Fitness: What It Is, Health Benefits, and Getting Started

Better physical fitness significantly reduces the risk of chronic diseases that develop over time, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer. “The one thing that will help prevent almost any type of disease is physical fitness,” says Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault, a mobility and movement company in New York City.

In 2007, ACSM partnered with the American Medical Association to launch the Exercise Is Medicine initiative, with the goal of integrating physical activity assessment into routine medical care and providing resources for exercise for people of all levels. “The scientifically proven benefits of physical activity remain indisputable, and they may be as powerful as any pharmaceutical agent in preventing and treating a range of chronic diseases and medical conditions,” notes the initiative’s website.

Here is a breakdown of those benefits:

Exercise improves your mood

Regular exercise has been shown to be a buffer against depression and anxiety, according to research. Plus, other studies show that exercise can help manage the symptoms of depression and help treat it, notes a scientific paper. Exercise can help reduce inflammation, which has been shown to increase in people with depression. it’s also possible that physical activity also promotes favorable changes in the brain, the researchers say.

Learn more about how being fit boosts energy and mood

Exercise is good for sleep

Regular exercise can help you get more restful sleep at night. Of 34 studies included in a systematic review, 29 found that exercise improved sleep quality and was associated with longer sleep episodes. It can help set your biological clock (so you’re alert and sleepy at appropriate times), create chemical changes in the brain that promote sleep, and, as previous research indicates, can ease the pre-sleep anxiety that’s might otherwise keep you awake.

It should be noted, however, that high-intensity exercise done too close to bedtime (about an hour or two) can make it harder for some people to sleep and should be done earlier in the day.

Learn more about the intimate relationship between fitness and sleep

Exercise promotes long-term health

Exercise has been shown to improve brain and bone health, preserve muscle mass (so you don’t get frail as you age), boost your sex life, improve gastrointestinal function, and reduce the risk of many diseases, including cancer and stroke. Research involving more than 116,000 adults also showed that the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity per week reduced the risk of death from any cause by 19%.

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Fitness helps you manage chronic disease

Exercise helps the body function, which includes managing other chronic health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you have osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or have had an accident stroke or cancer, physical activity can help. Exercise can help decrease pain, improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, promote mobility, improve heart health, reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, and play a role in good mental health. .

If you have a chronic illness and are looking to stay active or become more active, a walking routine is usually a safe place to start. “The vast majority of people don’t need their doctor’s clearance to start walking, unless your doctor has told you specifically that they don’t want you to exercise,” says Sallis. .

He says he wishes more people would take physical activity as a baseline and that: “You need to get clearance from your doctor not exercise,” he says.

But if you’re excessively short of breath, have chest pains, or have any other concerning symptoms, call your doctor.

Learn more about why being fit helps manage chronic disease

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