Our bodies were designed to move, not to sit most of the day. Find out how exercise can improve your wellbeing.
The health benefits of regular physical activity are hard to ignore. There's no shortage of evidence that exercise and activity is good for your physical and mental wellbeing – it might even help you live longer. So here are 7 great reasons to up the exercise and get more active.
7 great reasons to exercise
1. Exercise can make you feel happier
It's true! Exercise can improve your mood and make you feel happier, by producing changes in the part of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. Exercise can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings. You don't even have to do anything strenuous to get these effects, even gentle exercise can lift your spirits.
Image credit: Hora te pai
2. Exercise can help you lose or control your weight
Exercise plays an important role in a healthy metabolism and helps you burn more calories per day. Regular exercise also plays a part in maintaining healthy muscles and bones, and assists with weight loss.
3. Exercise can reduce your risk of health conditions and disease
There are fantastic heart and lung health benefits when you exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise boosts the cardiovascular system, which can significantly help with energy levels.
5. Exercise helps you sleep better
Regular physical activity can help you sleep better and give you more energy during the day.
6. Exercise can help put the spark back into your sex life
Doing regular exercise can strengthen your heart, improve blood circulation, tone muscles, and enhance flexibility – all of which can improve your sex life. It can also decrease the risk of erectile dysfunction in men.
7. Exercise can help your brain health and memory
Regular physical activity improves blood flow to the brain and helps brain health and memory. It can help protect mental function for older adults.
Image credit: Sport Wellington
Best of all, exercise can be FUN and social! Physical activity is a great way to foster connection, meet up with whānau and friends, and share common interests. If you want some ideas for how to get active with your tamariki/kids and get them involved in a healthy, active lifestyle here are some ideas.
A moderate amount or level of exercise is beneficial for most people and it needn’t be hard to slot into your usual routine. The New Zealand guidelines for promoting physical activity define moderate-intensity activity as anything causing a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. So get walking or swimming and you could be exercising your way to a long and, more importantly, healthy life.
If you're not used to physical activity, it can be tough to get going. This page has good information on starting physical activity when you haven't been active.
If you have any concerns about whether or not you should be exercising, check with your doctor first.
Videos about the benefits of exercising
Dr Mike Evans has a big interest in preventative medicine. In this video, he explains what his research has led him to believe is the single best thing you can do for your health: exercise. This video is also available inArabic,French,ItalianandSpanish.
(Michael Evans & Mercury Films Inc, 2011)
(Dr Michael Evans & Reframe Health Films Inc, 2013)
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Janine Bycroft, GP
Last reviewed: 01 Mar 2023
What are the benefits of aerobic, anaerobic and resistance activities?
Aerobic activities are good for your lungs and heart.
Aerobic activities require oxygen for your muscles to generate the energy to perform, sometimes for long periods. They vary in intensity from light (eg, housework, yoga) to moderate (eg, brisk walking, playing actively with the children) to vigorous (eg, running, most competitive field sports).
Regular aerobic activities:
improve the function of your heart, lungs and muscles to make it easier to do daily activities such as washing the car and vacuuming
improve mental health, sleep, overall wellbeing and quality of life
increase levels of social interaction if activity is done with others
can help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent weight gain (if combined with healthy eating).
Aerobic activity may not be the most effective way to lose weight (unless done for at least 1 hour per day and combined with healthy eating).
Image credit: Health Navigator NZ
Anaerobic activities are good for improving strength, speed, power and muscle mass.
Anaerobic activities involve contracting/relaxing muscles at very high-intensity (90% or more of your maximum heart rate) for up to about 2 minutes. Anaerobic activities include sprinting, weightlifting and other resistance activities.
Some of the endurance activities mentioned in aerobic activities may require periods of anaerobic activity, eg, during a sprint finish or sports game.
Resistance activities are good for maintaining or increasing muscle tone and strength, power and endurance.
Any physical activity that provides resistance to your muscles maintains or increases muscle strength, power, endurance and (lean) mass. Resistance activities may help you to increase the tone of your muscles. They may also help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight (if combined with healthy eating).
Examples of resistance activities include:
push-ups, sit-ups and squats at home
weightlifting or other gym-based activities
carrying children or heavy bags of shopping
waka ama/oe vaka, rock climbing, aqua aerobics/jogging, walking up hills, climbing stairs and digging in the garden.
What are exergames and are they recommended?
Exergames are computer games with a physical activity component such as dance games, fitness games, tennis, ten pin bowling, baseball and football. As the name suggests, they're a combination of exercise and gaming.
If done at a moderate intensity, they may contribute to the Ministry of Health’s recommendation of at least 2 1⁄2 hours of moderate or 1 1⁄4 hours of vigorous physical activity spread throughout the week.
You can also get virtual reality apps that focus specifically on exercise, but by playing some other virtual realist games you might find yourself getting some ‘exercise by mistake’!
What can I do if I don’t like sport or the gym?
There are lots of other activities you can do if you don’t like sport or the gym. What’s important is to choose activities you enjoy, as these are easier to stick to. Activities like walking, cycling and swimming are all low or no cost and can be enjoyed outside.
Activity guides on walking, cycling and water activities are available in English and te reo Māori from the Ministry of Health.
Benefits of walking
Ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels.
You can make it easy or hard, but a brisk pace for 10 minutes or more produces more benefits.
Relatively easy on the muscles and joints with a low risk of injury.
Can be done alone or in a group (if you like to socialise).
Benefits of cycling
Ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Low impact on your muscles.
Benefits your health and the environment.
A great family pastime.
The quickest form of transport for journeys less than 5km.
Low impact (your joints and muscles are under less strain under water).
Use nearly all the body’s muscle groups (when using full swimming techniques)
Excellent during pregnancy and for people with health conditions such as osteoarthritis and obesity as your body is supported.
Benefits of dancing
Good for overall health as it increases your breathing and heart rate.
You can do it alone at home or with others, which can reduce stress levels and increase psychological wellbeing.
Improves core strength, flexibility and coordination (depending on the dance and intensity).
Is high-intensity intermittent training (HIIT) good for you?
High-intensity intermittent [or interval] training (HITT) involves short periods of high intensity activity with a brief recovery period in between.
HIIT can improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness, strength, power and speed. As well, HIIT can increase heart health and insulin sensitivity, and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and abdominal fat.
HIIT can be undertaken for numerous activities individually, such as cycling, running, swimming or rowing, or for a combination of activities.
If you’ve been inactive for a long time, are overweight or obese, have a low base fitness level and/or have certain medical conditions you may wish to consult your healthcare provider before doing higher intensity activities.
Are group activity classes and boot camps good for you?
Many gyms, leisure centres and community centres offer group activity classes run by a fitness instructor. They can be a good way for you to get moderate to vigorous activity into your day and can motivate you to be active if you enjoy the class.
Boot camps, which are often held outside, can be a good way to increase fitness if the structure and level are correct for you and if safe practices are applied (such as building up to the appropriate level gradually).
If you have medical conditions and have a low physical fitness level, or you have been physically inactive for some time, consult your healthcare provider before taking part in group activity classes or boot camp.