Have you ever wished for a “magic pill” remedy that would help you look better, feel better, and has better health, and was also inexpensive and without any side effects?
Stop wishing! The remedy is exercise. Simply taking the time to move your body in a moderately strenuous way for about 30 to 45 minutes on most days can lead to enormous benefits in terms of your mood, health, weight, and ability to live an independent and fulfilling life. If you think that you need to be athletic to exercise, think again. Studies have shown that simply walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes or more on most days can lead to significant health benefits. Add some simple strengthening exercise two or three times a week, and the benefits are even greater.
If you currently don’t exercise, gradually working toward completing 30 minutes of moderately strenuous exercise on most days will net you a huge fraction of the health benefits that come with a more extensive exercise program. Achieve this goal, and you’ll see and feel the results.
At the heart of any plan to become more fit is aerobic conditioning. This includes just about any activity that increases your breathing and heart rate for a sustained period. In addition to common forms of exercise such as walking, bicycling, or swimming, many other everyday forms of activities may count as aerobic conditioning, such as mowing the lawn with a push mower or going dancing.
Whatever the exercise or activity, doing it at a moderately intense level means that you should feel yourself working and maybe even breaking a sweat- but you should still be able to complete a seven-word sentence in one breath. Thirty minutes of moderately intense exercise on most days is a good benchmark for achieving health gains for the average adult. More prolonged or more vigorous exercise leads to even greater benefits.
If you can’t find time to do a 30 minute or longer block of exercise or activity, it’s OK to break it up into shorter blocks of 10 minutes or more. You can even incorporate exercise into your routine by taking the stairs, walking to the store, walking your dog, or going for a walk during your lunch break. The point is to get moving for a total of 30 minutes or more a day.
What 30 minutes a day can do
Regular exercise has benefits for most, if not all, of your organ systems. As a result, it can affect a broad range of factors related to your health and well-being. A partial list of benefits includes helping you:
■ Lower your blood pressure: You may be able to reduce your blood pressure by five to 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). In some cases, that’s enough to prevent or reduce your need for blood pressure medications.
■ Improve cholesterol: Exercise often increases the concentration of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol in your blood, especially if you lose even a little weight. It also helps reduce triglyceride levels.
■ Prevent or manage type 2 diabetes: Exercise helps insulin work better, lowering blood sugar. In addition, it prevents glucose from accumulating in the blood by helping muscles convert glucose to energy.
■ Manage your weight: Exercise consumes energy and helps you maintain a favorable caloric balance and maintain or even lose weight. Coupling exercise with a healthy diet is the best way to shed fat and maintain healthier body composition. If weight loss is your goal, aim for about one hour of exercise a day to achieve the best results.
■ Prevent cancer: Exercise has been shown to strengthen the immune system, improve circulation, reduce body fat, and speed digestion, each of which plays a role in preventing cancer, particularly cancers of the colon, prostate, uterine lining (endometrium), and breast.
■ Maintain mental well-being: Exercise may help you reduce stress, improve mild to moderate depression and anxiety, improve sleep, and boost your mood.
■ Increase energy and stamina: Many older adults say they don’t have the energy to do the things they once did. However, for many, lack of energy is largely the result of inactivity, not just age.
Challenge yourself and your health
First, talk to your doctor about appropriate activities for your age and health. Chances are, your doctor will recommend walking as a starting point – it’s easy, free, effective, and safe for most people.
Find ways to stay motivated. You may wish to join a club or take a class. Walking with a friend may help. Measuring tools, such as a fitness tracker or keeping a journal can help you track progress. If walking doesn’t appeal to you, try another activity to get your blood pumping. No matter what exercise you do, spend a few minutes gently stretching various muscle groups at the end of your exercise routine.
Remember, the point of the exercise isn’t just to add a few more years to your life. It’s about being alive – feeling healthy, getting out and enjoying the world, staying independent, and having the vitality to do the things you want to do.