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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Exercise


Five more reasons to exercise

Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


Most people know that daily exercise has many benefits including lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease, lowering high blood pressure, keeping bones strong, reducing the risk for diabetes, helping control diabetes, improving symptoms of depression, reducing pain associated with arthritis, and reducing the risk of falls. If that is not enough, there are now even more reasons to exercise.


The December 2009 issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter describes recent research that provides more motivation to get up and get moving.


  1. Exercise can reduce the risk of certain cancers. A study of research done on exercise and colon cancer showed that those who were physically active were 21 percent less likely to be diagnosed with this type, compared with those who were the most inactive. Risk of developing breast cancer was also reduced by physical activity. A study of 119,000 middle-aged women performed over the course of seven years showed that getting at least an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise daily reduced the risk of developing breast cancer by 16 percent.

  3. Exercise can increase brain power. A University of Illinois study of older adults showed that aerobic exercise increased brain size, creating new nerve cells and synapses, which are needed for memory and learning. Another study showed that increased fitness levels correlated to increased spatial memory, the memory that helps make connections between things and events, and knowing what goes where. Aerobic exercise also helps with executive function, which is the ability to make decisions, plan, organize and know how to handle new situations.

  5. Exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone that gets blood sugar into the cells to be used as fuel. As people get older or as they put on weight, the body’s ability to use its insulin properly decreases. If the body is unable to use insulin, diabetes occurs. Research now shows that weight training three times a week for six months improved insulin sensitivity by 20 to 25 percent.

  7. Lack of exercise can lead to early death. In a study of 17,000 adults, about half reported being inactive for at least half their day. Twelve years later, 20 percent of participants who reported being sedentary most of the time were found to have died. Of those who had reported spending little or no time being inactive, only 6 percent had passed away. The study indicated that spending a lot of time just sitting may change the way the body metabolizes compounds, affecting one’s health.

  9. Exercise can reduce or prevent visceral fat gain. Visceral fat is the layer of fat that surrounds the internal organs of the belly. This is the type of fat that is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance and diabetes. A Duke University Medical Center study showed that, “sedentary overweight men and women who followed an exercise program equivalent to a brisk 30-minute walk six times a week for eight months stopped gaining visceral fat.” Participants in the study who were not physically active increased their visceral fat stores by 9 percent in six months. The incentive here is that as long as a person remains active as described in the study, the activity holds that dangerous fat storage at bay. Once a person becomes sedentary again, the gain is back.


These reasons stress why it’s important to find an exercise you enjoy — on your own, with a buddy or on a team — and make a commitment to yourself so you can enjoy the benefits that come from physical activity.


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Last update: Wednesday, January 12, 2011