Tips for getting adequate exercise and physical activity
Physical activity and exercise clearly prevent occurrences of cardiac events; reduce the incidence of stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, colon and breast cancer, osteoporotic fractures, gallbladder disease, obesity, depression and anxiety€¦individuals who change from being physically unfit to physically fit experience lower rates of disease and premature mortality¦This holds true from middle age to older ages (40s to 80s) indicating that it is never too late to become physically active to achieve health benefits.
Other well-established benefits of appropriate exercise include:
- Improved mood, energy and psychological well-being.
- Improved immune system function€”fewer colds and flus, quicker recovery from disease.
- Enhanced mental, recreational, occupational and social functioning.
- Enhanced physical function and independent living, and decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in older persons.
- Reduced risk of the slips, falls, and accidents that can result from de-conditioning and loss of balance and coordination.
- Increased pain threshold and tolerance.
The big picture: exercise, possibly more than any other single activity, helps us to look and feel our best and stay healthy throughout our lifetime!
Well, any is better than none. The benefits of physical activity and exercise are linear and dose-dependent, in other words, there is no minimum threshold for benefit, and the more we do, the more we benefit (up to a maximum only exceeded by elite athletes). Conversely, the more sedentary we are, the more we raise our risk of serious and chronic disease, disability, and early death.
However, some useful benchmarks and guidelines have been established by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which concluded recently that €œevery U.S. adult should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Additional health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity.€
If one’s need or goal is not just to maintain but to lose weight, higher levels of moderate-intensity physical activity are required, typically a full hour most to all days of the week, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. “Moderate intensity” means activity that makes us breathe and sweat. A casual stroll, for example, while much better than remaining sedentary, is only light-intensity exercise, requiring roughly 2-3 hours to acheive the same benefits as a single hour of moderate-intensity exercise.
Of course, injuries can feel like an obstacle to getting regular physical activity and exercise. In future articles, I’ll discuss ways to maintain cardiovascular fitness even while recovering from an injury, through creative and careful selection of appropriate exercises.
Exercise is so good for us and makes us feel so much better–yet how to fit it in to our busy lives remains a challenge. Here are some habits that can help us exercise more, and also stay physically active during every-day life–even when we can’t exercise:
Explore and find physical activities that you enjoy! If running on a treadmills feels like drudgery, you probably won’t keep it up as well as something you are motivated to maintain. Studies have shown that people will ballroom dance with much greater intensity and for longer than they are even aware of because they are having so much fun!
Establish an exercise schedule. Block off times of the day, most to all days of the week, for exercise and physical activity.
Enlist the support of friends and family. Let them know how important your exercise regimen is to your health and well-being. Better yet, find partners for physical activity and exercise, enroll in a class, or join a club with regularly-scheduled activities. An exercise class provides further training, support, and motivation to start and keep exercising safely. Many studies show we exercise longer and more intensely when we share our activity with others. We are more likely to sustain exercise as a part of rather than a detraction from our social life!
Keep exercise clothes and props where you need them, see them, use them! Keeping workout clothes and gear in one’s car, office, school locker etc. lowers the barriers to using them. Likewise, keeping exercise props and tools (weights, resistance bands, etc.) in visible locations around the house raises the likelihood that we actually use them in the course of every day life.
Walk while you talk! Instead of meeting for a sit-down lunch or coffee, meet for a walk somewhere you enjoy. Make family and friendly get-togethers occasions for physical activity (kids do this naturally, but as adults it sometimes takes some discussion and creativity…). Wireless technology also opens up new opportunities as well for working and studying while walking. Some businesses are even installing treadmill work-stations where employees can walk while using a laptop, doing phone work, etc. because it improves employee performance and morale and saves so much money on sick days, workers compensation claims, etc.
Seek out opportunities for physical activity exercise in daily life! Some examples:
- Walk or ride a bike whenever possible to commute, shop, and run errands, and socialize.
- Use stairs instead of elevators and escalators.
- When driving, park farther from destinations€”and walk the extra distance. You may get to your goal faster than hunting and waiting for a parking space anyway!
- Stand if you can instead of sitting! Standing burns twice as many calories per hour through the use of core postural muscles.
- When it comes to gardening, housework, etc., try DIY where you can, and use “elbow grease,” instead of contracting out or using labor-saving devices. This is a major way our ancestors kept fit even without gym memberships!
There’s no doubt about it–keeping physically active in today’s fast-paced, computer-driven world can be quite a challenge. Yet embracing and maintaining physical activity and exercise helps to keep us healthy not just as individuals, but as a society. Our individual choices to remain physically fit, and our discussions with others about fitness, have profound impacts on our health and well-being!
 Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th ed. American College of Sports Medicine, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006.
 Pate RR et. al., Physical activity and public health: A recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine. JAMA 273:402, 1995.