The benefits and risks of exercise: how exercise affects your body (Part II)

Written by: Dr Taher Mahmud
Edited by: Emily Lawrenson

For many people, exercise is a way of life – not to be missed, and not to be taken lightly. While of course there is such a thing as overdoing it, the benefits exercise brings us are not to be avoided. It should be a part of everyday life, both for the here and now and to help reduce the risk of certain conditions developing in the future. In our last interview with Dr Taher Mahmud of the London Osteoporosis Clinic, we discussed the risks exercise can carry. Now it's time to move on to the benefits. How can exercise improve our lives? 

Our first point should definitely be enough to convince you – exercise helps you live longer. Studies of elite athletes have shown that they have 67% lower mortality compared with the general public. Even by finding the time to walk an extra ten minutes a day can help you improve your lifespan – almost by an extra two years. The more exercise you do, the larger this figure becomes.

Other benefits gained from exercise:

  • Cardiac benefits – habitual exercise can reduce the risk of coronary disease, cardiovascular death, and other cardiac conditions, even in the case of secondary prevention (after already experiencing complications of a heart condition)
  • Weight benefits – exercise to prevent or treat obesity is incredibly effective, and can contribute to a great loss in body fat, compared to simply following a weight loss diet alone.
  • Cancer prevention and treatment – there is evidence to suggest that exercise may provide some protection against certain types of cancer, including breast, prostate, endometrial, intestinal, colon, and pancreatic cancer. For example, in women, oestrogen is thought to encourage development of breast cancer. Exercise helps to reduce levels of oestrogen, and therefore may help to reduce the risk.
  • Osteoporosis prevention – weightbearing exercise is proven to increase our levels of bone density, building up bone in order to help protect from weakening and fractures later on in life. Even in those with osteoporosis, exercise can help reduce the risk of fracture, when tailored to the patient and their needs.
  • Mental health – our levels of stress, anxiety and even depression can be affected by regular exercise. In those who suffer from depression, exercise is recommended as a positive influence and can help to improve self-esteem.
  • Cognitive health - it is thought that exercise may help to reduce the risk of dementia and other cognitive decline, particularly in older patients. Exercise is directly linked to improved cognitive function. Even in those with dementia, exercise and being active is important, as it has a direct impact on their wellbeing and can significantly improve their quality of life.

It’s not just serious conditions – exercise can help even in small ways, such as through boosting our energy levels, improving our quality of sleep, building muscle tone, lowering blood pressure, and feeling fitter and healthier.

There are many different ways to exercise, and whether it is to help with an existing condition, or as a preventative measure, it should be a part of our everyday lives. The good points of exercise far outweigh the risks – everyone can benefit from being physically active.  

Dr Taher Mahmud

By Dr Taher Mahmud

Dr Taher Mahmud is an expert consultant rheumatologist and osteoporosis lead with over 18 years' experience, and Co-founder and Director of the London Osteoporosis Clinic. It is the first clinic in the UK entirely dedicated to early and post-fracture screening, diagnosis and treatment to prevent fractures, and the reversal of osteoporosis. Dr Mahmud's interests include osteoporosis, inflammatory arthritis, and soft tissue inflammation. With initial training in King's College, he went on to train in rheumatology at the Lupus Unit, St Thomas' Hospital, and the Rheumatology Unit at Guy's Hospital, London. Dr Mahmud has a special interest in raising awareness of the prevention of osteoporosis fractures, and bone health. He has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed publications and has authored his own book on the subject of patient care and feedback. 

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