You’ve heard it before: Regular exercise is good for you. But, that doesn’t mean you have to join a gym. Any movement that makes your muscles work and requires your body to burn extra calories counts as exercise.

You’ve heard it before: Regular exercise is good for you. But, that doesn’t mean you have to join a gym. Any movement that makes your muscles work and requires your body to burn extra calories counts as exercise. Being active benefits your body and brain in many ways.

Here’s how:

Exercise makes your cells and muscles more sensitive to insulin so you don’t need as much. Less insulin secreted means less belly fat. It can reduce stress hormones. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to insulin resistance and increased belly fat. Stress can also make you crave more sugar and calorie-laden comfort foods, which contribute further to weight gain.

It helps you burn calories. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to exercise your way out of a bad diet but regular exercise can help the body burn more calories all day long. Strength training builds muscle. Muscle burns as much as seven times more calories than fat, which can help with weight control. More importantly, though, maintaining muscle as we age is associated with a lower risk of falls and injuries.

Exercise helps reduce muscle breakdown that occurs naturally with age. Exercise can help prevent osteoporosis and decrease fracture risk by slowing the loss of bone density that happens as we age. Resistance training such as using bands or weights, weight-bearing exercises like brisk walking or climbing stairs, and exercises that increase balance and agility such as yoga or tai chi all help to strengthen our bones.

Exercise can help your brain function better by increasing its flow of oxygen. This improves memory, concentration and the ability to learn. During exercise, you body releases chemicals that improve the structure and function of your brain.

Exercise can improve your mood and help with depression and anxiety. When we exercise, our brains become more sensitive to hormones like serotonin and norepinephrine that help relieve feelings of depression. Plus, exercise can increase the production of endorphins that help produce positive feelings.

Exercise protects our hearts by expanding arteries and increasing blood flow and oxygen. This helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also helps in the development of tiny new vessels. Remember, your heart is a muscle that needs exercise to keep it strong.

Exercise reduces diabetes risk by helping insulin work better and more efficiently. This will help keep your blood glucose levels lower. If you already have diabetes, exercise can help you manage it.

A good workout can lead to a better night’s sleep. You’ll fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer when you exercise. Engaging in exercise seems to be especially beneficial for the elderly, who tend to be more affected by sleep disorders and poor sleep. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime, or you may be too energized to sleep.

Exercise can increase energy levels in both healthy people and those suffering from various medical conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. When your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy.

It can improve your skin. Regular exercise can increase your body’s production of natural antioxidants, which helps protect skin cells. The extra blood flow during exercise can help delay the appearance of aging.

For most healthy adults, the recommendation for exercise is at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both. Examples include running, walking or swimming. If you want to lose weight, you may need closer to 300 minutes or more a week. Strength training exercises for all major muscle groups should be included at least two times a week. This might include lifting free weights, utilizing resistance bands or using weight machines.

Regular trips to the gym are great, but even small changes help. Short bursts of physical activity are just as beneficial. Work on simple ways to be more active during the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further from your destination or do some jumping jacks during TV commercials. Plan social activities that involve exercise, such as hiking with a buddy, taking a dance class or even mall walking while window shopping. Consistency is the key, so make physical activity a daily part of your life.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.