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Why exercise is important

Why exercise is important

So many times research has shown the benefits of exercise and why exercise is important, yet few people can be bothered. While your diet certainly is a huge factor in weight loss. Exercise can help greatly in changing your body composition and improve your overall health on so many levels.

What are the benefits of exercise:

  • Increase in metabolic rate
  • Reduce body weight (fat loss)
  • Increase muscle mass and strength
  • Increase bone density and bone strength
  • Improve joint/tendon/ligament strength
  • Improve lung capacity and improved cardiovascular health
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease and increase overall heart health
  • Reduce the likelihood of type 2 diabetes
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Improve mental health and brain function
  • Reduce the chances of cancer
  • Reduce the chances of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis
  • Improve fitness level, stamina and endurance
  • Increase flexibility, agility, balance and co-ordination
  • Improve mood and well-being
  • Increase in good cholesterol levels
  • Improve the quality of sleep
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce depression
  • Improve confidence
  • Increase life expectancy
  • Increase libido
  • Help to control insulin and leptin levels
  • Improve recovery from physical activity

Why is exercise important?

We are designed to move, to be active, hunt, gather……. However for most people our modern lifestyles lead us to live sedentary lifestyles, with us sitting in front of the computer, watching numerous TV channels, heads down on our mobile phones, playing computer games etc. We have convenience devices for cleaning, shopping on line and anything to make our lives easier. Our physical jobs have gone to machines, leaving most people working at computers and/or sitting behind a desk doing clerical work. Walking has become a thing people do who can’t drive or have dogs, so most people now tend to use their cars more, even for very short journeys.

While our diet is the number one factor in controlling weight loss (calories in calories out), the fact that we spend most of our time sitting around with slow metabolisms tells us that no matter how hard we try to reduce the calories consumed we are fighting a losing battle. Just look at the stats, we are all getting fatter. There are more obese people (children and adults) now than there has ever been.

Exercise combined with a proper nutrition plan is great for fat loss and great for keeping it off. While dieting on its own will help you reduce weight, it can also slow your metabolism down and on top of that you can also lose muscle mass, which in turn will make your metabolism slow down even further. When calories are reduced below your maintenance level, which it needs to do in order to lose weight, your body needs to get some of its energy from somewhere else and it will use both body fat and muscle. Exercise will help reduce or stop muscle lose or even help build muscle if you do the appropriate type of workout and your nutrition is in order. Building muscle actually helps increase your metabolic rate and continues to burn calories throughout the day. Remember if you are gaining muscle you will not show as much weight loss on the scales, as muscle weighs more than fat. However, you will be losing body fat and hopefully increasing lean body mass, which should be your main aim when looking to change your body’s composition. Exercise can also help you make better choices in your nutrition as part of a lifestyle change.

So, just how many calories does exercise burn?. Well let’s just remember before we get into that, that most people burn between 50-150 calories per hour going from completely rested to doing most normal daily activities. With that in mind, let’s just take the basic walk for an example. If you walked for 30 minutes you will burn between 100-200 calories depending on how brisk/intense you walked (200-400 calories in an hour). If you walked briskly for 30 minutes you could potentially burn 125 calories more than even a busy 30 minute house cleaning session. Do this four times a week and that brisk walk could burn an extra 500 calories per week (26,000 calories in a year). There are 3500 calories per lb of body fat, so you could lose 7.5 lbs per year walking briskly four times per week. So, it’s important to realise that exercise for fat loss may be slow, however when combined with a good diet can add up to quite a bit more than that of fat loss and include many of the health benefits mentioned above. But that is just half the story. If you are able to exercise at a higher intensity, you could increase your metabolic rate and use more energy even when at rest. If you further increase muscle mass, you can again increase your resting energy use. All this helps burn more energy (calories) throughout the day. Therefore the sum of doing all this is far greater than just doing dieting or exercise individually.

Help with getting started with exercise

Exercise is for all regardless of whether you are obese, overweight or under weight. If you are new to exercise get checked out by a doctor first, especially if you are overweight, obese or have any medical conditions that may affect you. Start slow, try 10-15 minutes of moderate exercise 3-4 times a week and work your way up to 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise 3-4 times per week. Then when you are cleared to, reduce the workout time back down and up the intensity, then you can really start to get many of the benefits mentioned above. You just need to choose the exercise that best suits your needs for now, but still get the heart and lungs working.

It is important to understand that to benefit from exercise, it does need to be done regularly. You need to do exercise 3-5 days per week. You don’t need to do marathon workouts though (see about abbreviated workouts). Once you are happy to up the intensity of your workouts, try to get between 1-4 hours of exercise split up over the week (depending on the intensity used). Try to get a mix of low intensity and high intensity cardio and resistance exercise (see the workout section) or even add a sport. Mix it up to reduce the risk of over using your joints and the same muscle groups that can lead to aches and sprains.

Be careful though as doing too much exercise can increase your appetite, so keep it sensible. Also don’t treat yourself for doing exercise. Most 30 minute-1hour workout sessions will burn between 100-500 calories depending on the type of exercise and intensity used. A cup of coffee from one of the well known coffee shops could be as much as 200-300 calories (or more) and a small carrot cake can have 400-600 calories (or more) for example and then you have undone all your hard work and more. So be careful not to fall into this trap.

The other thing you need to do to make exercise more fruitful and get many of the health benefits, is you need to get your heart rate up. To do this take your age away from 220 then take between 50-80% of the remainder. So if you are 40 years old:

220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute

50% of 180 = 90 beats per minute

80% of 180 = 144 beats per minute

Moderate intensity exercise should be between 50-65% of your max. So your target heart rate for moderate intensity exercise should be between 90-117 beats per minute. High intensity should be between 70-80%. So your target heart rate for high intensity exercise should be between 126-144 beats per minute. But don’t get hung up on this. Just make sure you are working hard to the point you can still speak, but not quite be able to get a full sentence before having to take a deep breath again.


If you are looking to lose body fat, look at your diet first, this is the number one place to start and will make the biggest impact on fat loss. Exercise is a close second for fat loss, but if your diet is bad, no amount of exercise will be able to help enough to make a big difference. Doing both nutritional changes and exercise is the best option.

And remember, you won’t burn a huge amount of calories working out compared to dieting, but it does add up and you will keep your metabolism higher or maintained better, especially if you are restricting your calorie intake. Therefore don’t use exercise as an excuse to eat more or become lazy for the rest of the day. The problem with many people is that they exercise haphazardly or very occasionally and expect results from this type of approach. Unfortunately it normally leads to injuries and/or disappointment. Don’t go weeks without exercise and then expect to get back straight into it when you return, be regular and consistent to keep the progress going.

Everyone is looking for the easy way to health and will try to take the path of least resistance or look for the quick fix. There is none…….get your nutrition sorted and exercise regularly, make it a lifestyle change.

Other useful articles:

Effects of exercise on the body
How to stretch warm up and cool down
Exercise for the obese or overweight
Getting into fitness
Cardio vs resistance training for fat loss