Keep It Up!: Long-term Benefits of Exercise

Last week we talked short-term benefits. This week we’re delving back into exercise, considering long-term benefits.

To start, let’s look at some of the top reasons for death among U.S. citizens.

  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Chronic respiratory disease
  4. Unintentional injuries
  5. Stroke
  6. Alzheimer’s
  7. Diabetes
  8. Flu/pneumonia
  9. Kidney disease
  10. Suicide

While thinking about any of these is not a particularly cheery activity, there is a silver lining in most of these: the risks of most of these can be reduced through lifestyle choices. Exercise, especially, is a great way to reduce several of these.

However, chronic disease reduction is not the only benefit of long term exercises. By being regularly active, we can improve the quality of life that we’ll have when we’re older. Not only will we be less likely to be confronted with life-endangering (or even life-ending) illness, we can be more functional and happy.

First, let’s get into the amazing disease-prevention aspect of exercise. Then we’ll go over the life-improving aspects of exercise.

Disease Prevention

Heart Disease & Stroke

When working out, we facilitate good cholesterol and lower unhealthy triglycerides in our bodies, which certainly helps heart health. In addition, the heart rate-increasing nature of exercise makes the heart itself stronger. The heart is an extremely unique muscle so, like the muscles that make up our arms and legs, it becomes stronger with more training/use. When our hearts are hearty, they can more efficiently push blood through the body with the same (or even less) effort as a weaker heart. This keeps the heart from being easily overworked. Activity also helps immensely with regulating blood flow. Good circulation clears out arteries (lowering stroke risks) and promotes healthy tissues all throughout the body.



Studies have shown that those who are regularly active have 7-38% less of a chance to develop certain cancers (depending on the cancer). While we don’t necessarily have a solid enough understanding of cancer to say exactly how it works, we do have a general clue that exercising is good for reducing cancer risks. In the words of Dr. Anthony Komaroff of Havard Health, “…it makes sense: regular exercise leads to changes in the body (like less inflammation, better immune function, and higher levels of natural antioxidants) that reduce the risk of cancer.


Although Alzheimer’s itself is not normally a disease that is a direct cause of death, it can lead to a multitude of complications that cause death. Alzheimer’s is, put in extremely simple terms, a degradation of neural connections. Exercise, however, seems to build brain connections. In addition, exercise triggers many beneficial brain chemicals that could potentially protect the brain from some of the factors that contribute to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, a study reported that those who walk and exercise regularly around 3 times/week had a 40% lower rate of dementia (which is technically a separate disease from Alzheimer’s).


Engaging in regular physical activity makes your body more sensitive to insulin. For diabetics this can mean a blood sugar level that is more easily lowered, making diabetes slightly easier to manage or even reducing overall risk for developing type 2 diabetes in the first place.

Quality of Life

Our bones, joints, and muscles are slowly reduced over the years we live. Because of the natural deterioration of these important tissues we might start to experience problems with trying to use them. However, if we build them up to be nice and strong while we’re young, the effects of deterioration won’t be as severe.

Back pain

Our backs are such an integral part of every type of movement that we do on a daily basis. Wouldn’t it be terrible to have such a significant function limited by pain? To keep back pain at bay use low-impact aerobics to improve the strength, endurance, and function. By training our abs and back (our core), the symptoms of a weak back aren’t as likely to plague our aging bodies.


There are many, many types of arthritis that come from many sources – so many that it would probably be senseless to try to cover all of them within this blog post. Therefore, we will be talking about arthritis very generally and leaning more towards prevention of osteopathic (which is a type of arthritis that is mostly caused by the breakdown of the tissues that make up joints and their surrounding bones).

The first thing that exercise can do to decrease risk of arthritis is weight maintenance. There are certain parts of our bodies, like muscles, that create weight, but also provide support for themselves and keep some pressure off of joints. There are also parts of our bodies, like fat, that may not provide any additional support and only put a more intense load onto our joints. With regular exercise, we’re likely to have our weight more comprised of helpful muscle rather than fat that isn’t apart of our essential fat and only creates additional weight.

In addition, exercise breaks and rebuilds our bones to be stronger in a very similar way that it breaks and rebuilds our muscles to be stronger than before. Basically, our brains will send bone-building chemicals/cells to areas that they notice are being stressed. So, through the micro-tears that occur with activities like running or weightlifting, our brains decide to build up the various bones of our body. This is good for fighting aging because, at a certain point, our bones will start breaking down. This will happen to all people, no matter how strong of a health regime they’ve kept. However, the bone we have when our bones start to weaken is the bone we will have throughout the weakening process. In short, we can build more bone now and then, when our bones are diminishing, we’ll have more to keep in store. It’s like knowing that at some point we’ll lose a bunch of money – say $2,000. If we prepare for that loss and we save up way more than we need (say $10,000), then we’ll still have a good amount of money to continue living comfortable with. But, if we don’t save up our money very much (aka if we don’t build up our bone strength) and we only have $2,005, then we might be sort of strapped for cash and might suffer because of that.


giphy (5).gif

When an elderly person falls, it’s much more parlous than when a younger person falls. This is because of how weak elderly bones becomes. We can reduce the likelihood our elderly bones breaking by building them up (as mentioned above), but what if we could also decrease the likelihood of falling in the first place?

Balance is a wonderful long-term benefit of exercise. The CDC says more than 1 out of 4 older adults fall each year. With the musculature and sense of balance that can result from continual exercise, we’ll be able to avoid small missteps that could leading to devastating falls. A particularly good way to increase balance is by practicing yoga on a regular basis.

Reaping the Benefits

So, how much do we have to exercise in order to keep ourselves healthy and happy long-term? There are quite a few different estimates. As stated above, just walking can be extremely beneficial. Others say that you need to be physically active (not necessarily in the gym, but with elevated heart rate) for at least two and half hours per week to be truly healthy. Different sources are here and here for you to use to decide what would be best for you. Regardless of the specifics of any recommendation, it’s most important to keep in mind that some is better than none. Health is not an all or nothing game.

TLDR; this Macka B video:


Wishing you all the best!

– University Wellness

Dog gif credit goes to Jason Clarke



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