The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


More than Weight Loss

Written by
Today I Will TIW
Posted in
Move more

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Co-written by Erica Howard, MS and Gina Cortese-Shipley, MS

You probably know that physical activity is an important part of losing weight as well as managing your weight but did you know that the benefits of exercise reach far beyond this? Bottom line—physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health 1,2,3,4,5,6.

Studies clearly show that being regularly physically active:

  • Lowers risk of early death
  • Lowers risk of coronary heart disease
  • Lowers risk of stroke
  • Lowers risk of high blood pressure
  • Lowers risk of adverse blood lipid profile
  • Lowers risk of metabolic syndrome
  • Lowers risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lowers risk of colon cancer
  • Lowers risk of breast cancer
  • Prevents weight gain
  • Assists with weight loss, particularly when combined with reduced calorie intake
  • Improves cardiorespiratory and muscle fitness
  • Prevents falls
  • Reduces depression
  • Improves cognitive function (for older adults)
There is also evidence that physical activity:
  • Improves functional health (for older adults)
  • Reduces abdominal obesity
  • Lowers risk of hip facture
  • Lowers risk of lung cancer
  • Lowers risk of endometrial cancer
  • Assists with weight maintenance after weight loss
  • Increases bone density
  • Improves sleep quality
It’s pretty amazing that one lifestyle behavior can do all of this!

And what’s even better is that age, race, ethnicity, and current fitness level don’t matter for many of these health benefits1. Men and women younger than 65 years as well as older adults have lower rates of early death when they are physically active than when they are inactive. And physically active people of all body weights (normal weight, overweight, obese) also have lower rates of early death than do inactive people.

Sadly, Americans are not taking advantage of all of these tremendous benefits.  In 2005, it was estimated that 1 in 2 Americans had at least 1 chronic condition that required long-term care7. This not only has a tremendous impact on quality of life but also is also quite costly. For example, heart disease costs our nation 183 billion dollars a year, cancer 157 billion, diabetes 100 billion, and arthritis 65 million just to name a few8.

Four modifiable health risk behaviors—lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption—are responsible for much of the illness, suffering, and early death related to chronic diseases9. Yet despite this, only 32%10 of our nation’s adults participate in the recommended 2008 federal physical activity guidelines of  “150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous intensity aerobic activity.”

So we need to look beyond the weight benefits and consider ALL of the amazing health benefits physical activity has to offer. Physical activity is a primary or at a minimum, a complimentary treatment for directly preventing or improving chronic disease, which could decrease the number of chronic disease cases, improve overall health and quality of life11 while at the same time decreasing economic costs. Look over the list of benefits again and put a mental check mark by those that are important to you. Better yet, write them down and put them somewhere you can see them often. Maybe they will provide the motivation you need to add more physical activity into your life. We would love for you to share with us what health benefits or other motivations you have for being physically active.


  1. Blair S, Kohl H, Barlow C, et al. Changes in Physical Fitness and All-Cause Mortality. JAMA 1995; 273: 1093-1098
  2. King D, Dalsky G, et al. Effects of exercise and lack of exercise on insulin sensitivity and responsiveness. American Physiological Society 1988; 1942-1946.
  3. Patrick K, Norman G, Calfas K, et al. Diet, Physical Activity, and Sedentary Behaviors as Risk Factors for Overweight in Adolescence. AMA 2004; 385-390.
  4. Todd J, Robinson R.Osteoporosis and exercise. Post Grad Med Journal 2003; 79: 320-323.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Be Active, Health, and Happy.
  6. World Health Organization (WHO). Global Health Risks: Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks. Report 2009.
  7. Wu SY, Green A. Projection of chronic illness prevalence and cost inflation. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Health; 2000.
  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Fundamental to Preventing Disease. Report. June 20, 2002.
  9. World Health Organization (WHO). Chronic Diseases and their common risk factors. Report. 2005.
  10. Pleis JR, Lucas J, ward B. Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008. Vital Health Stat 10 2009; 242:1-157.
  11. Rejeski WJ, Mihalko SL. Physical Activity and quality of life in older adults. J Gerontol Bio Sci Med Sci 2001: 56A(Special Issue II: 23-35).