The Benefits of Exercise

August 2, 2011 | by


There are three main exercise categories: resistance/weight training, cardiovascular exercise and flexibility. Each offers specific benefits, creating a well-balanced exercise program with dynamic results.

Resistance is found in many forms, from weight machines and free weights to stretch tubing and swimming pool activities. Body weight can add resistance in exercises such as push-ups, standing squats and crunches.

Resistance training benefits include:

  • Reduced body fat and lowered cholesterol. Weight training is the best way to burn fat; it more effectively lowers weight than aerobic activity because it burns calories while you’re exercising and at rest (Cooper 1998).
  • After your resistance workout, metabolic rates remain elevated, as muscle fibers are being rebuilt. Many of the calories you consume will be put to work in the repair and rebuilding process, rather than being stored as fat. Conversely, metabolic rate typically returns to normal shortly after aerobic activity. No significant “after burn” occurs.
  • Once you succeed in adding lean muscle tissue, metabolism will be higher at rest than it was prior to your exercise program. Every pound of muscle added to your body increases the calories needed to get you through the day. The body requires approximately 30-50 calories daily, per pound of muscle. When you add 5 pounds of lean muscle, you’ll burn an additional 150-250 calories every day, even on days you don’t exercise (NASM 1996). This adds up to 15 to 26 pounds of fat loss every year.
  • Increased bone density. A 1988 study from Washington University School of Medicine concluded weight-bearing exercise leads to significant increases in bone mineral content, which are maintained with continued training in older subjects (Dalsky et al). A meta-analysis of 18 randomized controlled trials on different types of exercise programs showed a significant improvement in bone mineral density (BMD). Aerobic, weight-bearing and resistance training were all effective on BMD of the spine (Hatori et al 1993). That’s good news for preventing osteoporosis since resistance training puts added demands on bones, bolstering their density.
  • Increased body strength. Most people, regardless of their age, experience strength improvements in a matter of weeks. A study conducted in December 1993 (McCartney et al) examined the effects of a 42-week progressive weight-lifting program on subjects in their 60s, 70s and 80s. After approximately 10 months, they found significant strength gains (up to 65%) in the exercising group, but no gain in a non-exercising control group. Most substantial strength increases occurred at 6 and 12 weeks into the program.
  • Reduced injuries. Muscle strength decreases stress on bones during impact exercises (such as walking, jogging, and tennis) and improves dynamic balance to make a person less susceptible to falls and other mishaps (Nelson et al 1994). Noted fitness expert and researcher Dr. Wayne Westcott explains the relationship: “Stronger muscles lead to stronger bones and connective tissue, all of which work together to increase our functional capacity and decrease injury potential.”
  • Daily tasks eased. For many, activities like lifting a child, stooping or trying to get up require great effort. Suppose the maximum your biceps can carry is 20 pounds, and you have to carry a 20-pound suitcase through an airport. That requires 100% effort. Participating in a resistance-training program can increase your biceps’ strength to 40 pounds and enhances your stamina. Now carrying the suitcase becomes manageable.
  • Emotional stability. Exercise-stimulated neurotransmitters create what some call “post exercise euphoria” or endorphin response. These mood mediators make us feel better and less stressed (Stewart et al 1998). One 20-minute (or longer) exercise session generates 90 to 120 minutes of this relaxation response. The American Council on Exercise recommends 20 minutes (cardiovascular, resistance training or flexibility), 6 or 7 days a week to promote emotional well-being.

“Cardio” is among the most popular forms of exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming and aerobics. Actually, any exercise causing an increase in heart rate for a sustained period of time is included.

Cardiovascular exercise benefits include:

  • Increased life span. A study following Harvard grads through 30 years showed those who were moderately active—from gardening to sports—were at a substantially decreased risk of death.
  • Reduced body fat. Aerobic exercise uses both stored carbohydrates and fats for fuel. The longer and more vigorous, the more total calories are burned.
  • Decreased risk of heart attack. Lowering insulin levels helps reduce rates of arteriosclerosis. Physical exercise lowers these levels, helping lower the risk of heart attacks.
  • Increased heart fitness. The American Heart Association stresses a minimum of 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, at least 3 days a week, is vital to good heart health. Studies have shown exercise to be an effective way to lower blood pressure. Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart muscle, enabling it to circulate blood throughout the body with less effort. This helps decrease blood pressure, reduce stroke risk and prevent coronary, circulatory and respiratory problems.
  • Reduced stress. Twenty minutes or more of cardiovascular exercise at moderate intensity has been shown to significantly reduce stress.
  • Increased endurance. Regular aerobic exercise helps increase muscle endurance, making everyday activities (such as walking a flight of stairs without becoming winded) far easier.
  • Improved quality of sleep. Researchers at Stanford and Emory Universities, as well as the University of Oklahoma, reported that older people who participate in brisk walking and/or low-impact aerobics four times a week fall asleep faster than their inactive peers. After four months, those who exercised regularly reported falling asleep in less than half the time and sleeping almost an hour longer than before (Harvard Health Letter, March 1997).

Flexibility is defined as the range of possible motion around a joint. As we age, joint mobility proves crucial for muscular strength, proper posture and full range of motion. Flexibility exercises—with their gentle movements—help increase the length of connective tissues and muscles.

As part of your Executive Health Evaluation, your exercise physiologist will spend approximately two hours reviewing your current exercise habits, testing your cardiovascular endurance, and muscle strength and flexibility. Together, you will develop an enjoyable exercise regimen to aid in weight loss and/or muscle building with the goal of improving your health. Feel free to contact us for all the information on healthy aging.