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All the major dictionaries say that exercise, when denotes a physical activity, is an uncountable noun.

Swimming is good exercise. (OALD)

Cycling to work is good exercise. (Cambridge Dictionary)

Longman Dictionary of Common errors explained and I quote, "Exercise (uncountable) = physical activity such as walking, swimming etc".

Exercise (countable) = A movement or set of movements.

Is it wrong to say "Swimming is a good exercise"?

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  • Swimming is good exercise. No article [uncountable]
  • Horseback riding is good exercise. [No article, uncountable]

  • I do my exercises every morning. [countable]

  • They did their warm-up exercises before running. [countable]

  • Answering questions about English is not a fun exercise. [countable]

  • But exercising one's brain is a good idea. [uncountable]

Just as shown in the dictionary quoted in the question.

"Swimming is good exercise." should not have an article.

Suggestion: Google "is good exercise" and you will get many activities that are.

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  • Even uncountable nouns can be preceded by the definite article, so why can't this one? What I'm saying is, exercising isn't a noun here, and it makes no sense to label it as one. Further, you'd say, for instance, consistently exercising one's brain, i.e. you'd use an adverb; you wouldn't say consistent exercising one's brain (an adjective). It's obviously not a noun. – user3395 Jan 30 at 22:28
  • There can't be a the because it's not a noun. Some ing forms are nouns, some are verbs. See this answer for more info on how to differentiate between them. – user3395 Jan 30 at 22:38
  • @userr2684291 examples like mine: Playing [noun]chess is fun. Swimming [noun]is fun. Biking [noun] is also fun. Plagiarizing [noun] is not a good idea. I am terribly sorry to say that you are mistaken. In my mini-dialogue there is no "the". – Those are all nouns. So is Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, which does take a "the" as does: The Crying of Lot 49, a book by Thomas Pyncheon. But I won't go into the rules for that here... – Lambie Jan 30 at 22:41
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I wouldn't say that "Swimming is a good exercise" was completely wrong, though I think more natural would be "Swimming is a good form of exercise".

What the dictionary is getting at, rather than swimming as a general form of exercise, is things like push-ups, or burpees, that are a specific form of exercise, where it is possible/natural to say "Burpees are a good exercise to do for {reasons}"

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  • This doesn't really answer the question about uncountable nouns, and your example of "burpees" is used in the plural without any explanation. – user103227 Jan 29 at 13:55
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    "Swimming is a good exercise." is not grammatical. – Lambie Jan 29 at 14:04
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    @Lambie It sounds natural to me... there could be an argument that it is ambiguous (an exercise in what?) but I don't see how it is ungrammatical. You can say "Swimming is a sport", and you can say "good exercise", so why not together? – Astralbee Jan 29 at 14:20
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    Of course,swimming is a sport. But not: Swimming is "a good exercise". Every single bone in my language body says no, no and no. If you said, "Swimming is a good exercise in self-discipline", fair enough. X is good exercise [swimming,running, playing tennis, etc. etc. etc.] – Lambie Jan 29 at 14:29
  • According to Lomgman Dictionary of Common Errors, "Swimming is a good exercise" is ungrammatical. There logic is that it is uncountable when it denotes a physical activity. – Hunter Jan 29 at 14:54
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Generally your definition of exercises is correct - they are uncountable if they are not already plural. Swimming, Cycling, Running are all uncountable nouns.

However, I'd be hesitant to say all exercises are uncountable nouns - are situps and weights not forms of exercise?

You can count situps:

I did 100 situps this morning.

I can barely manage 1 situp, let alone 100.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that if the name of the exercise is the same as the present participle of the verb (as in the case of swimming and running) then it is an uncountable noun.

So yes, your example is correct:

Swimming is good exercise

As would be:

Situps are good exercise.

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