If the idea of losing weight, toning up or increasing fitness doesn’t get you off the couch, sit back, relax and read on… here’s some further motivation.

Exercise helps your heart, whether you’re fat or thin

This one’s obvious, but the statistics are still scary and thinner people don’t necessarily get off scot-free. In a special issue of the American Heart Association’s Circulation magazine in January 2007, researchers noted that the incidence of heart disease among trim women who do not exercise is 150 per cent higher than it is in slender women who exercise regularly. There’s a sliding scale, essentially, with trim women who exercise regularly at the top and those who are overweight and don’t exercise at the bottom. Among obese women who do not exercise the incidence of heart disease is 340 per cent greater than it is among lean, active women. For women who smoke, are obese and do not exercise, the incidence of heart disease is 940 per cent greater than it is for lean, active, non-smoking women!

Exercise improves your sex life

Good news all round. Daily exercise is strongly associated with better erectile function in men. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported in 2006 that male health professionals between 51 and 87 who exercise vigorously for half an hour a day are half as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction as men with the lowest activity levels.

And for women? The November 2005 issue of the Journal of Sex Research reported on a study conducted at Penn State University which found that the more a woman sees herself as unattractive, the more likely she is to report a decline in sexual desire. These results support a link between body image and sexual response. The women with negative body images ‘especially dislike their stomachs or abdomens, hips, thighs and legs’. A month earlier, research presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity showed that women involved in a weight-loss programme experienced significant increases in both sexual desire and in feelings of being sexually attractive. After only moderate weight loss the percentage of women in the study who felt sexually unattractive fell from 68 per cent to 26 per cent. The percentage of women who experienced problems with sexual desire fell from 54 per cent to 39 per cent.

Exercise staves off dementia

Exercise will reduce the possibility of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. In 2004, JAMA reported that the strongest factor in maintaining cognitive function as people get older was undoubtedly exercise.

In February 2006, the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that those who exercise the most are at least risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The study reviewed all scientific data on age-related cognitive loss in 20,000 women over the age of 20 and found that exercise was the most protective factor in maintaining brain function.

In January 2006, the online edition of Neurobiology of Ageing revealed that research conducted at the University of Illinois with 54 post-menopausal women demonstrated that brain atrophy was not an inevitable consequence of ageing. There are several ways — like exercise, a good diet and staying mentally active — that can slow or stop the process. In the December 2005 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, they reported that regular exercise can double the production of megalin, a brain protein that ejects a potentially destructive protein called amyloid beta. Amyloid deposits are well known in Alzheimer’s patients: they accumulate in clumps throughout the brain.

Exercise prevents breast cancer

In a 12-year study of 90,000 women in France, reported in the Journal of Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (January 2006), researchers found a 38 per cent lower risk of breast cancer among women who reported five or more hours per week of vigorous physical activity. What is particularly fascinating is that the threat is lower regardless of other risk factors like weight, family history, the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or a women’s reproductive history. It didn’t matter if women had a family history of breast cancer. This same study showed ‘a linear decrease in the risk of breast cancer with increasing amounts of moderate and vigorous exercise activity’.

Exercise makes you live longer

The pioneering Framingham heart study of 5206 people over a 46-year period found that of those who reached age 50, the group who engaged in high physical activity lived an average 4.2 years longer than the low physical activity group. The moderate group lived 2.3 years longer. We’re not talking here just about length of life: the same study showed that the high physical activity group had a better quality of life as well.

Another 2006 report in JAMA stated that people maintaining four simple health habits have a 69 per cent lower death rate from cancer and a 73 per cent lower death rate from heart disease. The most important habit was regular exercise. The other three factors were: not smoking; maintaining a Mediterranean-style diet with lots of fruit, vegetables, unprocessed grains, olive oil and fish; and taking a small nip of alcohol on most days.

These exercise benefits have been extracted from Fighting Globesity: A Practical Guide to Personal Health and Sustainability (Random House, 2007), by Phillip Mills and his wife Dr Jackie Mills.

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