How Exercise Helps Every Part of Your Body

Julie Shenkman
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You already know exercise is good for you, but you may be surprised to realize how much it benefits every part of your body. Whether you're concerned about recent lab tests showing you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, you have a family history of Alzheimer's disease, or you just want to drop a few pounds, exercise can be an answer to what ails you.

How Exercise Helps the Heart

Exercise forces the heart to pump more blood through the body to provide the entire body with oxygen and remove waste products. Regular exercise helps condition the entire cardiovascular system, which includes the heart, the lungs and the blood vessels, making it stronger and healthier.

The importance of exercise to the heart and cardiovascular system grows with age. People typically lose 1 percent of their aerobic power per year. However, studies show that exercise can cut this loss in half over both the short term and the long term. This means, for example, that while someone who doesn't exercise regularly can count on losing 20 percent of his aerobic power over two decades, the same person loses only 10 percent if he exercises regularly.

How Exercise Helps With Weight Loss

The cardiovascular system is also given a boost by the fact that exercise can help with weight loss. Physical activity burns calories, which results in weight loss. When the body is fit and not burdened with excess weight, the heart doesn't have to work as hard to supply blood throughout the body.

Exercise also gives the metabolism a boost. Those with metabolisms that burn more slowly than normal are more likely to gain weight over time. Exercise speeds up the metabolism, creates more lean muscle and helps the body to burn fat with greater efficiency. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, bicycling, dancing or swimming, is particularly beneficial when it comes to burning fat and creating lean muscle.

How Exercise Helps Fight Disease

The overall effects of exercise on the body help to fight back various diseases and long-term conditions. This happens especially with diseases that are exacerbated by being overweight. Since exercising helps fight weight gain, it reduces the likelihood of these diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and arthritis.

Exercise is particularly useful in the fight against Type 2 diabetes. Regular exercises help the body metabolize glucose in an efficient way, preventing the rise of diabetes.

Regular exercise increases your body's production of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and it reduces your triglyceride count, decreasing your risk of pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes. One of its major benefits is to reduce hypertension, or high blood pressure. Exercise widens your arteries, which allows your blood to flow more freely, thereby lowering your blood pressure. The extra strengthening of your heart muscle also makes blood flow more freely. Since hypertension is the most common form of heart disease in the United States, this benefit is significant.

How Exercise Reduces Stress and Improves Your Mood

Exercise also benefits the body and your overall sense of well-being by reducing stress. As you exercise, your brain releases endorphins into your bloodstream. These chemicals lower your stress and help you relax. If you exercise long enough, you may experience a "runner's high," which is caused by the release of endorphins.

The overall relaxation produced by exercise is also good for your general mood. Exercise can help prevent depression by lowering cortisol, the stress hormone. The decrease in stress levels also has a positive effect on your relationships, since you're less likely to be irritable or grouchy around others. In addition, because exercise tones your body, you're likely to feel better about the way you looking when you're working out regularly, which can also lift your mood.

How Exercise Helps the Brain

Exercise sends oxygen to the brain and boosts the levels of serotonin in the brain. This leads to an increase in mental clarity and greater productivity in all areas of your life. Exercise also sends increased levels of glucose to the brain. The brain uses glucose as fuel, so this increases mental acuity.

The release of endorphins also helps you feel more energetic and less fatigued. Combined with the increased cardiovascular stamina and strength provided by exercise, this means you have greater energy to accomplish everyday tasks.

Exercise is also beneficial to your memory. Even regular walking helps the brain's hippocampus remain healthy. The hippocampus is the site where memories are formed and accessed. The lowered levels of cortisol that result from exercise also boost memory. Because of this, as well as because of the increased flow of oxygen to the brain, exercise may help stave off Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

Exercise is good for the body, good for the brain, and good for your emotional and psychological state. By lacing up your walking shoes, diving into the pool to swim a few laps, or heading to the gym to lift some weights or take a yoga class, you give every part of your body a boost. You also help stave off potentially serious conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and even dementia. Making time in your busy week for exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I don’t exercise regularly, but I try to work out at least once a week. I’ve noticed that on those days there is a dramatic improvement in my mood and my work. Tasks that would take me close to an hour to finish get done in half the time. I’m starting to think that exercise might be a great way to prepare for an important project or presentation as well.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. It is to true @Tara that any movement is better than none. Parking further away, taking a lunchtime stroll, taking stairs instead of an elevator or escalator - all of these count towards the recommended 10,000 steps a day which is what experts agree is needed to be healthy. @Catherine, I, too find yoga to be relaxing and stress reducing. Feels so good to be able to really stretch!

  • Tara Avery
    Tara Avery

    What role does goal-setting play in success where increasing physical activity is concerned? Does having a manageable goal to work toward increase the likelihood that someone will stick with their program once the initial excitement has worn off? I think it's important to recognize that making even small changes--parking the car farther away, or always taking the stairs at work--can have beneficial exercise benefits over time, especially if they become habit.


    The exercise that I find to be the most relaxing and stress-reducing is yoga. Not only does yoga involve guided meditation and a focus on mindfulness, it also incorporates muscle strengthening, cardio, flexibility and conditioning. All people, whether you are a beginner or an expert athlete can benefit from yoga. It's changed my life.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Exercise really does reduce stress — I couldn't agree more. When I'm feeling anxious, a brisk walk helps me decompress. When I get back to my desk, I'm able to work much more efficiently. In the long term, of course, reducing my stress reduces my risk of heart attack and stroke, so it's a double effective strategy.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    While I agree with most of the article, I have to say that it omits a key piece of advice: exercise doesn't have to be an event! I disagree with the idea that exercise means "making time" in your week. Exercise should be an organic experience. Integrate it into your life so it becomes a part of who you are. Walk and bike whenever you can. Don't drive unless you have to! Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Find an engaging hobby with a physical component. I think people are much less likely to give up on an active lifestyle if they get their exercise in an organic way.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Jacob it is tough to have a sedentary job. The way to combat it is to get up for at least a few minutes every hour. Walk around a bit. Stretch. Get a nice cold cup of water and you will go back to your desk and refreshed for the next period of time. @Lydia that's a great idea to walk during your lunch hour if you are in a place where you can do that. Any type of exercise is better than none. You just have to figure out what works for you. Some people use a balance ball as their "desk chair". Others use the standing desk concept. Find what works best for you.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    Are there are particular exercises to help with maladies that are more common for office work? Things that help compensate for prolonged sitting, computer use, dreary lighting? Prior to my current position, I did not work in an office and find that being at my desk all day leaves me with a whole new brand of aches and pains.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    This is a great article. Daily exercise is very important if you have a desk job whether you work from a home office or in a traditional office setting. On most days I eat lunch at my desk just so I can use most of my lunch hour walking. This doesn't just help to control my weight, it helps me to release stress and focus on the rest of the day.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @William I am sure that there are statistics to show the savings when a company has all healthy workers. Exercise is so important in our daily lives. Keeps us fit, helps us to keep our weight in check, keeps blood pressure at good levels - and it's a win-win for both the employee and the employer. @Lorri so sorry to hear about your brush with death. So scary. Glad to see that you are on the mend and thanks for sharing your story to let everyone know the part that exercise takes in our lives.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    What kind of statistics are there that show how much a worker's health saves a company money? Among lower insurance premiums, fewer sick days and higher productivity, employers should take exercise and nutrition into account when they create benefit packages for workers. So many businesses have gym memberships or gyms right at the workplace to help keep workers fit. Add in some gamification with prizes, and you've got an office fitness competition.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    Exercise is so valuable. I wish more companies incentivized exercise with on-site gyms or similar amenities. The benefits would be considerable: happier employees, lower health-care costs and less employee turnover and absenteeism.

  • Lorri Cotton
    Lorri Cotton

    Exercise really does have benefits for every part of the body. I never realized how much, until I was unable to perform even the most meager amount of exercise. (I had a two-month stay on a ventilator and a serious brush with death.) I became depressed, anxious and the insomnia was unreal. With the help of a physical therapist, a strong will and of course the exercise, I was able to build myself back up. Now I'm relatively healthy, and not terribly physically impaired, but it's only due to the exercise. It helped to elevate my mood, which gave me the motivation to keep going, even if I could only walk 1/4 mile in 30 minutes at the time.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I completely agree that exercise is beneficial for your health and many parts of your body. However, it is not always as effective on problem areas. For example, many women who have had children struggle with the stomach area. I have tried countless exercise routines, workouts, programs, etc. and to no avail, that baby fat still exists.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey thanks for your comment and the questions. I don't think that there really is a magic number. Maybe getting 10000 steps in every day would be a good goal to strive for. I know it's tough for me to do that because my position is sedentary. But I would think that striving for that is about all you need - well, except for maybe a few sessions a week with some light weights. The bottom line is that each of us is different so we have to find the exercise routine that works for our health and lifestyle.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    It's common knowledge that exercise is essential to overall health happiness. However, many people aren't sure what exercises to do and how often. Are there certain types of exercise that are more beneficial than others? Is there a magic number as far as how many minutes you should work out per week? It seems like every time I read something, the ideas are different. How do I sort through all of the various recommendations to do what's best for me?

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