The bottom line – move more, sit less. Studies show that decreasing “sit time” may be just as important as increasing “fit time.” As a result of our often hectic lifestyles, many of us believe there aren’t enough minutes in the day to accomplish all we need to do, let alone find time for exercise. Often we don’t know where to begin. And when we do, we try to do too much too soon and become frustrated and quit. Getting exercise does not have to be a chore. Nor does it have to be difficult, but it does need to be a priority. No matter what your age, gender, weight, or health condition, some form of regular exercise can help produce long term health benefits. Before we look at the benefits of exercise, let’s look at the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle:
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes
- Increased risk of high blood pressure
- Increased risk of high blood cholesterol
- Increased risk of developing osteoporosis
- Increased risk of depression and decline in cognitive function
Approximately 30% of American adults report getting regular physical activity. Close to 40% of Americans report getting no physical activity at all. When done regularly, moderate to vigorous physical activity can provide the following health benefits:
- Strengthen your heart muscle and improve lung function, lowering the risk of heart attack. As your heart’s ability to pump blood improves, oxygen levels in your blood rise and capillaries widen, delivering more oxygenated blood to your muscles and throughout your body.
- Inactive people are more than twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease (CHD).
Regular physical activity can reduce the risk factors for CHD by:
- Lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Physical activity reduces body fat, which is associated with high blood pressure.
- Raising HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
- Managing blood sugar and insulin levels, lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes. Approximately 17 million Americans now have diabetes. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a brisk one hour daily walk could reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 34%.
- Reducing inflammation by reducing levels of C-reactive protein in the body. As we age, low-grade inflammation, the immune system’s response to any sort of injury, can cause a thickening of the arteries and veins that transport blood, putting more stress on your heart.
- Aiding in weight control and lowering the risk of obesity. Any kind of physical activity helps reduce body fat and builds muscle mass, improving the body’s ability to use calories.
- Exercise improves mood and self-esteem by stimulating the production of endorphins, brain chemicals associated with relief of symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
- Regular weight-bearing exercise supports bone formation and can help prevent bone loss associated with aging. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, women who walk four or more hours per week have 41% fewer hip fractures than those who walked less.
Adults should aim to accumulate a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise weekly. Studies show that weekend warriors who get all their exercise on the weekend receive the same health benefits as those who spread their exercise activity over the course of the week. Studies also show that 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there all count towards your total activity for the week as long as those 10 minutes are spent on moderate to vigorous activities. Any amount of exercise is better than none, although more is better.
Light-intensity activity feels easy. You have no noticeable change in breathing, don’t break a sweat and you can easily carry on a conversation or even sing.
Moderate -intensity aerobic activity causes a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. Moderate exercise should be hard enough that you break a sweat and you are able to carry on a conversation but you can’t sing.
Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity causes deeper, more rapid breathing and a greater increase in heart rate. You should be challenging yourself to the point that you can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
Overexertion – If you find yourself short of breath, experience pain or have to cut your work out short, your intensity is probably higher than your fitness level allows. In this case, back off a bit and increase intensity gradually.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a combination of the following types of exercise:
- Aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, or any activity that gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster for cardiovascular conditioning.
- Strength training such as calisthenics or weight lifting for muscle toning. To gain health benefits, muscle-strengthening activities should be done to the point where it becomes difficult for you to do another repetition without assistance.
- Stretching to enhance physical stability, improve range of motion and reduce risk of injury.
Only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity. Studies show that physical activity can increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life. You can lower your risk of early death by doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly. Remember, getting to and staying at a healthy weight requires both regular physical activity and a healthy eating plan. If you haven’t exercised in long time, are overweight or have a medical condition, check with your doctor before starting a vigorous exercise plan.
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