Get Moving: The Health Advantages of Physical Activity

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Physical activity involves getting up off your couch or out of your office chair and moving your body around. Getting regular physical activity benefits your body in a number of ways:

  • Strengthens your muscles
  • Increases your flexibility
  • Gives you more energy
  • Helps control your weight
  • Leads to building and maintaining strong bones
  • Helps prevent or reduce the risk of serious diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer
  • Relieves stress, improves the quality of your sleep, and can help ease depression and anxiety

Types of Activity

There are two types of physical activity that you should incorporate into your regular schedule:

  • Aerobic activity strengthens your heart and blood vessels and burns calories. Moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, riding a bike around 10 mph, or household chores such as vacuuming, mopping, and mowing the lawn with a push mower will raise your heart rate. If you are breaking a sweat, that’s a good sign you’re raising your heart rate. Vigorous-intensity activity, such as running, swimming laps, hiking, biking at least 14 mph, and playing a crazy game of tag with your kids benefits your cardiovascular system even more.
  • Muscle-strengthening activity, also called strength training or resistance training, will help you build muscle and slow bone loss. The more muscle you have, the better your body can burn calories. Lifting weights, yoga, Pilates, and doing push-ups and sit-ups are good examples of muscle-strengthening activity.

How Much Physical Activity is Enough?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week, plus muscle-strengthening activity for at least 10 minutes twice a week. These amounts will give you health benefits and help you maintain your weight. Going above and beyond the recommendations will help you improve your health even further and help you lose weight.

150 minutes averages out to 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. But you don’t have to follow that schedule exactly. You can divide the total number of minutes into smaller or larger increments throughout the week and throughout a day to match your schedule as long as you are exercising for at least 10 minutes at a time.

How to Get Started

If you have never been much of an exerciser or it’s been a while since you have been very physically active, the thought of exercising 30 minutes a day might be a little daunting. But there are easy ways to get started.

  • Start small – Try working out for five minutes, then slowly increase the length of your workout as you get better at your chosen exercise and as your stamina increases.
  • Work out with a friend – Staying accountable to someone else will make it easier to drag yourself out of bed early in the morning, which will help you stay accountable to yourself, too.
  • Join a group class such as yoga, Pilates, spinning, or dance – If you commit to a regularly scheduled class (especially if you pay up front), you’re more likely to get into the habit of working out.
  • Walk your dog – Your dog needs exercise for good health, too! Take care of you both at the same time.
  • Use distractions – Put in your earbuds and put on a podcast, audio book, or favorite playlist before you head out the door on your walk, run, or bike ride. (Just make sure you can still hear traffic and other potential dangers.)
  • Push your kids in the stroller – Scheduling a family walk during the day helps your children learn the importance of exercise as well. If your kids are older, ride your bikes to a park, then you can walk laps around the playground while they play.
  • Hire a personal trainer to give you a plan – Search the web for a personal trainer that looks like a good match for what you want to accomplish. Some of them you can meet with in person; others you may only meet through email.
  • Subscribe to apps or online training videos – There are many activities for which you can get coaching or motivation through apps, videos, and websites, or a combination. Many are even free!
  • Take up a new sport – Have you always wanted to try an activity such as running, swimming, biking? Do it! If needed, borrow or rent needed equipment until you decide you like it enough to make an investment, then you can put money into your own or better gear.
  • Keep it fun – You are more likely to stick with an activity that you enjoy.

Stay Safe During Exercise

Physical activity is great for your health, but not so much if you get hurt. Here are some things to think about before you dive in:

  • Don’t push it too hard too fast – Match your exercise or exertion to your level of fitness. First time running in a while, or ever? Start by jogging slowly around the block, then gradually progress to faster and farther.
  • Use the right equipment and in the right way – For example, if you’re walking or running, wear comfortable, supportive shoes; for biking, wear a properly adjusted helmet and ride a bike with the right-sized frame adjusted to fit you.
  • Work out in an area that is well lit and well maintained.
  • Avoid exercising in the extreme heat or extreme cold.
  • Avoid excessive, repeated activity, especially as you are getting started – Cross-training, using rest days, and alternating between moderate and vigorous activities will help prevent putting too much stress on your muscles and joints.
  • Warm up and cool down to reduce your risk of injury.

If you are pregnant, if you have a chronic medical condition or at risk of one, or if you have a disability that may make it hard to safely exercise for the recommended minutes, you should check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Warning Signs that You Should Stop

You may have gone out too hard too fast, or you may have an underlying health condition that you weren’t aware of. If you experience any of these during your workout, stop. If your symptoms don’t go away, see your doctor.

  • Excessive muscle soreness or muscle pain
  • Any other kind of pain
  • Problems breathing
  • Feeling very tired for the whole workout
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Faintness
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat

 

There are many reasons why physical activity is good for your health. If you have any questions about how to get started, make an appointment to see your doctor. He or she would be happy to chat with you.

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