benefits of physical activity

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Get Moving and Stay Healthy

Those busy with work and school, two-career couples, single parents— whoever you are, people from all walks of life find it difficult to get enough exercise. But research shows that all need physical activity for good health.

Regular physical activity improves your overall health and fitness. It can help reduce high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and other risk factors for disease. That means physical activity can play a role in preventing many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and depression.

Physical activity can also improve your ability to do things you need to do each day. It builds muscle strength and endurance, which may help prevent injuries and make it easier for you to climb stairs and get up from chairs. It can also help you think more clearly.

It takes some effort to get physically active so you don’t have to do a physical activity every day. A study recommended that exercise can be measured in weekly totals. The goal should at least 2½ hours of physical activity every single week.

So What Exactly is Physical Activity?

There are 2 types of activities one can do: aerobic and muscle-strengthening. Aerobic activities— also called endurance activities are those in which you move your large muscles rhythmically for a long time.

There are different levels of aerobic activity. With moderate-intensity aerobic activities, you can talk while you do them, but not sing. Examples include walking briskly, water aerobics, ballroom or line dancing, general gardening or sports where you catch and throw. With vigorous-intensity activities, you can only say a few words before pausing to catch your breath. These include jogging, swimming laps, aerobic dancing, sports with a lot of running, and heavy gardening such as continuous digging or hoeing.

Muscle-strengthening happens when your muscles do more work than they are used to. Activities that strengthen muscle include heavy gardening, lifting weights, push-ups on the floor or against the wall, sit-ups and working with resistance bands (long, wide rubber strips that stretch).

Try out a variety of different activities; you can enjoy activities with friends, with family, with co-workers,” says Dr Ashley Wilder Smith at NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI), who helped write the guidelines. “There are lots of ways to have physical activity enhance your life.”

“We recognize that many people in the country are very inactive,” says NCI’s Dr Richard Troiano, a captain in the Public Health Service who also helped create the guidelines. “Even moving from 30 minutes a week to 90 minutes a week, there’s a reduction of 20% in death from all causes. So a little bit of change results in a lot of benefits.”

The experts agree that some physical activity, no matter how much, is better than none. You get substantial health benefits from at least 2½ hours a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. For more extensive health benefits, increase your aerobic physical activity to 5 hours a week of moderate-intensity or 2½ hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.

For example, walk a little more to the bus stop on your way to work, or park your car at the far end of the parking lot. Start with a 10-minute walk a couple of times a week. As you get used to it, increase the walk to 15, 20 and 30 minutes per day. When you reach 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, you’re meeting the minimum recommended activity level.

“There’s a continuum of effort,” Troiano says. “But because so much of our population is really at the very low end of an activity, just getting people to move a little bit more will provide a tremendous benefit.”

Many people who are just starting an exercise program or adding physical activity into their lives often wonder whether they need their doctor’s permission. Smith says, “In the absence of a chronic condition or health-related symptoms, everyone should feel comfortable moving toward and working incrementally up to the guidelines. And you don’t necessarily need your doctor’s approval for that. We don’t want people to feel like there’s a gate in the way of them starting an exercise program.”

Getting Active

Team up with a friend. It will keep you motivated and be more fun

Pick activities that you like to do

Join a fitness group

Track your time and progress. It helps you stay on course

Talk to your healthcare provider about good activities to try

Ask the work-site wellness coordinator at your job for tips and advice

Don’t forget muscle-strengthening activities for additional health benefits