Seven benefits of exercise

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Exercise can come with many mental and physical benefits, from improved sleep to better mental health. When you exercise regularly, you may develop stronger muscles and bones, improve your capacity for learning and memory, lower the likelihood of obesity and related health ailments, and meet new friends through fitness-related activities and events. You may even notice that everyday tasks and errands become much easier when you exercise regularly.

However, even though exercise can have many benefits, it may not always function as the perfect solution for all mental health concerns. If you feel that you would benefit from professional insight and guidance, consider connecting with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform.

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Important benefits of exercise

Exercise can come with a plethora of mental, emotional, and physical health benefits, such as those discussed below.

Better sleep quality

In general, exercise can improve sleep quality and help you fall asleep more quickly each night. It may only take 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise to improve sleep quality the same night. 

In most cases, it can be best to exercise several hours before bedtime to enjoy this benefit. Exercising too close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep.

Improved mental health

The American Psychological Association has determined that the benefits of exercise can include a more robust psyche and reductions in depression symptoms. Exercise can often be as effective as common medications used to treat depression and anxiety. In addition, regular exercise can improve your response to stress.

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Nearly any form of movement that gets your blood pumping and your oxygen level up can be considered aerobic exercise. This form of movement can take place at both low and high-intensity levels. Some examples of aerobic exercise include, but are certainly not limited to, the following activities:

  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Hiking

Stronger muscles and bones

Your muscles and bones can also be rewarded when you exercise. Physical activities, such as weightlifting, tend to be great for your muscles and can build strength. Exercise often helps strengthen your muscles and bones, but it can also allow your muscles to ingest amino acids. In the long run, this can help you not only grow muscles but also retain muscle functionality and mass, which can become more and more critical as you age.

Heightened capacity for learning and memory

When you engage in exercise, you’re generally causing your heart rate to increase. This can work in your favor in multiple ways. Firstly, it can stimulate hormones that help brain cells grow. Secondly, an increased heart rate can also lead your brain to receive more blood and oxygen.

Learning and memory functions can also be benefited via exercise when your hippocampus grows. Your hippocampus typically plays a vital role in mental capacity, memory, and learning. This particular benefit of exercise may be especially helpful for older adults. As we age, the functionality and structure of our brains can change, although exercise can still result in benefits for people of all ages.

Lower likelihood of obesity

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains that obesity can cause high blood pressure, sleep disorders, cancers, and other serious health issues. However, regular exercise can significantly lessen your chances of becoming overweight or obese.

Moving your body usually burns some of the calories consumed through the food you eat. If you are looking to lose weight, you’ll generally have to burn more calories than you ingest. However, this doesn’t mean that you should stop eating or go overboard with exercise. A modest calorie deficit tends to be more sustainable and healthier.

If you eat a balanced diet and exercise on a regular basis, you can stay in good shape or get started on the path to physical fitness.

Potential for new friends

If you enjoy being around people, you may be pleased to know that you don’t have to exercise alone. There may be countless fitness groups, classes, and workout organizations you can join. Connecting with other like-minded people who value exercise can enable you to make new friends who can encourage healthy lifestyle habits.

Makes everyday activities easier

Regularly exercising can make everyday activities, such as stair-climbing, supermarket shopping, and bending down to pick up something off the floor, much easier. This benefit can especially be of value to older adults who may be more susceptible to functional limitations.

If you or someone in your family has certain functional limitations or is struggling with everyday activities, exercise can help. Even just walking or light stretching a few times a week can make a difference.

How to make exercise a regular habit

If regular exercise is not a habit for you, there may be a variety of approaches you can take to get your body moving. With time and consistency, you may find that regularly exercising becomes part of your daily routine. Until then, however, you might consider some of the tips listed below.

Schedule times to workout

When you’re not used to exercising, one of the best ways to make a change can be to schedule specific times to get your body moving. This can be as simple as jogging in the park at 6:00 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays or stretching for ten minutes each morning. 

To maximize productivity, you may find starting with minimal exercise and gradually ramping things up to be most effective. This can especially be beneficial if you’re just breaking into exercise. Try to trust yourself and your body. Moreover, don’t be afraid to go at your own pace. Rest days can be crucial for health and recovery.

Sign up for an exercise class

From yoga to karate, jiu-jitsu, Zumba, and countless other physical activities, there may be a plethora of available exercise classes you can take. Signing up for an exercise class may not only get your body moving regularly, but it can also give you predetermined times to work out with a community of others who are interested in exercise.

As time passes, working out on a set schedule may allow you to reap many of the benefits linked to exercise. Moreover, being part of a group can open the door to new friendships with other people who value fitness. 

Join a gym 

Just like scheduling time to work out or joining an exercise class, joining a gym is often highly recommended for doing regular exercise. Many people have found working out at the gym to be helpful for a series of reasons.

Gym workouts can be destressing and rejuvenating. You may also find that some gyms have workout classes that come along with registration. This can work in your favor if you’d like to take up an exercise class and get moving with other people. In addition, gyms typically have a wide variety of equipment that you may not have at home, and being in an environment with others who are exercising can be motivational.

Additional resources

There is no denying that exercise can improve many aspects of life. However, exercise may not be a magical cure-all, and there can be situations in which professional help may be needed. If you’re experiencing mental health concerns, consider working with a licensed mental health professional.

Benefits of online therapy

Online therapy can be a convenient way to get the professional insight and guidance you deserve. Regardless of your current challenges, you may find a licensed therapist who has experience helping others with similar situations through an online therapy platform. You can also attend sessions from the location of your choice (as long as you have an internet connection) and schedule appointments that fit your existing routine.

Effectiveness of online therapy

A growing body of research suggests that online therapy is generally just as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy. It can treat a wide variety of mental health disorders and address a wide range of concerns.

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Takeaway

Some of the benefits of exercise can include improved mental health, enhanced sleep, stronger bones and muscles, and a better capacity for learning and memory. Still, exercise may not be the cure-all for every mental health challenge. If you need additional support, consider seeking out a therapist in your local area or connecting with one through an online therapy platform.

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