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

Improved fitness drastically 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 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 making physical activity assessment part of routine medical care and providing exercise resources to people of all ability levels. “The scientifically proven benefits of physical activity remain indisputable, and they can be as powerful as any pharmaceutical agent in preventing and treating a range of chronic diseases and medical conditions,” the initiative’s website notes.

Here’s a breakdown of those benefits:

Exercise Boosts Your Mood

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

Learn More About the Ways That Being Fit Boosts Energy and Mood

Exercise Is Good for Sleep

Habitual 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 bouts of slumber. It may help set your body clock (so that you are alert and sleepy at appropriate times), create chemical changes in the brain that favor sleep, and, as past research indicates, can ease presleep anxiety that may otherwise keep you up.

It’s worth noting, however, that high-intensity exercise done too close to bedtime (within about an hour or two) can make it more difficult 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 that you’re not 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 getting the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity per week decreased the risk of death from any cause by 19 percent.

Learn More About the Amazing Ways Being Fit Boosts Your Health

Fitness Helps You Manage Chronic Disease

Exercise helps the body function, and that includes managing other chronic health problems. 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 a stroke or cancer, physical activity can help. Exercise can help decrease pain, improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, promote mobility, improve heart health, lower the risk of other chronic diseases, and play a role in good mental health.

If you have a chronic disease and you’re looking to stay active or get more active, a walking routine is generally a safe place to start. “The vast majority of people do not need clearance from their doctor to start walking, unless your physician has told you specifically that they don’t want you exercising,” says Sallis.

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

But if you get excessively short of breath, experience chest pain, or have any other concerning symptoms, call your doctor.

Learn More About Why Being Fit Helps With Chronic Disease Management