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Regular exercise has many benefits:

  • Reduces stress, anxiety, tension, fatigue and depression
  • Prevents injury
  • Helps maintain a healthy body weight
  • Increases resting metabolism and strength
  • Tones and shapes muscles
  • Improves appearance, self-esteem and self-awareness
  • Improves sleep
  • Decreases risk of disability and disease (e.g. heart disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and diabetes)

Three types of exercise are recommended:

1. Aerobic
2. Strength-training
3. Flexibility

1. Aerobic exercise raises the heart rate during continuous and sustained activity.  This is the most important form of exercise for cardiovascular health because it improves the efficiency of the heart and lungs.

Examples of aerobic exercise include: basketball, brisk walking, bicycling, rowing, running, soccer, swimming, tennis, and using machines such as an elliptical trainer, stair stepper or treadmill.

Current recommendations are to do:

  • Moderately intense aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week OR
  • Vigorously intense aerobic exercise 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week

Also, several short (10-minute) sessions a day can also be effective in improving heart function.

How to monitor the intensity of your aerobic workout: For aerobic exercise, moderate intensity is optimal, producing the greatest gains with the least risk of injury. To determine intensity, use any of these methods:
Talk Test:You should be able to talk comfortably while exercising at moderate intensity. If you become too out of breath to carry on a conversation, slow down.
Perceived Exertion Scale:  Note how difficult or intense your workout feels and then rate yourself on the scale. You should normally exercise at 3-4 on the scale.
0 - Nothing
.5 - Just noticeable
1 - Very light
2 - Light
3 - Moderate
4 - Somewhat heavy
5 - Heavy
6 - 
7 - Very heavy
8 -
9 -
10 - Very, very heavy
Heart rate: Visit WebMD to calculate your target heart rate (THR). When you exercise, periodically stop to count your heart rate for 10 seconds. (Put your fingers on your neck to the side of your Adam’s apple and feel your pulse.) Compare this to your 10-second THR, and adjust your workout if you are off your THR.

Stop exercising immediately if you notice light-headedness, dizziness, tightness in the chest, loss of muscle control or nausea.

Activity does not have to be strenuous to provide positive results.  Benefits can be accumulated in small bits throughout the day, so every activity counts.  It can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or taking a walk during breaks.

2. Strength-training refers to repetitive movements of muscles against resistance using weights, machines, stretchy bands or your own body weight. The purpose is to increase muscle strength and bone density, which are important throughout life.

After warm-up (see following section), do 8-12 repetitions of 8-10 different strength-training exercises that affect all major muscle groups at least twice a week at moderate intensity.

To increase strength, use a load that is more than your muscles are accustomed to, on a regular and progressive basis. Your muscles should feel fatigue by the last repetition, for example you couldn’t perform another repetition without breaking form or using other assistance.

3. Flexibility refers to exercises that increase the elasticity of muscles and joints.  Slow, gentle stretching can be incorporated after warm-up or during cool-down of every exercise session. It can also be done as a separate activity, for example yoga. Each stretch should be held for about 30 seconds. Don’t force it!

Remember to Warm Up and Cool Down:

Warm-ups prepare you for action by raising the temperature of muscles, ligaments, and tendons and gradually increasing heart rate and blood flow. Before exercising, warm up for 5-10 minutes by doing less vigorous rehearsals of the sport or exercise that you are about to perform. Other warm-up activities include walking, slow running, arm circles or trunk rotations.

You may have been taught to stretch to warm up, but in fact you need to warm up cold muscles with light exercise to increase blood flow before stretching.

Cool-downs can reduce stiffness as well as prevent a sudden drop in blood pressure. After exercising, reduce activity gradually and then stretch for 5-10 minutes.

Tips for success:

Consult a clinician before beginning an exercise program if you are over 35 and/or have current health problems or history of disease.

Begin an exercise program slowly. Allow time to build strength and stamina.

Make a plan and commit to it. Set both short and long term goals.

Keep a journal of exercise sessions (or track online) and how you feel. Look back periodically to see how far you’ve come!

To keep you motivated and prevent boredom, find a workout partner and continue trying new activities.

Use proper, high-quality equipment.  If you run, wear well-cushioned, sturdy shoes to avoid injury -- see tips at Choosing the Right Shoe for You.  If you cycle, ride a well-maintained bicycle and wear a helmet. For activities such as skating, wear a helmet, wrist guards, elbow and kneepads.

If you are exercising outdoors, carry identification and let someone know your route.

How many calories does exercise use?

For more information:

U-M Recreational Sports and Facilities
RecSports offers drop-in recreation, club sports, intramural sports, outdoor adventure, personal trainers, fitness assessments and exercise and relaxation classes, as Group X, and in partnership with M-Fit and U-Move.

  • Central Campus Recreation Building - 734-763-3084
  • Intramural Sports Building - 734-763-3562
  • North Campus Recreation Building - 734-763-4560

MapWalk --Try this fun tool to create your own routes for walking, running or biking.

Ann Arbor Recreational Sports and Activities lists local exercise opportunities.

My Start Tracker from the American Heart Association can help you reach your health, fitness and nutrition goals.

SuperTracker offers a food and exercise tracker.

ActiveU for U-M employees offers an online exercise tracker.

American Physical Therapy Association offers information on avoiding injury in exercise.

American College of Sports Medicine offers brochures on individual exercises.