Some of the health benefits associated with regular exercise include lower risks of developing heart disease, adult-onset diabetes (type 2 diabetes), and osteoporosis. Recent scientific research also suggests that people who exercise are better able to cope with stress and are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Regular exercise also helps to control weight gain (which is often associated with advancing age).
Heart Attacks and Strokes
Regular exercise and good nutrition can have a profound risk-lowering effect on predictors associated with coronary artery disease and stroke. Regular exercise often results in modest decreases in body weight and fat content, blood pressure (in people who have mildly elevated blood pressure), blood triglyceride levels, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the so-called “bad” cholesterol). In addition, the “good” form of cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, may be increased with as little as 8 to 10 miles (about 13 to 16 km) of walking per week (or the caloric equivalent of other kinds of exercise). However, for optimal improvement in blood lipids, regular aerobic exercise should be combined with a diet low in fat and cholesterol.
The ability of the body to regulate the level of sugar in the blood is called blood sugar tolerance (or simply glucose tolerance). When a person’s glucose tolerance declines, the concentration of sugar in the blood increases, which may lead to diabetes. Approximately one in four older adults is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes (formally known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes). Studies have shown that people who are physically active develop this form of diabetes less often than people who have been sedentary. Regular exercise enhances the body’s ability to use insulin (a hormone that regulates the use of blood sugar) and thereby maintain normal blood sugar levels.
A condition known as osteoporosis (a disease where the bones become more fragile over time) commonly occurs in older adults, particularly in women over the age of 50 years. As a result of the gradual loss of bone mass, even minor falls can cause broken bones, especially at the hip and at the wrist. It is well documented in the scientific and in the medical literature that weight-bearing exercise such as walking and jogging helps maintain bone density. Although improvements in bone density are generally small, it appears that regular exercise, especially for muscular strength, also helps prevent further bone loss in persons who are already affected. Such improvements may help prevent future bone fractures.
People who exercise regularly have reported increased self-confidence, especially when performing physical tasks. Regular exercisers have also reported other psychological benefits such as
- an enhanced self-image and sense of well-being,
- better sleep habits,
- less depression, stress, and anxiety, and
- an improved outlook on life.
Exercise has both physiological and psychological benefits. Many adults find that their opportunities to socialize are limited, and many studies have shown that social isolation is associated with poor general health. Engaging in group activities such as dancing, golf, and water exercise not only brings people together, but also makes life more fun and interesting.
This is an excerpt from ACSM Fitness Book 3E.