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- American Heart Association: Physical Activity
- Harvard School of Public Health; Study Finds that Both Weight and Exercise Are Key to Longevity; December 2004
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Physical activity offers many health benefits, regardless of your age, sex and athletic capacity 2. If you’re having trouble building up the motivation to exercise regularly, consider that getting in even 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week will make a positive difference in your life, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Greater Endurance, Flexibility and Strength
Getting in a well-rounded workout is important because different types of exercise offer different physical benefits. For example, stretching exercises such as yoga and Pilates boost your flexibility, and weight-training exercises such as pulling resistance bands and doing pushups improve your muscle strength. Aerobic exercises such as walking briskly, jumping rope, dancing and swimming build your physical endurance by helping your heart pump more efficiently when you exercise.
Exercise can help ease depression, anxiety and stress 3. This likely happens because exercise reduces immune system chemicals that can make depression more severe. Exercise also elevates the body temperature to induce a sense of calm and releases the “feel good” brain chemicals, neurotransmitters and endorphins. Because engaging in regular physical activity boosts strength and flexibility, it can indirectly improve your mood because it enables you to participate in all of your favorite activities without limitations 2.
Aerobic exercise helps your whole cardiovascular system work more efficiently, meaning it improves your circulation and allows your tissues to receive greater amounts of oxygen and nutrients. This translates to improved performance during exercise but has the added bonus of giving you greater energy throughout the day. By exercising on a regular basis you will have more pep in your step when playing with your kids and making that last-minute trip to the grocery store. Exercising regularly can also improve your daytime energy by boosting your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
You can’t fully control your risk factors for health problems. For example, you may have inherited a tendency to get high blood pressure because it runs in the family. However, you control your health risks to some extent. By exercising regularly, you can lower your blood pressure and reduce high cholesterol levels. In a 24-year study by the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, study participants who were overweight and got less than three-and-a-half hours of exercise per week were two-and-a-half times more likely to die prematurely than participants who were lean and active.
Exercising is full of benefits, but it can be risky if you try to do too much at once. For example, jumping right into 60 minutes of vigorous exercise per day after being sedentary for months can place unnecessary strains on your cardiovascular and muscular system. Additionally, athletes who are under the “no pain no gain” belief are at risk of burning out quickly and sustaining injuries such as ligament tears. If you’re interested in starting a new exercise routine or picking up the pace in your current routine, make gradual changes such as an additional five minutes or another five percent hill incline per week. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down for at least five to 10 minutes each session and talk to your doctor if you begin experiencing negative side effects such as extreme muscle soreness and shortness of breath.
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