The many benefits of physical activity

We’ve all been told that exercise is “good” for us, right?  But have you ever stopped to think about WHY physical activity is so critical?

Here are 5 reasons why we should all strive to add some type of physical movement to our lives.

1. Exercise makes us happy

Have you ever basked in the afterglow of finishing a run? Or floated out of a Zumba class feeling more at ease? Research shows that exercise can enhance your mood and decrease feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. 

When you engage in physical activity, there is an increase in brain sensitivity to the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine which relieve feelings of depression.

Additionally, exercise can increase the production of the neurotransmitter endorphins, also known as the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. Increased endorphins have been shown to boost self-esteem, mood, and pleasure. 

The best part is, as little as 20 minutes of movement per day can lead to these lasting beneficial effects. If that doesn’t make you want to get up and move, check out the next reason.

2. Exercise helps us sleep better

So, now that we know exercise improves our energy and mood throughout the day, what if I told you it also leads to a better night’s sleep? 

Numerous surveys and studies have explored the relationship between exercise habits and sleep among adults. Results show that those who engage in regular physical activity have improved sleep quality as well as a reduction in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. 

Additionally, since exercise is linked to weight management, those who engage in regular physical activity have a decreased risk of excessive weight gain. By managing weight, obstructive sleep apnea is less likely to occur leading to better quality sleep.

Ultimately, it’s beneficial to work out at any time of the day, but research suggests that you should stop exercising at least 90 minutes before bedtime. This allows your heart rate to slow down and your body temperature to return. 

3. Exercise combats adverse health conditions 

Research has found that regular exercise reduces the risk of major illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and high blood pressure. Conversely, leading a sedentary lifestyle has been referred to as a “silent killer.” 

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week to reap the benefits. Examples of physical activity include swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, dancing, tennis, and more.

Try not to get discouraged if you can’t reach 150 minutes right off the bat — any form of movement and in any quantity is better than none at reducing your risk of major chronic diseases. 

4. Exercise improves and maintains muscle mass 

As we get older, we tend to lose muscle and gain fat. After age 30, we begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% of muscle per decade. This loss of muscle mass is associated with greater weakness and a higher risk of falls and fractures. 

Studies show that consistent exercise, specifically resistance training, plays a role in building and maintaining muscle mass. Not only can resistance training delay the loss of muscle mass when aging, known as sarcopenia, but it can also help prevent osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones. A modifiable risk factor for osteoporosis is physical inactivity.  

Thankfully resistance training can be done at home, on the go, or at the gym. If you don’t have access to free weights – that’s okay. Pick up some canned goods or bottles for extra resistance or use your body weight, it can be just as effective. 

5. Exercise helps manage weight 

Proper nutrition, together with physical activity, supports weight loss. While many people focus on cardio for weight loss, there is mounting evidence that strength training is key. 

As we know, resistance training can build and strengthen muscle tissue, which leads to increased muscle mass. If you regularly incorporate resistance training you can increase your afterburn, or the calories burned after your workout. Since muscle is more metabolically active than fat, the more muscle you have, the extra calories burned.  


Overall, the benefits of regular physical activity are unparalleled. Not only can exercise lead to improvements in your physical health such as weight management, maintenance of muscle mass, and more, but the mental health benefits are endless. 

Remember – you will never regret moving your body. Start small, be consistent, and have fun. 

Looking for more guidance on what form of exercise is best for you or what to eat to fuel your workouts? Work one on one with our Nao Medical Registered Dietitian Nutritionist today!

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Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered, construed or interpreted as legal or professional advice, guidance or opinion.

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