Healthier Living

Is Exercise ACTUALLY Healthy?

Miriam Alter, RDN December 17, 2023

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Exercise and health are a huge topic! We are going to talk about exercise in a very limited and basic sense. Kind of like dipping our littlest toe into a very big Olympic size pool – hey, maybe do some laps! That would be exercise!

With that understanding, let’s talk about what exercise actually is (and isn’t) and what exercise does (and does not do) for our health and our bodies.

“Exercise” is intentional physical activity. That is, moving your body physically with the intention of improving your health and fitness. Thus, “having an active lifestyle” would not be considered true exercise, while parking further from your destination and briskly walking the rest of the way, would be considered exercise, seeing that it is done mindfully to increase physical activity. Thus, when we speak about the health benefits associated with exercise, we’re referring to exercise that is done on purpose.


What can exercise do for your body? A whole lot! The importance of exercise is truly not controversial. It’s safe to say that choosing to increase exercise can be the most pivotal change a person can make to benefit their health.


Exercise is associated with both immediate and long-term benefits to one’s physical and mental wellness. Benefits are varied: improved sleep, better mood, reduced blood pressure, more oxygen flow to the heart, stronger bones, and a reduced risk for different cancers, dementia, diabetes, and heart disease. Any additional amount of exercise that you include in your lifestyle will make you healthier. Fitness is a strong predictor of all-cause mortality, even more so than weight.

That brings us to our next important conversation: weight loss. Many people on a weight loss journey will focus on exercise. Or, at the very least, feel like they should be focusing on exercise. So, take a deep breath before reading this: there is no evidence that exercise increases weight loss. You can read that again to process fully.


However, interestingly enough, exercise and weight management are strongly correlated. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, doing more than 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise each week is correlated with preventing or minimizing weight gain. In addition, though exercise is not going to do the heavy lifting for weight loss (calorie restriction plays that role) many people do find that exercise is a useful adjunct to calorie restriction for weight loss –  and if you are one of those people, go for it!

Bottom line: intentional exercise will improve your health, though it may not be the main player in your weight loss journey.