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The 12 Best Reasons You Should Exercise

There are a lot of reasons you should exercise. Here are some lesser-known benefits.

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There are a lot of reasons you should exercise. Here are some lesser-known benefits.

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. 

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