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Ways That Exercise Improves Health

Posted by SoundHealth on Monday, February 01, 2010
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A growing body of research is showing that regular physical activity helps to improve overall health, including preventing diseases and illnesses.

Regular exercise has been found to:

  • Reduce your cancer risk
  • Slow the aging process
  • Boost the immune system, including helping to fight off colds and flu
  • Combat the ongoing damage done to cells, tissues and organs that underlies many chronic conditions

Exercise Improves health in Old Age

Physical activity has been found to be associated with a reduced risk or slower progression of several age-related conditions as well as improvements in overall health in older age, according to four research articles published in the January issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Regular physical activity has also been associated with greater longevity as well as reduced risk of physical disability and dependence, the most important health outcome, even more than death, for most older people", two leading experts explained in a commentary on the articles.

Midlife exercise Associated With Better health in Later Years

Among women who survived to age 70 or older, those who regularly participated in physical activity during middle age appeared more likely to be in better overall health. They were less likely to have chronic diseases, heart surgery or any physical, cognitive or mental impairment.

The authors of this study recommended physical activity to promote overall health and well-being among older people, concluding that:

"The notion that physical activity can promote successful survival rather than simply extend the lifespan may provide particularly strong motivation for initiating activity."

Resistance Training Improves Cognitive Skills in Older Women

Resistance training appeared to improve attention and conflict resolution skills among older women. After one year, the participants significantly improved their scores on tests of selective attention (maintaining mental focus) and conflict resolution. The program also improved muscular function in the women.

"This has important clinical implications because cognitive impairment is a major health problem that currently lacks a clearly effective pharmaceutical therapy and because resistance training is not widely adopted by seniors," the authors wrote.

Physical Activity Is Associated With Reduced Cognitive Impairment in the Elderly

Moderate or high physical activity was found to be associated with a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment in older adults after a two-year period.

At the beginning of the study, 10.7 percent of the participants had reduced memory skills. After two years, 5.9 percent of the remaining participants developed cognitive impairment.

"The incidence of new cognitive impairment among participants with no physical activity was the highest, compared to those with the highest levels of exercise."

Exercise Associated With Denser bones and Lower Fall Risk in Older Women

Women age 65 or older assigned to an exercise program for 18 months appeared to have denser bones and a reduced risk of falls, compared with women in a control group.

Among the 227 women who completed the study, the 115 who exercised had higher bone density in their spine and hip, and also had a 66 percent reduced rate of falls. Fractures due to falls were also twice as common in the controls vs. the exercise group.

Exercise Helps Fight cancer

Physically active adults experience about half the rate of colon cancer as sedentary people, according to research. Exercise has a beneficial influence on insulin, prostaglandins and bile acids, all of which are thought to encourage the growth and spread of cancer cells in the colon. Exercise also helps to improve bowel transit time, which means the body's waste sits in the colon for less time.

Other research found that women who exercised regularly reduced their breast cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent compared to those who were inactive. This is likely due to a lowering of estrogen levels during exercise.

One study found that women being treated for breast cancer were 50 percent less likely to die of the disease if they walked at an average pace for three to five hours a week.

Exercise Slows Down Aging

Exercise has been associated with preventing telomere shortening. Telomeres are strands of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes which protect them from damage. Gradual erosion of telomeres leads to cells aging, and as telomeres shorten more, cell death occurs. These cell deaths are associated with serious disease and premature aging.

Research indicates that physically active people have significantly less erosion of telomeres than healthy, but sedentary people. Exercise activates the enzyme telomerase which stabilizes telomeres, producing an anti-aging effect at the cellular level, so exercise is clearly a very powerful anti aging strategy.

Exercise Boosts the immune system

Exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in the blood. The role of these cells is to neutralize pathogens, or disease-causing organisms throughout the body.

The better these cells circulate, the more efficient the immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and diseases trying to attack the body. This is because the immune system is the first line of defense against minor illnesses like colds or the flu, right through to life-threatening diseases like cancer.

So Start Exercising Today!

No matter what your age, exercise can provide enormous benefits for health. Try to include a variety of exercises that work out the entire body, and make sure you're getting enough to achieve all the benefits.


  • Q Sun; MK Townsend; OI Okereke; OH Franco; FB Hu; F Grodstein. Physical Activity at Midlife in Relation to Successful Survival in Women at Age 70 Years or Older. Arch Intern Med, 2010; 170 (2): 194-201.

  • T Liu-Ambrose; LS Nagamatsu; P Graf; BL Beattie; MC Ashe; TC Handy. Resistance Training and Executive Functions: A 12-Month Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Intern Med, 2010; 170 (2): 170-178.

  • TEtgen; D Sander; U Huntgeburth; H Poppert; H Forstl; H Bickel. Physical Activity and Incident Cognitive Impairment in Elderly Persons: The INVADE Study. Arch Intern Med, 2010; 170 (2): 186-193.

  • W Kemmler; S von Stengel; K Engelke; L Haberle; WA Kalender. Exercise Effects on Bone mineral Density, Falls, Coronary Risk Factors, and health Care Costs in Older Women: The Randomized Controlled Senior fitness and Prevention (SEFIP) Study. Arch Intern Med, 2010; 170 (2): 179-185.

  • J Williamson; M Pahor. Evidence Regarding the Benefits of Physical exercise. Arch Intern Med, 2010; 170 (2): 124-125.

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