Exercise is one of the easiest, cheapest most effective measures you can take to maintain and improve your heath. The list of disease and conditions that are prevented or improved by exercise is a long one. Our big killers, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, are at the top of this list. Yet most people don’t do enough exercise and are therefore needlessly exposing themselves to the risk of developing these and other debilitating chronic diseases. 

Here is a more complete list of disease and conditions that exercise helps:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Many types of cancer
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis

Exercise can improve health in people of ages, but is especially helpful in older people. People in older age groups tend to suffer chronic diseases, such as the ones in the list above, and exercise is especially helpful for them, as it helps them maintain bone and muscle strength and helps prevent falls.

Exercise and mental health

Increasingly experts recognise that exercise and physical activity improve mental health. You may have noticed that after a workout in the gym or period of swimming jogging, you feel mentally more refreshed. Exercise raises levels of serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones in your brain. It can improve depression and anxiety. It can block negative thoughts or distract you from daily worries. It can lift your mood and improve your sleep patterns. Exercising with other people provides an opportunity for increased social contact, which is also good for mental health. 

How much is enough?

Experts say you should do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days. Moderate intensity means to the point where your breathing is faster and your heart rate increases.

You can spread your activity into intervals as short as 10 minutes. So if you have a very busy schedule, even doing three, 10-minute aerobic exercises per day, five days per week, will be enough.

Some people aim at walking 10,000 steps a day, an idea that is currently very popular. There is no real scientific evidence for this aspirational target, but on the other hand if it motivates you to walk, then fine! A half hour of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (the minimum recommended for most days) equals about 3,000 to 4,000 steps at a moderate pace.

What sort of exercise?

Different form of exercise can produce different toes of benefit. Some are good for overall fitness such as aerobic exercises, some for strength, balance and flexibility. Some activities combine all of these.
Aerobic exercises increase your breathing and heart rate, and keep the circulatory system and lungs healthy. They improve the body’s overall metabolic function, helping to prevent diabetes and heart disease, and also help to build up fitness and endurance. Some common aerobic activities include:

  • walking briskly
  • jogging
  • athletics
  • Swimming
  • cycling
  • sports of all sorts, like tennis, golf, football,
  • climbing stairs
  • dancing
  • doing gardening work 

Strength exercises are important for keeping your bones and muscles strong. Some examples of strength training include lifting weights and using resistance machines at the gym.

As well as aerobic and strength exercises, some experts also recommend exercises that promote flexibility of your joints and muscles, and your sense of balance. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi are among the activities that promote flexibility and balance. These activities help reducing the risk of injury risk and falls, and improve your body’s movements. 

How should I begin? 

If don’t normally do exercise, start slowly and gradually build your levels up over time. It’s a good idea to consult your doctor before starting a program, especially if you have an existing chronic condition such as heart diseases or arthritis, or you are in an older age group (over 45).

More info

Australian Government Department of Health physical activity guidelines