Last Updated on January 31, 2023 by Andre Panagos M.D.
How can exercise improve my health?
If exercise was a pill it would be a guaranteed best seller with few side effects. We know that exercise has multiple health benefits and plays an important role in successful aging. Some of the many benefits of exercise are that it will:
- Optimize cardiovascular function by strengthening heart muscle
- Raise levels of “good cholesterol” (HDL) and lower levels of “bad cholesterol” (LDL)
- Promote bone health and combat osteoarthritis by improving joint mobility and muscle strength
- Strengthen the immune system
- Improve cognitive function, sleep and decrease anxiety and depression
How much exercise do I need?
Aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise (where you can talk but do not have the breath to sing) per week. This translates into about 20-30 minutes, 5-7 days per week. Be sure to incorporate interval training which stresses and hence builds muscles more effectively. Always start slow and gradually build up your exercise routine to minimize the risk of injury. If you are older or have a serious medical condition, remember to consult your physician before starting any exercise regimen.
What is the least amount of exercise I can do to get significant health benefits?
The amount of exercise you need for health benefits is much less than you may think. A large study on exercise and mortality found something researchers did not expect, that running for as little as five minutes a day could significantly lower your risk of premature death (Lee D.C. et. al., 2014). So no matter how busy you are, we are sure you can fit in five minutes a day of vigorous exercise, such as running, jump-roping or pedaling vigorously on a stationary bike. Consider simple things in your daily routine such as running for the bus or walking up several flights of stairs while at work. Over the long-term even brief amounts of exercise may add years to your life.
A single session of simple static stretching can result in short-term cardiovascular benefits as well. When you stretch, your brain releases compounds that not only relax your skeletal muscles but also relax the small muscles in the walls of your blood vessels (Farinatti et al., 2011). This results in their dilation, which can lower your blood pressure.
Brukner, Peter, Karim Khan, and Peter Brukner. Brukner & Khan’s Clinical Sports Medicine. Sydney: McGraw-Hill, 2012.
Farinatti, Paulo Tv, Carolina Brandão, Pedro Ps Soares, and Antonio Fa Duarte. “Acute Effects of Stretching Exercise on the Heart Rate Variability in Subjects With Low Flexibility Levels.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25.6 (2011): 1579-585.
Lee DC, Pate RR, Lavie CJ, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2014; 64 (5): 472-481.