There are a lot of great reasons to exercise—and believe it or not, weight loss is not one of them. Yes, we’ve all heard that managing your weight is about calories in, calories out, and that you’ve got to burn more than you eat to reach your goal. Just the words “burn more calories” conjure up images of sweating it out on a Peloton or in 80-minute HIIT classes. The truth is that no matter what the “calories burned” readout on your exercise bike or treadmill says, you can only burn 10 to 30 percent of the calories you eat through exercise every day. That’s not enough to allow most people to drop pounds from movement alone. For weight care, a better strategy is a comprehensive approach that includes medical treatment, lifestyle change, and peer support. Don’t give up your gym membership just yet, though. We all need movement—it does a body good. A lot of good. Movement is both natural and necessary. We simply weren’t built to be couch potatoes. Our bodies, including our brains, are healthier and stronger when we’re being active on a regular basis. Here are 13 reasons to keep moving and some ideas for getting more movement in your life.
1. A healthy brain
Early humans evolved in a world that required movement for survival—searching for water, working for food, building shelter and communities, and fighting predators and enemies. The effort to survive forced our brains to evolve. In fact, our brains require movement to develop memory, stay stimulated, and solve problems. Without movement, the brain won’t function at its full potential. Being active is good for a healthy brain in other ways. Just as routine movement helps prevent heart disease by keeping your arteries healthy and improving blood flow, being active also helps prevent dementia and strokes.
2. Improved mental health and mood
Movement decreases stress and the risk of anxiety and depression. When you exercise, your brain releases neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood and help you feel good. Movement is also a great way to manage stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. (Managing stress is an important part of weight care, because cortisol stimulates your appetite and cravings for fat and sugar.)
3. Lower blood pressure
Being active is a great way to prevent or help manage high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. As your heart becomes stronger, it’s able to pump more blood through your body with less effort, and as a result, there’s less force on your blood vessels. (Here’s a list of other lifestyle changes you can make to lower your blood pressure.)
4. Balanced blood sugar
Your muscles use glucose both during and after activity, helping to keep your blood sugar in check. If you establish a routine for movement, you may even see your A1C—a measurement of your blood sugar level over the past three months—drop.
5. A healthy immune system
Regular movement benefits your immunity in two ways, according to an analysis published in the journal Exercise Immunology Review. Short term, exercise helps your immune system deal with pathogens. Long term, a regular routine will keep your immune system strong as you age—and healthy aging is a good thing.
6. Lower resting heart rate
Strengthening your heart through regular movement allows it to pump more blood with each beat and with less effort. Your heart won’t have to beat as often to supply your body with the oxygen it needs—which means you’ll have a lower resting heart rate.
7. Better control of body fat
Body composition looks at the ratio of body fat to lean mass (which includes muscle and bone). You want to maintain a good balance. When you shed pounds, you’re not just losing fat, but muscle, too. Strength training will help you retain some muscle and good body composition. Movement can also help you avoid putting on pounds as you get older. Starting around age 30, our body composition naturally starts to change—we lose muscle and pick up body fat, and that can happen even while maintaining the same weight. Routine activity helps slow that process. 8. Muscle strength and endurance
Just as Olympic athletes train for better endurance, you can, too. Strength training increases your muscular endurance—particularly when you do more reps using lighter weights.
9. Improved cardio-respiratory system
Regular activity that gets your heart pumping increases your lung capacity and your overall stamina, giving you the ability to do more of the activities you love without running out of breath.
10. Healthier joints and better flexibility
Ever heard the phrases “movement is medicine” or “motion is lotion”? There’s some truth to those. Exercise improves blood flow to your joints, encourages synovial fluid (which cushions the ends of bones and lubricates joints) in your body, increases your range of motion, and strengthens tissues around your joints to help protect them, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
11. More energy
Movement boosts your energy level during and after activity. Exercise increases the mitochondria, the “power generators” of our cells, which use oxygen and glucose to produce energy. So: More mitochondria, more energy! Even a little movement on a routine basis can increase energy in people who are sedentary or living with chronic conditions.
12. Better sleep
You don’t need to be active for weeks or months to get this benefit. How about better sleep tonight? Just 30 minutes of movement earlier in the day can improve your sleep the same evening. Here's how: Your body produces endorphins and raises your temperature when you exercise. Those signal your body that it’s time to wake up. When the endorphins wind down and your temperature lowers, your body gets the signal that it’s time to rest. The other benefit is that even moderate movement increases the amount of time you spend in deep sleep, the phase that gives you better rest.
13. Disease prevention
Exercise is linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases—and it’s easier to see why when you consider all the other benefits of moving more. Regular activity helps prevent heart disease, stroke, hardened arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, and many other conditions. Bottom line: Movement helps you increase your years and your quality of life. Inspired now? Here are some ways to start your routine, no matter your fitness level.
Think about how active you are now, even if you’re sedentary. (It happens, whether when you work from home, spend hours in a cubicle, or you're living with a condition that limits you.) Be honest about your current ability and activity level, and start small depending on what category you fall into.
Sedentary (Completely new to exercise, or haven’t exercised in a long time)
You might find it helpful to add physical movement by associating it with something you already do each day. (For more info on how to do that, see our article “8 Tips to Help You Form New Habits—and Stick to Them.”) For example, do 10 sit-ups or lunges while your coffee brews in the morning, or walk around the house while you brush your teeth. These small bursts of movement add up!
Examples of simple movements with big payoffs: Stretching throughout the day, taking a “walking meeting,” taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing more household chores, playing with children outside, dancing around the house while cooking or cleaning. You might also try simple 10- or 15-minute routines you can do at your desk during breaks—search YouTube for “chair aerobics.”
Lightly Active (You move one to three days a week for 30 minutes or less)
Schedule movement into your calendar to make time for it. Choose a slot you can commit to, even if it’s untraditional. The best time of day to exercise is the time that works best for you! Try the stacking strategy from above to associate your activity time with something else you do routinely. For example, you might take a 20-minute walk on your way to your car after work, or do a 20-minute stretching routine to wind down when you get home.
Highly Active (You move three days a week or more, for at least 30 minutes)
If you consider yourself an experienced exerciser, challenge yourself to increase your reps gradually each week, or to try a new form of movement to work new muscle groups. On the flip side, remember to REST. Rest is important for muscle growth and recovery.
All Activity Levels
Set up your environment to make movement an easy choice. Leave out your workout clothes and sneakers where you can easily throw them on and get out the door, pre-fill your water bottle, keep your gym bag packed, or set an alarm on your phone. If you have small children and you’re able to, schedule some time for movement while they’re in daycare or with a sitter.
Let’s be real—pretty much no one feels like going to exercise beforehand, but almost everyone feels better toward the end of, and for some, after, a session. You can thank all those endorphins, often known as “feel-good hormones,” your body releases during movement—in addition to helping you sleep, endorphins can also alleviate pain and put you in a good mood. This window right after a session is a great opportunity to reflect and create positive associations with movement. Log in to the Found app and make notes about how you FEEL. Give yourself a quick “before and after” check-in when you take time to move your body, and allow yourself to notice the difference. How you’re feeling inside and out goes far beyond the number on the scale! Plus, noting that exercise makes you feel great may even influence the choices you make the rest of the day. Chances are, you’ll make healthy ones.
Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.