Physical activity benefits to your body
We have used the terms physical activity and exercise interchangeably here, as both will have beneficial effects on the body if done regularly.
Physical activity is the term used to describe any kind of everyday activity where the body’s movement burns calories. Examples would be sweeping the yard, walking the dog, vacuuming, and walking upstairs.
Exercise is a form of physical activity. Exercise usually describes a pre-planned physical activity that involves a series of repetitive movements that are performed to strengthen or develop a particular part of the body, including the cardiovascular system. Examples of exercise would be playing tennis, running, cycling, walking, swimming or rowing.
Exercise has been shown to ease anxiety, improve mood and fight depression. It promotes the release of a mood-lifting brain chemical called serotonin and the release of endorphins, natural feel-good painkilling substances. Exercise also improves cognitive function (ability to process thoughts) and decreases the risk of dementia.
Moderate exercise stimulates circulation and so brings oxygen and nutrients to the skin. Sweating, which is increased by exercise, allows the body to excrete wastes via the surface of the skin.
Regular exercise increases lung capacity and strengthens the respiratory muscles. Exercise also reduces risk of lung cancer.
- Regular exercise strengthens and builds the heart muscle so it pumps more effectively.
- Regular physical activity or exercise reduces your chance of getting heart disease.
Regular exercise has been shown to reduce women’s risk of developing breast cancer.
6. Immune system
Moderate exercise boosts the immune system, but over-exercising and frequent strenuous exercise dampen down the immune response.
7. Blood pressure
Regular physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and can help to lower blood pressure in those who already have high blood pressure.
Regular exercise also increases the level of HDL-cholesterol (‘good cholesterol’) in your blood and reduces the level of LDL(‘bad’)-cholesterol. This keeps your arteries clear of fatty deposits (plaque) made up of cholesterol and other substances. This reduces the risk of clots in the coronary arteries, which can lead to heart attack, and clots in the arteries supplying the brain, which can lead to stroke.
Regular exercise can prevent and help control type 2 diabetes. Exercise helps insulin to work better and also makes your cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin — two ways to improve how your body deals with sugar.
Regular exercise reduces the risk of colorectal (bowel) cancer, possibly by its effect of speeding up the movement of food through the bowels.
11. Reproductive organs
Regular moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise has been shown to improve both libido (sex drive or desire) and sexual performance. It can also improve fertility, although excessive amounts of exercise may suppress libido, and in women, if coupled with excessive weight loss may cause menstrual disturbances and infertility. Exercise also reduces the risk of prostate cancer and ovarian cancer.
Weight-bearing exercise (e.g. walking, stairclimbing, weightlifting) helps preserve bone mass and thus protects against osteoporosis.
Exercise builds and strengthens muscles, which can protect the bones from injury, and support and protect joints affected by arthritis. Strong muscles also give stability and improve balance and coordination. Exercise also improves blood supply to the muscles and increases their capacity to use oxygen. Resistance training prevents the age-related loss of muscle mass known as sarcopenia.
Exercise lubricates the joints, and reduces joint pain and stiffness. It also helps people with arthritis by increasing flexibility and muscle strength.
Regular exercise and physical activity strengthen the muscles and improve balance and coordination, leading to fewer falls in the elderly.
Last Reviewed: 15/06/2015
1. Harvard Health. Special Health Report. Exercise: A Program You Can Live With.
2. Mayo Clinic. 7 benefits of regular physical activity. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389 (accessed June 2015).
3. Bhere L. 2015. Cognitive plasticity in older adults: effects of cognitive training and physical exercise. Ann NY Acad Sci 1337: 1-6.
4. Brown JC, Winters-Stone K, Lee A, Schmitz KH. 2012. Cancer, physical activity and exercise. Compr Physiol 2012; 2(4): 2775-2809.
5. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008; 2008. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/report/ (accessed June 2015).
6. Thompson PD, Buchner D, Pina IL, et al: Exercise and physical activity in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease: a statement from the Council on Clinical Cardiology (Subcommittee on Exercise, Rehabilitation, and Prevention) and the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism (Subcommittee on Physical Activity). Circulation 2003;107:3109-3116.
7. Gunnar Brolinson P. Exercise and the Immune System. Clinics in Sports Medicine 2007; 26: 311-319.
8. Robert D. Brook, et al. Beyond Medications and Diet: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure. A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Hypertension 2013; 61: 1360-1383.
9. Steven Mann, Christopher Beedie, Alfonso Jimenez. Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Med 2014; 44:211â€“221.
10. Christian K. Roberts, Andrea L. Hevener, R. James Barnard. Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance: Underlying Causes and Modification by Exercise Training. Compr Physiol 2013 January; 3(1): 1â€“58.
11. Rakesh Sharma, Kelly R Biedenharn, Jennifer M Fedor, Ashok Agarwal. Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. Reprod Biol Endocrinol 2013; 11: 66.
12. Orio F, et al. Effects of physical exercise on the female reproductive system. Minerva Endocrinologica 2013; 38: 305-19.
13. Colberg SR, et al. Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes: The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement. Diabetes Care 2010; 33:e147â€“e167.
14. Kohrt WM, Bloomfield SA, Little KD, Nelson ME, Yingling VR. American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: physical activity and bone health. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004 Nov; 36(11): 1985-96.
15. Landi F, et al. Exercise as a remedy for sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2014, 17: 25â€“31.
16. Carter et al. Exercise in the prevention of falls in older people. A systematic literature review examining rationale and the evidence. Sports Medicine 2001, 31: 427-438.
Depression: Q and A
Depression is very common, affecting more than one in 5 people in Australia in their lifetime. Get the answers to commonly asked questions about depression, including what can be done to help.
Prescribing exercise for mental health
Exercise plays an important role in the treatment of people with mental illness.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Find out all you need to know, including what causes it and whether it can be prevented.
Meniere's disease has 4 typical symptoms: vertigo; hearing loss; tinnitus; and a sensation of fullness in the ear. Find out about causes and treatments.
Dementia: behavioural and psychological symptoms
Along with loss of memory and intellectual function, dementia can cause symptoms such as changes in behaviour and mood.