Exercise can sound like a bad word to some people. But moving your body pays big dividends now and later, and it really can improve your life. Discover 10 things exercise can do for you, plus tips on adding more movement to your life.
1. Lower Your Cardio Risk
Getting 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day five times a week can help lower your risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death in the U.S. Regular exercise also helps lower your blood pressure, a measure of cardio fitness.
Want more cardio benefits? Exercise can improve your cholesterol levels. Physical activity correlates directly with HDL (good cholesterol) numbers. If your HDL is low, get going! Moving your body more causes your heart to beat faster, pumping more blood and working out your heart and circulatory system in addition to your muscles.
2. Improve Mood & Brain Health
Moving your body affects your mental health. Exercise can help reduce depression, improve mood and reduce short-term anxiety in adults. Research has found that aerobic exercise, like jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, and even gardening or dancing helps reduce anxiety and depression that you already have. It can also lower your risk of depression.
Your brain uses a bunch of natural chemicals (neurotransmitters) for different important jobs. Some of these, endorphins, are released when you exercise intensely. Endorphins reduce your perception of pain and facilitate a positive feeling.
Not feeling intense? Low-intensity exercise also benefits nervous system health. It helps nerve cells grow and make new connections. Exercise may also help increase confidence, improve self-esteem, reduce social withdrawal, relieve stress and boost creativity. All good reasons to move every day.
3. Think Better
Exercise helps protect memory and thinking skills. A study at the University of British Columbia showed that regular aerobic exercise helps enlarge the hippocampus, the area of the brain tied to verbal memory and learning.
Works for Kids Too
Exercise helps improve thinking and cognition in children. And regular physical activity supports learning, thinking and judgment as you grow older. Know any teens who need to get out and move more? 😉
4. Boost Bone & Muscle Strength
A door hinge will last a long time if you move it regularly and keep it clean. The same is true for the hinges of the human body: Movement adds life. When you move your legs, arms, hips, shoulders and other joints, you get fluid into the joint where it’s needed for lubrication. And you increase joint mobility. More mobility leads to greater performance. Care for your hinges by moving them regularly. This includes stretching major muscle groups. Try yoga for some beneficial stretching.
If you can, lift weights too! Weight training helps maintain muscle mass and strength, which always decreases with age. You don’t need a gym membership or home gym. Use what you have around you. Do leg lifts while lying on the floor. Use gallon jugs filled with water for arm workouts. Do lunges or reverse lunges at home or in the yard. Try adding push-ups to your routine. You can lean against the wall to start. Then get more horizontal by leaning on the end of the bed. Move to push-ups on the floor when you can. Anything you do to strengthen your muscles and joints will add to your mobility and long-term joint health.
5. Support Weight Management
Calories in, calories out describes the basics of weight management. Watching what you eat (calories in) and spending time exercising (calories out) is part of any healthy weight management plan and one of the simplest ways to look at your health.
In your weight management efforts, try to follow the 80-20 rule. What’s that? In a nutshell: 80% of weight management success is determined by diet, and 20% is the result of exercise. So, exercise isn’t the end-all for getting the results you want. That’s because you can out-eat your exercise. But don’t quit moving! You need the valuable synergy that exercise creates.
In my early 30s, I jogged 10-15 miles a week and ate anything I wanted. My metabolism kept up partly because of my physical activity. But somewhere around age 40—and definitely after my doctor told me to quit running and jumping because of bad discs in my back—my body stopped metabolizing food as quickly, and I started to gain weight. A good diet is the key to managing weight.
Another take on the 80-20 rule: Eat healthy at least 80% of the time to help your body feel and look good, and to help stave off mid-life weight gain. That leaves less than 20% of the time for treats and cheats.
6. Increase Energy and Stamina
It may sound counterintuitive, but getting regular exercise will increase your energy levels as it boosts your health. When you burn calories, you send oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. These support your heart and lungs and help them to work more efficiently while giving you energy.
7. Support Your Metabolism
Regular physical activity helps reduce your risk of getting type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a condition with concerns like excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, high triglycerides and not enough good (HDL) cholesterol.
8. Reduce Cancer Risk
Did you know? Regular physical activity is linked to a lower risk for many types of cancer, including breast, colon, lung, stomach, bladder, kidney and esophagus. Exercise even helps cancer survivors have a better quality of life.
9. Improve Sleep
Moving more means sleeping better. The vast majority of studies on whether exercise can improve sleep quality or duration have found that it can do both.
And for the middle-aged population and the elderly, exercise promotes sleep efficiency and duration no matter how you exercise or how intense your activity is. As the scientific article states, “Physical exercise is an effective intervention for those who do not experience adequate sleep quantity or quality.”
10. Improve Flexibility and Prevent Falling
When you’re stronger and more flexible, you feel better, and you can do more. That might mean bucket list items, more time enjoying your favorite hobbies or just quality time with family or friends.
Active people are more functional AND have a reduced risk of falling. That’s a huge benefit to baby boomers. So keep grocery shopping, taking the stairs, lifting heavy things and otherwise challenging yourself with movement. But be smart about it. Don’t go way beyond your current ability. Always work up to new levels gradually.
8 Simple Tips for Moving More
The world doesn’t necessarily need more marathoners. So if you’re more of a weekend watcher than warrior, remember to start slowly and ease yourself into moving more. Try adding 2 or 3 ideas from this list to your routine for one month and see what you notice.
Try to move for 10 minutes. Start by walking 5 minutes twice a day at first. Then increase by 1 minute until you’re getting at least 30 minutes a day. If you need to sit down, make sure you walk at a park where you’ll find a bench. Try listening to uplifting music or a positive podcast to keep you motivated. Or listen to the sounds of nature around you. Don’t let weather sabotage your plans. Most shopping malls open early in the morning for walking, so you can escape the heat or the cold.
If a treadmill is your only option, try listening to a book or comedy show while you walk to beat the monotony. Distraction can be a terrific motivator.
2. Find a Friend
Friends don’t let friends sit around. Set up a hike, pickleball, cycling or other movement date with a friend. You’re more likely to get out and move if a friend is counting on you to be there.
Friends are a powerful part of your emotional support system. One study found that people who exercise with a friend work harder and exercise longer than those who work out alone. And it even works virtually. So phone a friend for your workout if you need to!
The same holds true for who you hang out with. If you spend more time with people who exercise, you’re more likely to succeed at weight loss.
This option isn’t for everyone based on seasons, access, ability and more. But swimming is a wonderful, low-impact sport that exercised your whole body without stressing the joints. It also works your heart and lungs. If you’re not much of a swimmer but want to be in the water, just walk laps in the pool.
4. Dress for Success
Not in the mood? Change into your exercise clothes, and your desire to work out may improve. Sometimes that’s the only thing holding a person back. Want to get more excited about your workout? Pick up some new sneakers, a new shirt, or make a fresh playlist to keep your mind engaged.
5. Take the Stairs
If you can, use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, even if you’re going down. You’ll use more muscles, exercise joints, increase your balance and burn a few calories.
6. Consider Who Else Needs Movement
Pets need love and they need help with their health habits. My dog Buddy has loved going on walks for many years. It gives him a chance to really stretch his legs and experience new smells and sights. He even has a few friends because of our regular walking and a favorite apple tree where he finds healthy treats on the ground. Now that he’s 14 (not bad for a Lab!), he can only walk for 15 minutes twice a week. But we go so he can get out and have fun, smell the breezes and move…those…joints.
7. Spend Time in the Yard
Plant a vegetable garden or some flowers. Taking care of something in the yard opens the door to regular activity as you care for those plants with water, weeding and love.
8. Park Farther Away
At work, the grocery store, doctor appointments and other places, allow yourself to walk a little farther.
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