Everyone knows that they should exercise. The newest statistics on obesity in the U.S. are reaching epic proportions. The National Institutes of Health estimate that more than 61% of the adults in the United States are overweight or obese. In the throes of our chaotic everyday lives though, exercise often gets bumped to the bottom of the “to do” list or even eliminated altogether. Why should we bend over backwards to incorporate another commitment into our already hectic day? The answer is simple. Exercise and physical activity are beneficial for not only the body, but the mind, spirit and soul. If you make the commitment to carve out a little time for exercise everyday you have the opportunity to improve your life and the lives of your loved ones in innumerable ways.
Exercise Prevents Disease
Exercise plays a key role in preventing the two highest causes of mortality in the U.S. today. First, exercise prevents cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association asserts that cardiovascular disease was responsible for 960,000 deaths in America last year, accounting for over 41.5% of all deaths. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure and increases HDL levels in the blood.(1) HDL is the “good” cholesterol carrying Protein found in the blood that has been linked to a decreased risk of coronary disease. Even moderate physical activity has been shown to have a beneficial effect in preventing heart disease, heart attack and stroke.(2)
Researchers have also implicated exercise as a preventative measure against the development of several cancers. Strong evidence exists for the link between exercise and the prevention of breast and colon cancer.(3,4,5,6) Physically active women show a 20 -30% reduced risk of developing breast cancer.5,6 Exercise can help prevent colon cancer by 30 – 40%.6 Recent studies are also starting to show beneficial gains in the battle against prostate, endometrial, and lung cancer.(7.8,9) The mechanism by which exercise works to prevent these conditions is largely unknown. However, the National Cancer Institute and researchers from across the globe continue to enumerate the many types of cancer that are prevented by physical fitness. The list grows longer every day.
Exercise Strengthens the Human Machine
Exercise not only keeps you healthy on the cellular level, it also works wonders on your gross anatomy. Weight bearing and cardiovascular exercise strengthens your heart, lungs, bones and muscles. (10) This becomes even more important as we age. Physical activity protects against falling and bone fractures in older adults.(11,12) Research also suggests that exercise may help control joint swelling and pain caused by arthritis.(13,14)The maxim in nature is “use it or lose it.” Exercise helps preserve strength, agility, and independence as we age.
Exercise Offers a Mental Boost
The benefits of exercise are not only physically tangible; exercise has a profound effect on your mental state as well. Regular physical activity helps you cope with stress. The commitment you make to yourself and your health improves your self-image. Exercise can help counter anxiety and depression by releasing pleasure chemicals called endorphins in our brains.(5,15) Research even suggests that physical fitness can make you more mentally alert. These early studies found that animals who regularly exercised grew more blood vessels that supply the brain cells with oxygen and sugar rich blood.(16) They also found that exercise stimulates production of a substance that encourages neurons to grow and connect. (17)It seems like a paradox but, exercise can both relax and sharpen your mind. By including group exercise with friends or sports teams into your routine, you can also use exercise to strengthen your bonds with others. Connecting with friends and family is a key aspect of good emotional health.
Get Ready – Now Go!
Now that we have explored the many benefits of exercise here are a few tips in how you can incorporate physical activity into your daily life for optimum health.
Where can I find an exercise program that is tailored to my needs? The most expedient way to get an exercise program that is both safe and specific to your goals is to consult a personal trainer/exercise specialist. A personal trainer can take measurements of your baseline physical health and work with you to create an exercise program that targets your specific needs and wants. With a little professional advice and encouragement workouts and routines can be de-mystified and become accessible to anyone – even those who have never set foot in a gym!
When can I expect to see results? This varies from person to person and is influenced by your genetic make-up as well as the level of physical fitness you are at when you begin your routine. A well-toned physique does not appear overnight. The beneficial effects exercise has on stress, anxiety, and depression can be felt almost immediately. These good vibes will help keep you on track as you head for larger physical gains.
A Word of Caution
The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your doctor before beginning any vigorous exercise program. Please see your doctor if any of the following conditions apply:You have been previously diagnosed with a heart condition
You experience pains or pressure in your mid-chest area, left neck, shoulder or arm
You have experienced chest pain in the last month
You experience loss of consciousness
You experience breathlessness after mild exertion
You are currently on medication to control your blood pressure or a heart condition
You have bone or joint problems – your doctor can help tailor your exercise routine to prevent causing added stress to these areas
You have a medical condition or other physical reason not mentioned here that may need special consideration when designing an exercise program, such as insulin-dependent diabetes
You are middle-aged or older and have not been physically active and wish to begin a relatively vigorous exercise program
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4. Moderate exercise reduces breast cancer risk in older women. Mayo Clin Health Lett. 2004 Feb;22(2):4.
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16. Abstract. Presented at: Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting; New Orleans, LA. November 8, 2003.
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American Council on Exercise
Phone: (800) 825-3636
Internet Address: http://www.acefitness.org/
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, NCCDPHP, CDC
Phone: (770) 488-5820
Internet Address: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/
National Women’s Health Information Center
Phone: (800) 994-9662
Internet Address: http://www.4woman.gov/