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Adolescent Health Clinic: Benefits of Exercise

Article Translations: (Spanish)

What is exercise?

Exercise is any physical activity or movement that requires physical effort. The word “exercise” can sound scary or feel negative to some people, especially if someone has struggled with exercise in the past. While we will use the term exercise in this handout, but know that exercise is for EVERYONE, even people who don’t exercise much or at all! 

How much should I exercise?

A little bit of movement goes a long way! As a long-term goal, try to get 30 minutes of exercise or physical activity at least 5 days a week. If you are not doing much physical activity now, start slow – add a 5-10 minute once or twice a day, then gradually increase the amount of time you are exercising.

What types of exercise are there?

There are three main times of exercise:

  • Aerobic exercise – this is an activity that gets your heart rate up over a period of time. Examples include walking, jogging, bicycling, elliptical training, or swimming. We recommend aerobic exercise at least three times a week.
  • Strength training – this includes activities that build muscle. This can include lifting weights, but also exercises with body weights like sit-ups, planks, push-ups, Pilates, or certain types of yoga. We recommend strength training at least twice a week.
  • Stretching – this includes activities designed to increase flexibility and stretch muscles. We recommend stretching either before or after workouts, or adding a stretching-based exercise like yoga into your routine.

What type of exercise should I do?

The most important thing is to choose activities that you enjoy! The goal is to build exercise into your day in a way that feels fun. Dancing, going on walks or runs with friends, or playing a game of football or soccer are all great ideas. Finding enjoyable ways to move your body makes it more likely you will keep exercising, which is more important than the type of exercise you choose.

If you are already exercising on a regular basis, we recommend doing strength training a couple times a week, and aerobic exercise on the other days. Strength training helps keep muscles strong and prevent injuries, while aerobic exercise helps keep your heart and lungs healthy. Some studies have shown that strength training is best for building self-esteem, and aerobic exercise is best for boosting mood or managing depression. 

What are the benefits of exercise?

So many! If exercise were a medicine, it would be all over the news because it works to protect against so many different illnesses and disease. Getting regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health! Some specific benefits include:

  • A good mood! Exercise releases endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals and hormones that can help put us in a good mood. Are you feeling down? Try taking a walk, dancing, playing basketball or football, or going for a job. The best exercises for mood will be those that get your heart rate up. It doesn’t have to be a long workout, even just 5 or 10 minutes will help boost your mood!
  • Manage stress Physical activity is one of the best ways to shake off stress. Many people feel stress in their bodies, which can include tight neck and shoulder muscles, headaches, abdominal pain, or feeling shaky and nervous. Moving your body can help get you out of your head and into your body, and is a great way to process and burn off stress! Any type of exercise will help with stress. If you are prone to stress-related headaches or neck tension, stretching exercises like yoga can be especially helpful. Mindful movement, like yoga or tai chi or Pilates, includes breathing techniques that can also help reduce stress!
  • Protect your heart health Regular movement can decrease your risk of heart disease and treat problems with cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in all of the cells in our bodies. We measure two types of cholesterol: “good” cholesterol, or HDL, which we want to be above 40, and “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, which should be less than 130. Having a high HDL and a low LDL protects against heart disease and stroke. Exercise can help increase “good” cholesterol and lower the “bad” cholesterol, keeping your heart healthy and strong.
  • Treat or reverse prediabetes / diabetes Diabetes is a medical condition where the body struggles to manage the level of sugar in the blood. For many people, increasing their physical activity can actually reverse prediabetes, or prevent prediabetes from developing into diabetes.
  • Help you sleep well at night Exercise can help you fall asleep more easily at night, and sleep through the night without waking up. This is especially true if physical activity is done in the morning or early afternoon. Exercise done right before bed might actually make it harder to fall asleep, so try to keep your workouts earlier in the day if you are struggling with insomnia.
  • Boost your energy level Exercise can actually increase your energy level! This is especially true if you exercise on a regular basis over several weeks to months. If you are feeling drowsy in the afternoon, try taking a 5-10 minute walk instead of napping – it will help your sleep patterns and also give you an energy boost.
  • Decrease your risk of cancer Exercise decreases your risk of breast, prostate, endometrial, and pancreatic cancer.
  • Reduce pain Because exercise helps make endorphins, exercise can reduce chronic pain. If you struggle with headaches, body pain, POTS, or fibromyalgia, exercise is a great way to help reduce pain. However, make sure you talk to your doctor about safe ways to exercise, especially if you have any chronic illnesses or conditions.
  • Helps with memory and brain power Exercise helps improve your memory and can even make cognitive (thinking) functions better! If you are struggling with a study session, take a break to get a workout in and come back to the task once you’ve moved your body for a while.

What if I don’t have a gym?

Good news – there are a lot of activities that are available for free or no cost! The YMCA of the North has free or reduced gym memberships for high school students. Schools often have sports or extracurricular activities for free. There are lots of websites and apps out there – our favorite resource for teens is, which has free exercise videos designed by a team of health care professionals.


This information is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call your clinic.

Reviewed 7/2023

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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