The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity cannot be ignored. Luckily, these benefits are available to everyone — regardless of age or physical ability.
Have you ever heard the expression “use it or lose it”? Well, it’s true! Our bodies are meant to move and they actually crave a variety of activity and exercise; because they adapt to our daily routine the absence of physical activity has several consequences:
- Muscles will become flabby and weak
- The heart and lungs won’t function efficiently
- Joints will become stiff and are more easily injured
In reality, inactivity is as much of a health risk as smoking.
A recently completed strength-training program from Tufts University of older men and women with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis (OA) showed promising results. The sixteen week program showed that strength training decreased knee pain by 43%, increased muscle strength and general physical performance, improved the clinical signs and symptoms of the disease, and decreased overall disability. The study illustrates that strength-training can be just as effective, if not more effective than medications in relieving pain for patients with knee OA. Tufts states similar effects of strength training have been observed in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
What can consistent physical activity do for your health?
Quite a bit actually…
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Weight Control
- Improve mental health, mood, and boost energy levels
- Increase ability to do daily activities
- Increase fall prevention, especially in older adults
- Promote better sleep
- Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduce risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Reduce risk of some cancers
I haven’t been physically active for a while, how do I start?
You should always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program, especially if you have any health concerns. For regular health maintenance aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, at least five days a week. If you’re trying to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals you may need to exercise more.
People often assume that more is better but when you are just starting out be mindful that doing too much too soon, or performing intense exercises on a daily basis right away can have harmful effects such as muscle or tendon strains. Doing too much too soon can also increase your risk of cardiac events, although rare, such as heart attack. For example, if you don’t usually get much physical activity and then abruptly do vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, like shoveling snow, you could be putting yourself at risk. That’s why it’s important to start slowly and steadily increase your level of activity.
So what is “moderate” exercise exactly?
Moderate exercise means being active enough that your breathing becomes heavier than normal but you aren’t out of breath, you should also feel warmer but not break a sweat necessarily. Many household chores like raking leaves, gardening, or washing the car qualify as moderate exercise. Or you could go for a brisk walk around your neighborhood.
Keep in mind, you don’t have to leap into doing 30 minutes a day all at once right away. You will find it easier and less daunting if you build up slowly to a pace that suits you. Try breaking your 30 minutes into three sessions of only ten minutes each throughout the day until you build up your fitness level.
If you have a chronic health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease, talk with your doctor to find out if your condition limits your ability to be active. Then, work with your doctor to come up with a physical activity plan that makes sense with your capabilities. The important thing is that you avoid being inactive or sedentary. Even 60 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity will benefit you greatly.