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The benefits and risks of exercise

Douglas M Peterson, MD, MBA, FACP, FACSM
Section Editors
Mark D Aronson, MD
Francis G O'Connor, MD, MPH, FACSM
Deputy Editor
Daniel J Sullivan, MD, MPH


Physical inactivity is a major health problem worldwide, particularly in developed countries. The medical literature clearly demonstrates beneficial effects of physical activity on several health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality [1]. Although there are risks associated with exercise in some patients, the benefits outweigh the risks in most patients.

Counseling patients on exercise may be challenging, as many patients have different perceived barriers to exercising. Thus, an individualized approach to the exercise prescription may be needed to effect behavioral change.

This topic will provide an overview of the benefits and risks of exercise in adults, including an evidence-based exercise prescription. Exercise recommendations for children and adolescents, as well as for specific conditions, are discussed in detail elsewhere. (See "Physical activity and strength training in children and adolescents: An overview" and "Exercise and fitness in the prevention of cardiovascular disease" and "Obesity in adults: Role of physical activity and exercise" and "Exercise in the treatment and prevention of hypertension" and "Effects of exercise in adults with diabetes mellitus" and "Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period".)


Physical activity and exercise are not interchangeable terms [2].

Physical activity is defined as bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle that increases energy expenditure above the basal level. Categories of physical activity include occupational, household, leisure time, and transportation.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 14, 2017.
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