5 Surprising Ways Exercise Changes Your Body

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • There’s more to exercise than meets the eye. We all have our reasons for working out. Some of us want to lose weight or challenge our performance. Others like the boost of energy or appreciate the importance of exercise to our overall health. Whatever motivates you, your body is reaping exercise benefits below the surface that you may not even be aware of. Learn how exercise can sharpen your mind, build up your heart and lungs, lower your blood pressure, and more.

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    Mature adult with towel after working out at the gym

    Exercise and mental health are linked. Exercise can help reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. It can also help you think better, enhancing what are called cognitive functions, such as planning or switching between tasks. Maintaining an exercise routine as you get older may be especially important in helping you retain cognitive functions that can otherwise degenerate with age. If you are feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, consider adding “mind-body” exercises like yoga and tai chi to your routine. They are designed to provide physical activity and a sense of well-being.

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    Senior swimming

    Your heart is a muscle. As with any other muscle, exercise helps make it stronger. Research has shown regular, moderate to vigorous exercise helps your heart pump blood and widens the blood vessels. Exercise can also lower triglycerides (fat) and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol. These benefits of exercise reduce your risk of coronary artery disease (CAD). Studies have shown that people who are physically active are less likely to develop CAD.

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    Couple jogging

    Regular exercise is good for your lungs. Exercise helps your heart pump more blood to your lungs, so they deliver more oxygen to the rest of your body and remove more carbon dioxide. The number of breaths you take can increase from 15 times per minute to 40 to 60 times per minute when you exercise. As you continue with an exercise routine, you’ll need to take fewer breaths during the same exercise. This is a sign your body is becoming more efficient.

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    Blood Pressure
    Woman biking

    High blood pressure can lead to hypertension and heart disease. Exercise can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of developing serious heart problems. Research has shown that aerobic exercise is especially beneficial, ideally 30 to 40 minutes at 60 to 85% of your maximum heart rate, most days of the week. Doing resistance training of 3 to 4 sets with 8 to 12 repetitions a few days each week can also help lower your blood pressure.

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    One of the lesser known ways exercise changes your body is in building bone. Exercise can also help prevent bone loss as you get older. The best kind of exercise for your bones is weight-bearing. Examples are walking, hiking, running, tennis and dancing. If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, exercise can strengthen the nearby muscles. This leads to improved balance and coordination, which can help prevent falls leading to broken bones. It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have osteoporosis or other health concerns.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 9
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  4. Your lungs and exercise. European Lung Foundation. http://www.europeanlung.org/assets/files/en/publications/lungs-and-exercise-en.pdf

  5. Exercise for Your Bone Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/Exercise/default.asp