9] Fetters, K. A. 2014. How to Achieve a Runner’s High. Runner’s World.

[10] Gingell, S. 2018. Why Exercise Is So Essential for Mental Health. Psychology Today.

[11] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.

[12] Callaghan, P. 2004. Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care? J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2004 Aug;11(4):476-83.

[13] How Many Calories Does Physical Activity Use (Burn)? 2018. US Department of Agriculture.

[14] Physical Activity and Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2015.

[15] Irwin, B.C., Scorniaenchi, J., Kerr, N.L. et al. Ann. Behav. Med. 2012. 44: 151.

[16] Wing, R.R., Jeffery, R.W. Benefits of recruiting participants with friends and increasing social support for weight loss and maintenance. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1999 Feb;67(1):132-8.

[17] Komatsu, H. et al. Regular group exercise contributes to balanced health in older adults in Japan: a qualitative study. BMC Geriatr. 2017; 17: 190.