Benefits of exercise

Step right up! It's the miracle cure we've all been waiting for.

It can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.

It’s free, easy to take, has an immediate effect and you don’t need a GP to get some. Its name? Exercise.

Click on the links below to find out if you're doing enough for your age:

Exercise is the miracle cure we’ve always had, but for too long we’ve neglected to take our recommended dose. Our health is now suffering as a consequence.

This is no snake oil. Whatever your age, there's strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and even happier life.

People who do regular activity have a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers.

Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented,” says Dr Nick Cavill, a health promotion consultant.

Health benefits

Given the overwhelming evidence, it seems obvious that we should all be physically active. It's essential if you want to live a healthy and fulfilling life into old age.

"If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented"

Dr Nick Cavill

It's medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have:

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

What counts?

To stay healthy, adults should try to be active daily and aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of activities.

For most people, the easiest way to get moving is to make activity part of everyday life, like walking or cycling instead of using the car to get around. However, the more you do, the better, and taking part in activities such as sports and exercise will make you even healthier.

For any type of activity to benefit your health, you need to be moving quick enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer. This level of effort is called moderate intensity activity. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can't sing the words to a song.

If your activity requires you to work even harder, it is called vigorous intensity activity. There is substantial evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity. You can tell when it’s vigorous activity because you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

A modern problem

People are less active nowadays, partly because technology has made our lives easier. We drive cars or take public transport. Machines wash our clothes. We entertain ourselves in front of a TV or computer screen. Fewer people are doing manual work, and most of us have jobs that involve little physical effort. Work, house chores, shopping and other necessary activities are far less demanding than for previous generations.

We move around less and burn off less energy than people used to. Research suggests that many adults spend more than seven hours a day sitting down, at work, on transport or in their leisure time. People aged over 65 spend 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group. 

Sedentary lifestyles

Inactivity is described by the Department of Health as a “silent killer”. Evidence is emerging that sedentary behaviour, such as sitting or lying down for long periods, is bad for your health.

Not only should you try to raise your activity levels, but you should also reduce the amount of time you and your family spend sitting down.

Common examples of sedentary behaviour include watching TV, using a computer, using the car for short journeys and sitting down to read, talk or listen to music – and such behaviour is thought to increase your risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain and obesity. 

“Previous generations were active more naturally through work and manual labour, but today we have to find ways of integrating activity into our daily lives,” says Dr Cavill.

Whether it's limiting the time babies spend strapped in their buggies, or encouraging adults to stand up and move frequently, people of all ages need to reduce their sedentary behaviour.

“This means that each of us needs to think about increasing the types of activities that suit our lifestyle and can easily be included in our day,” says Dr Cavill.

Crucially, you can hit your weekly activity target but still be at risk of ill health if you spend the rest of the time sitting or lying down. For tips on building physical activity and exercise into your day, whatever your age, read Get active your way.

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2015

Next review due: 13/07/2017


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The 23 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

jberg said on 24 November 2015

I am now very much better and completely healed from my cough cold, and a croaky voice. Just to round it all off.

I am now planning to recommence my gradual which was going to be anyway-build up through the fitness gears, and then maitaining on a daily regular basis - working out to my fitness dvds, and when able to do so, attending zumba gold class,es, with voluntary work commitments, coming up, I doubt that I'll have the time for frequent classes attendance, maybe only on a once a week basis.

J Berg.

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jberg said on 19 November 2015

About time too, I am now healing up from the bad cough and coughing spasms, very well.

I am looking towards over the weekend in making a start of recovery - my gradual build up to fitness daily regular approach, I'll do a short - aerobic dvd workout, for a few days, then later on in the week, I'll add on a fun dance workout - thereafter, light toning.

I am all behind with my fitness levels due to the fact, I hadn't been very well. I only managed to get 1 session in.


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jberg said on 14 November 2015

Unfortunately, and most annoying for me, I just couldn't workout t his at all, much.

I just happened to have developed whilst away a bad cough, and since returning back, a cold also. Plus a croaky voice.

Anyway, voice has returned now very much normal, and this is apart from the fact I have communication difficulites, at times, though always rise above, I am still lightly coughing, though not as bad as once was.

I'm looking towards the mid week, before I can contemplate in working out again, in at home, and eventually when fitness levels have returned mere normal, to attend classes, that's just as long, and I am prone to falling on snow and icy conditions, we don't land into any bad weather.


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jberg said on 01 November 2015

One of the factors, I'm noticing, and it is the case of interruptions being away on holiday abroad, is that I am just unable to get working out done, I have just done basic stretching.

i have another full week to go, i'll be very much glad to return to working out in aerobics, salsa, and attending zumba gold classess.

I have pretty much gained weight, one of my main reasosn for daily egular working out is because and if I can explain it in this section, I need to watch my mental health ailments.

I return back, and all being well early November.


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jberg said on 04 October 2015

I do fully endorse, with a health promotion consultant,I have always always felt, that exercise is the best medicine,, which is and I think I have mentioned this before, that even at this time of year, when people come down, with the real flu, or bad colds, I always think, and it is the case with me, that by keeping regular intakes of vitamin c, and also echinces, and certainly getting plenty of exercise, certainly helps me positively, to keep well, and must also, properly, save my GP surgery practice, half of the battle of the work, so even at this time of year, I am still pretty much working out, fitness dvds wise, in aerobics, group dvd salsa, which can be done without a partner by the way, in at home, and attending zumba gold classes, in fact, apart from a case of bad sinuses, I couldn't recall the last time, I was in at my surgery, for a bad cold, or be seen by a doctor at home for real bad flu, - long may it continue - to keep physical health well.


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jberg said on 04 October 2015

I have just done a home dvd workout fitness dance.

I trialed a couple of zumba gold classes near me, for on Saturday mornings, now the problem with that is, the start class time was too early. I like to aim for a during the morning class, or the early evening, rather than, too early on first thing.

I am going to be trialing a zumba gold class, hopefully next week,

I had discovered, that regarding a brand new dance class to be hosted by my community centre which i am member and volunteer of, was not going to be suitable for me, it transpired, it would involve too much high impact work, and as I have been having the tendancy to fall in my many younger years, and worse on icy surfaces, I prefer low impact workout choreography. So as far as I'm concerned I will not be attending that brand new class type.

Hopefully, the zumba gold and all being well on Thursday, will pan out.


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jberg said on 14 September 2015

I forgot to point out, that if I am very irritible, or very frazzled, I will have the tendancy to eat more, then, on a next avialable opportunity in at home, I'll work out, or to attend a dance class, and I am then fine once again, I am then not eating in between 3 meals a day.


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jberg said on 14 September 2015

HI AmberMaren,

I understand what you are going through. Myself, I am 4 ft 10 inches in height, and back in 2005, call it 04, and bearing in mind I always was in office work, paid, I then became very unwell and if I can say it, mental health basis, placed onto medication which caused huge amounts of weight gain, and I had to be eventually encouraged to loose some weight - blame the medication, I thought - not me. Whilst when I was working, I always was fairly active, working out on a daily basis, in at home, attending an aerobics class twice a week, in my social and sports centre, they had to then close down, and between 2005, and 2007, I had put on a tremendous amount of weight, for my height and weight levels in general.

Then, back in 2007, I was placed onto a much much better medication, and helped with loosing weight indirectly, I can still workout on a daily basis, before going out to volunteer, and still these years, we are now in 2015, attending zumba gold classes, zymba, and soon to be embarking all being well in NIA dance classes, a hollistic dance therapy approach, and I have come down from clothes size 18, down to a clothes size 16. I would really like to get to clothes size 14, if I can manage it.

Now I was on medication, which caused a lot of weight gaining and ate like crazy, my fitness dance and working out regularly interests go back, to when I was happily once a teenager, and then young adult, and I am still working out in at home regularly, and attending classes, even now, so I have always been very motivated, regardless, of my mental ill health then and now mental health wellbeing.

I'll let in on the act, I had wished to become a qualified aerobics instructor, owing to a disability i have on me from a young age, "i had to forget about that idea of goal" i still very much like to workout and attend classes, even these years.


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AmberMaren said on 13 September 2015

Hi everyone,

I've always been in a job where I've been on my feet and been able to eat what I liked. Earlier this year I changed to an office job. I looked in the mirror in a shop's changing room the other day and nearly cried at how much weight I'd put on. I'm 5'4" and now nearly 11 stone. I want to get back down to the 9'6"ish that I was but I don't know how. I really struggle to find exercise that suits me & lack motivation. Trying hard but I just don't know what to do & reading all the information about what being sedentary does on here has scared the pants off me! If anyone has any tips or words of encouragement I would be really grateful.

Thank you.

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jberg said on 13 September 2015

That's interesting I have come to realise about the staggering figures, showing less hip fractures, and in my workouts, I'll tend to do a lot of choreogrpahy dance and toning work, which involves using the hips, on a daily, weekly basis, - not just walking!


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jberg said on 13 September 2015

I haven't had anymore technical gliches - batteries wearing out that kind of thing - dvd remote control, thankfully. I have been working out since Friday evening on a daily basis, and over this weekend, and i had an idea in the meantime, I thought after a traditional aerobics mobility and stretching, thoroughly, I thought I would throw in, some fun latin dance workout segment, and I have just also done that not long ago this evening.

Hopefully, all being well, I'll be embarking into a new volunteering project - brand new, and brand new charity, how and when will I workout - simple, earlier in the mornings, way before I set out for voluntary work. At that stage, working out wise, I'll add on some light - moderate toning condiitoning work as well, I never do like to feel sluggish, when it comes to desk work, in this case, data entry, in time for a days volunteering role.

I'll plan to workout or attend zumba classes as welll, over each weekend of volunteering, oh yes, now, in terms of the salsa try out class session, I'll only do that the once, as a one off, and I am going to be focusing on a hollistic dance movement therapy NIA. I'll know more, hopefully, early October. I am always looking for a variety of choreography class work, apart from my own in at home.


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jberg said on 07 September 2015

I was just beginning to get an evening workout done, from about 9pm, and to my annoyance, the dvd suddenly decided to give up on me. So after a moment's technical gliche and realising what the problem could have been, I hadn't experienced it before via my dvd player, cd walkman yes, not the dvd player, as it should so turn out, the batteries, needed changing - would you believe! Anyway, after that, and feeling worn out slightly not too bad, I was able to resume my hours' worth of workout consisting of traditional aerobics warm up, switching to very energetic salsa workout dvd.

Hopefully, for during the week, technical gliche wise, I should then be very much fine, I have had the dvd player for a few years, the tv set a lot longer than that, that's older.

Anyway, I'll get another following days' workout done, tomorrow. And I think, I'll throw in some light toning work.


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jberg said on 06 September 2015

I forgot to add, I was feeling stiff and thought I'll loosen up, with my evening winding down dance workout, dvd segment on Sunday 6th of September.


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jberg said on 06 September 2015

Before I arrive into probably a mad week of email notifications for volunteering roles/soon to be voluntary work also, I thought I would offer to share that I have just done a light - moderate group exercise salsa dvd workout to help me wind down, for a better quality of nights sleep, and earlier on in the day, I had done a traditional aerobics, dvd segment.

I don't know just yet, during the week, I might well do a fun, latin dance segment workout, and some light toning, to prepare me for any short - notice of volunteering which might well come my way.

Now I'll work around my fitness exercise workouts in at home with my volunteering long term - permanent work, I'll workout earlier on mornings of day of volunteering, and during the days at weekends, and attend a possiible hopeful Monday morning class, if it all works out well, to commence on the 12th of October. Mondays will hopefully be my day off from Volunteering. When the volunteering will be quiet, I'll have Thursdays off, and workout during the day at home, on a weekly, regular basis.


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jberg said on 05 September 2015

Having read, the above article, I for many many years, for as long as I can remember, have always taken exercise, mainly in tradiitonal aerobics, salsa, which can be dvd done at home, and attending zumba classes, and there is a potential brand new exercise class to come my way though I don't know if this one will actually go ahead, starting off in October.

I have always felt and I can seriously use the expression, exercise is the best medicine, I off course may well suffer with sinuses or allegies, from time to time, I have found though, I haven't always needed to get into the GP Surgery of mine, for physical problems conditions, if I were to have any - thankfully not, due to the fact I always have and in fact still do workout on a daily regular basis, I discovered, dance fitness whilst on holiday abroad, in my teens, and consequently I have continued with it always overehere.

It keeps my mental health statuses, if I can say this as well, in tip top shape condition at all times, when this is, given the chance to workout on a daily, regular basis.

Furthermore, I work out in dance fitness, with light toning work as well, for preparation for desk work volunteering.


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ritabeveridge said on 22 November 2014

One of the most effective forms of fitness is Capoeira. Such an amazing and healthy activity to get into. Read about it here if you dont know what it is:

Iv been doing it for over ten years now and it keeps me so fit and healthy. I am hoping that i can raise awareness of it in the UK via my website

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NaviM said on 10 July 2014

An excellent short and precise article on benefits of health. I totally agree with the view that exercise is a miracle cure. This miracle cure is for free yet we don,t choose it.

I personally believe that alternative holistic healing systems such as Homeopathy and Sujok can undo much of the damage that we thrust upon ourselves by leading a poor lifestyle. The irony is that as the world gets richer our lifestyle
gets poorer. Exercise ignites the spark of health that we all desire.

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David Colquhoun said on 31 May 2014

At the risk of being repetitive, I have to point out that there is no good randomised data that shows exercise has much effect on all-cause mortality. It is simply unjustified to call exercise a miracle cure, and the amounts of exercise that are prescribed are little more than made-up numbers (like the 5, or is it 7, a day).

I think that exercise is fine if you like it. I did. I've done boxing, sailing, marathon running, mountain walking and enjoyed all of them. I also know many people who've lived into their 90s who've done none of those things.

It is entirely plausible that I liked running because I was thin, rather than that I was thin because I ran. Also, it is not impossible that the fact that I'm on my third hip prosthesis and have an nasty scoliosis round an old vertebral fusion is not unconnected with doing a lot of exercise.

In fact exercise is just the latest in a series of "panaceas" for problems that we haven't yet worked out either cause or cure.
It's fashionable, but the evidence is lousy.

The problem with issuing detailed instructions in the absence of good evidence is that it alienates many people. Just the same problem attaches to dodgy dietary advice. That means that when good and sound advice is offered, people laugh (or sigh) at ir. Crying wolf is not a good idea.

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Goldobi said on 05 October 2013

I found this article very help and i have just joined a gym to increase my activities and exercise.I feel more fitter and less tired now.One thing i have improved is my cardio and my breathing has greatly improving when running.I have found also more more information about my fitness on the website

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User777334 said on 01 June 2013

i am vegetarian, doing gym requires a lot of energy. wondering that can my diet is enough for doing gym?

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User754680 said on 09 March 2013

The thing I can not believe is that people still do not see the benefits of exercise

I exercise 4-5 times a week and feel great and ready both physically and mentally for the day ahead

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Karlito23 said on 08 October 2012

Well I really find lots of benefits doing exercise and for me its like fueling my body to be physically and mentally fit. Also, I just want to add something (if in case some might find this post useful) – I recently read this page, Unlocking the Many Benefits of Fitness Whereas you will find what are other benefits of having exercise, how exercise can prevents disease and reduce pain, what are ways how exercise can be more fun, etc.. You guys might find something that you can use there. Thanks for the great article! :)

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Sioux said on 30 June 2012

do you think fibromyalgia would pass as a condition that would get me help with the get active scheme. I would love to be able to go swimming to help me loose weight as it is one exercise I can do that doesn't cause too much pain. But I cannot afford to go as I am only on incapacity benefit.

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Keep healthy with 150 minutes of exercise a week

Find out how easy it is to get 150 minutes of exercise each week. In this video people describe what exercise they find most beneficial and offer tips and tricks for keeping motivated. Note: even short bouts of 10 minutes activities can count towards you 150 minutes.

Media last reviewed: 16/06/2014

Next review due: 16/06/2016

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