6 Stealth Health Benefits of Exercise

By Alisa Hrustic |

Being skinny doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy or fit. Here’s what else movement can do for you.

woman eexercising outdoors

If you’re at a healthy weight or even a bit skinny, finding the motivation to move every day can be tough. After all, what’s the point of working out if you’re not looking to shed pounds?

The truth is there are so many other good reasons to stay active—especially as you get older—because exercise keeps all of your body’s systems running smoothly.

“What would happen if you left a car sitting outside in a yard? Over time it would fall apart and fail to work,” says Pete McCall, a certified personal trainer and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “The same thing happens to the human body.”

So the next time you need a little motivation to get moving, remember these six benefits you’ll reap from exercising regularly (ideally, at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and two days of strength training per week) that have nothing to do with losing weight.

Stealth Health Benefit #1: You’ll Build Muscle

“Without regular exercise, adults can lose 10 percent of their muscle mass per decade of life, causing them to become weaker as they age,” McCall says. Strength training combats that decline so you can move around more efficiently, lift everyday items (like heavy grocery bags or a grandchild), and look toned rather than scrawny.

You can use your own body’s weight, dumbbells, resistance bands, gym machines, or other equipment. Check out our guide to finding your right weight for strength training.

Stealth Health Benefit #2: You’ll Keep Your Bones Strong

Your bones become thinner with age, which can lead to painful and debilitating fractures if you end up falling. Since fall-related fractures are the leading cause of death in older people, it’s worth taking your skeletal health seriously. The good news: Bones, like muscles, respond to workouts by becoming stronger.

This is important for everyone, but especially those with osteoporosis. Check out our guide to four rules for exercising with osteoporosis to stay strong and fracture-free. Already had a fall-related injury? Ask your doctor these six questions to get moving again safely and confidently.

Stealth Health Benefit #3: You’ll Improve Your Heart Health

“The heart is a muscle. If it is not exercised regularly, it can become clogged with cholesterol or may not be efficient at pumping blood, both of which can elevate the risk of a heart attack,” McCall says.

By staying fit, you’ll minimize this danger and also feel more energized, since a heart that works efficiently does a better job of getting oxygen and other nutrients to tissues throughout your body.

Stealth Health Benefit #4: You’ll Stay Sharper

“For people over the age of 50, exercise plays an essential role in promoting good cognitive health and mental acuity,” McCall says. Challenging exercise raises levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurotransmitter that helps produce new brain cells and wire brain cells together.

“That can enhance cognitive function and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia,” he says.

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Stealth Health Benefit #5: You’ll Find Social Opportunities

Relationships are crucial to being happy as well as healthy, and exercising can get you out of the house and into the community. Whether you join a walking group, partner up with a gym buddy, or look forward to seeing familiar faces at a SilverSneakers class, exercise can make it easier for you to make new friends or catch up with old ones.

In fact, 49 percent of active SilverSneakers members say they are motivated to continue exercising because they have a SilverSneakers friend. You can also stay connected with fellow SilverSneakers fans on Facebook.

Stealth Health Benefit #6: You’ll Help Yourself Live Longer—and Better

Case in point: A 2007 study of more than 2,600 older adults concluded that physical fitness—not body fat—was associated with living longer. Researchers found that participants with the lowest fitness levels were four times more likely to die prematurely than those who were in good shape.

By warding off chronic illness and keeping you strong, exercise also helps you maintain a good quality of life. The result: You’ll get to keep up with your family, friends, and favorite hobbies for a whole lot longer.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Check out these great workouts you can do at the gym or at home:


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