Are You Getting Enough Exercise?
“There is no drug in current or prospective use that holds as much promise for sustained health as a lifetime program of physical exercise.”
IN 1982, Dr. Walter Bortz II, a university professor of medicine, wrote the above words. Over the past 23 years, numerous health experts and organizations have quoted these words in books, magazines, and Web pages. Evidently, today Dr. Bortz’s advice is just as current as it was in 1982, and it is still widely accepted as sound and relevant. So we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Am I getting enough exercise?’
Some have erroneously concluded that they do not need to exercise because they are not overweight. Obese and overweight people stand to benefit greatly from a regular exercise program, but even if you are not overweight, an increase in physical activity is very likely to improve your overall health and help prevent serious diseases, including certain types of cancer. Also, recent studies show that physical activity can reduce anxiety and may even prevent depression. The fact is, many who are slim suffer from mental and emotional stress, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and other conditions that are aggravated by a lack of enough exercise. Hence, whether you are overweight or not, if you lead a sedentary life, you do well to increase your level of physical activity.
What Is a Sedentary Life-Style?
How do you know if you are active enough? There are various opinions on what constitutes a sedentary life-style. However, most health experts agree on general guidelines that apply to most people. One explanation used by several health organizations is that you are sedentary if you (1) do not exercise or engage in some vigorous activity for at least 30 minutes three times a week, (2) do not move from place to place while engaging in leisure activities, (3) rarely walk more than 100 yards during the course of a day, (4) remain seated most of your waking hours, (5) have a job that requires little physical activity.
Are you getting enough exercise? If not, you can start doing something about it today. ‘But I just don’t have the time,’ you may say. When you get up in the morning, you are simply too tired. At the start of the day, you hardly have enough time to get yourself ready and get to your job. Then, after a long day, again you feel too tired to exercise and have too many other things to do.
Or perhaps you are among the many who start to exercise but quit after just a few days because they find it too strenuous, perhaps even feeling sick after exercising. Others shy away from exercise because they think that a good fitness program must include grueling routines of weight lifting, lengthy daily runs covering many miles, and carefully choreographed stretching sessions.—See the box “Lifting and Stretching.”
And then there is the expense and the perceived inconvenience. Joggers need suitable clothing and shoes. For strength training you need weights or special exercise machines. A sports-club membership can be costly. Travel to the gym can be time-consuming. Still, none of the above need prevent you from leading a physically active life and reaping the health benefits.
Set Realistic Goals
First of all, if you plan to start an exercise program, do not set unrealistic goals. Start slowly, and work your way up. Scientists have recently acknowledged the value of light-to-moderate physical activity, and they recommend that sedentary people increase their activity gradually. For instance, the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, a newsletter on nutrition, fitness, and stress management published by the University of California, advises: “Start by adding a few minutes of increased activity to your day, and work up to 30 minutes most, and preferably all, days of the week.” The newsletter explains that “all you have to do are the normal things, like walking and taking the stairs, but just more often, a little longer, and/or a little faster.”
Beginners should focus on regularity rather than intensity. Once your strength and endurance have improved, you can work on increasing the intensity of the exercise. This can be done by incorporating longer sessions of more vigorous activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, stair climbing, or cycling. Eventually for a more well-rounded fitness program, you may even include some weight lifting and some stretching exercises. Many health experts, however, no longer subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” approach to exercise. So, to reduce the risk of injury and to avoid the burnout and discouragement that often lead to quitting, keep exercise at a comfortable level.
Those who never seem to have time for physical activity would welcome a recommendation made by the Wellness Letter. It explains that “short bouts of exercise during the course of a day have an additive benefit. That is, three 10-minute periods of exertion can be almost as beneficial as one 30-minute session.” Thus, you do not need to engage in lengthy periods of vigorous exercise in order to reap substantial health benefits. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that researchers have found that “light to moderate activity, as well as vigorous activity, was associated with a lower risk of experiencing coronary heart disease.”
But regularity is a must. With that in mind, you may want to look at your calendar and schedule specific dates and times for exercise. After a few weeks of a sustained exercise program, you will likely find that it has become a normal part of your life. Once you begin to enjoy the health benefits, you may actually look forward to your sessions of physical activity.
An Active Life Is a Better Life
While it is true that as little as 30 minutes of daily physical activity can have a positive impact on your health, according to the latest medical advice, more is better. It is now recommended that to maintain a maximal level of cardiovascular health, you should accumulate up to 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Again, this can be achieved by engaging in several brief sessions spread throughout the day. The journal Canadian Family Physician explains that “current recommendations call for an accumulation of up to 60 minutes of activity on a given day. For some health benefits, it does not appear to matter how the minutes of activity are accumulated.” This medical journal also states: “While several studies have documented that vigorous activity is associated with lower all-cause mortality, current emphasis is on promoting moderate activity.”
The bottom line is that your body is designed to move around and engage in regular physical activity. A sedentary life-style is harmful to your health. And there is no vitamin, medicine, food, or surgical procedure that can replace your need to remain active. Also, we must all face the fact that an adequate exercise routine, whether moderate or vigorous, whether done in short installments or longer sessions, requires time. Just as you make the time for eating and sleeping, it is vital that you also make the time to remain physically active. This involves self-discipline and good personal organization.
There is no hassle-free exercise program. However, the inconveniences and sacrifices involved in maintaining an active life-style pale into insignificance when compared with the life-threatening dangers of an inactive life-style. Stay active, break a sweat now and again, work those muscles—you might live a healthier and longer life!
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A Higher Level of Exertion
While a moderate increase in everyday physical activities can bring significant health benefits, researchers say that greater results are obtained with more vigorous exercise. Below are some options.
Health professionals recommend consulting a doctor before embarking on a program of vigorous exercise.
● Brisk walking: Sometimes called speed walking or power walking, this is one of the more convenient ways to exercise. All you need is a comfortable pair of walking shoes and a path. Walk with a longer stride and a pace that is considerably faster than a leisurely stroll. Try to reach a speed of about three to five miles [4 to 9 kilometers] an hour.
● Jogging: When you jog, you are basically running at a slow pace. Jogging has been described as the most efficient way to achieve cardiovascular fitness. However, because of its higher impact, jogging is more likely to cause muscle and joint injury. Hence, joggers are reminded about the need for adequate shoes, stretching, and moderation.
● Bicycling: If you have a bicycle, you can enjoy a very effective form of exercise. Bicycling can burn up to 700 calories an hour. Like walking and jogging, however, bicycling is often done on the streets. For this reason you must remain alert as you ride, taking all the necessary precautions to prevent accidents.
● Swimming: You can exercise all the major muscle groups in your body by swimming. It also helps keep your joints flexible, and it can give you virtually all the cardiovascular benefits of jogging. Because swimming is gentler on your body, it is often recommended for people with arthritis, back problems, or weight problems as well as for pregnant women. Avoid swimming alone.
● Rebounding: This aerobic exercise requires the use of a small trampoline. It simply involves bouncing on the trampoline. Proponents claim that rebounding improves both blood and lymphatic circulation, increases the capacity of the heart and lungs, and improves muscle tone, coordination, and balance.
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Lifting and Stretching
Scientists have recently concluded that a balanced fitness program should include some form of strength training, such as weight lifting. Done properly, weight lifting not only builds muscle but also increases bone density and helps reduce body fat.
Many health experts also recommend stretching to improve flexibility and blood circulation. Stretching can help your joints achieve a full range of motion.
However, to avoid injury, both weight training and stretching must be done properly. You may want to learn a few basic guidelines by reading reliable material on the subject or consulting your doctor.
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Exercise and the Mind
Scientists have discovered that vigorous physical activity can affect a number of mood-altering brain chemicals, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This might explain why there are many claims of mental well-being after exercising. Some studies even suggest that people who exercise regularly are less likely to be depressed than those who are sedentary. While some of these studies are not conclusive, many doctors recommend exercise as a method of reducing stress and anxiety.
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Everyday Activities That Can Improve Your Health
According to recent studies, sedentary people may benefit from simply increasing the frequency of everyday activities that require moderate levels of exertion. You may want to try some of the following.
● Climb stairs instead of taking the elevator or ride the elevator to a floor somewhat short of your destination and then take the stairs the rest of the way.
● If you use public transportation, get off a few stops early, and walk the rest of the way.
● When using your own vehicle, get in the habit of parking some distance away from your destination. In a multilevel parking garage, park on a level that will allow you to climb the stairs.
● Walk while you talk. You do not always need to be seated when having casual conversations with friends or family members.
● If you have a sedentary job, find opportunities to work in a standing position, and move around whenever possible.
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Are You Drinking Enough Water?
Inadequate water consumption during exercise can be harmful. It can cause fatigue, decreased coordination, and muscle cramping. When you exercise, you sweat at a faster rate, and this can lead to a drop in your blood volume. If you do not replenish the water that is lost through perspiration, the heart has to work harder to circulate the blood. It is suggested that to avoid dehydration, you should drink water before, during, and after an exercise session.
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Cherish Your Body—It Is a Gift From God
The Bible encourages deep respect for our body and the gift of life. King David of ancient Israel wrote: “In a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) Like David, true Christians display a keen appreciation for the gift of life. They consider properly caring for their body to be a serious responsibility.
Some two thousand years ago, God inspired the apostle Paul to write: “Bodily training is beneficial for a little; but godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8) Paul’s words show that the benefits of exercise, while real, are not nearly as great as the long-term benefits of a good relationship with God. Hence, true Christians strive to be balanced in their pursuit of good health, never allowing “bodily training” to outweigh their worship of God.
Christians realize that the healthier they are, the more active they can be in manifesting their love of God and neighbor. Along with proper nutrition and rest, staying physically active is vital for good health. Cherishing their body as a gift from God, true Christians strive to maintain good habits in these areas.