Exercise protects you from some of the most common causes of death in the United States, and it helps you feel and look healthy.
- Reduce your risk for health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and osteoporosis.
- Reduce some of the effects of aging.
- Relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Increase your energy, endurance and metabolism.
- Help you sleep better.
- Ease arthritis pain.
For older adults, exercise can also reduce the risk of falls.
Any amount of exercise is better than none. But experts recommend that most adults get at least two and a half hours of moderate aerobic activity every week, preferably spread throughout the week.
Aim for at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities, such as working with weights or resistance bands.
The best type of exercise is one you will do, according to the AAFP. Walking, mowing the lawn, swimming and bicycling all count as moderate exercise.
More vigorous exercise, such as jogging, heavy yardwork, bicycling uphill, hiking, swimming laps or jumping rope, can make your heart, lungs and muscles even stronger, and burn a lot more calories—but it's not for everyone. If you do more vigorous activities, increase the intensity gradually.
You don't have to set aside a single chunk of time for exercise. Just find ways to move your body more as you go about your day. When possible, walk or bike instead of driving. When it's safe, park your car at the farthest end of the parking lot or get off the bus a few blocks away from your destination. Take the stairs whenever you can. Go out to play with your kids or pets. Carry walking shoes with you wherever you go, and go for a walk whenever you have a few free minutes. It all adds up.
Most exercise injuries can be prevented by increasing your activity level slowly and gradually, according to the CDC. Use the right equipment, drink plenty of water and pay attention to how your body feels. If you are exhausted or in pain, you're probably doing too much, too soon. It also helps to warm up for a few minutes before exercise, and to gradually slow down toward the end instead of stopping abruptly.
Most people can safely start a moderate exercise program without seeing a doctor. But you should check with your doctor if you have heart disease or any other health problems, or if you're pregnant or have a long history of inactivity. If you haven't been very active, the CDC recommends starting slowly with moderate-intensity exercise before moving on to more vigorous exercise, such as running.
If you're trying to lose weight, exercising is one of the smartest things you can do. All types of exercise burn calories (use this calculator to find out how many). Exercise also builds muscle tissue. And muscle tissue uses up more calories all day, every day, than fat. When you increase your muscle mass, you burn more calories even when you're sitting still.
To lose weight, you need to burn more calories during daily activities than you take in with food and drinks. You may find that 30 minutes of exercise isn't enough to tip this balance, and that you need to exercise more vigorously or for a longer time to start shedding pounds, or to keep them off.
For the best results, consider doing both aerobic exercise, which increases your heart rate and breathing rate, and strength training such as lifting weights, push-ups and abdominal crunches.
Your doctor or a nutrition specialist can help you design an exercise and diet plan to help you lose weight safely.
The AAFP offers these suggestions for sticking with your exercise program:
- Choose an activity that fits your tastes and needs. If you have arthritis, for instance, a low-impact activity such as swimming may be most comfortable.
- Find an exercise partner.
- Alternate activities instead of doing the same thing every day. Remember that you can get exercise through activities such as yardwork, gardening, dancing and cleaning house.
- Be realistic. You won't get fit or lose 10 pounds in the first week you're exercising. Expect it to take a little time.
- Rest when you hurt. Some stiffness is normal, but pain is not.
To learn more about exercise, visit the Fitness and Exercise health topic center. You can also find out more about exercise at these websites: