Regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying from some of the leading causes of death in the United States. Regular physical activity improves health in the following ways:
- Reduces the risk of dying prematurely
- Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease
- Reduces the risk of developing diabetes
- Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer
- Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
- Helps to build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
- Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about without falling
- Promotes psychological well-being
- Helps to control weight, build lean muscle mass and reduce body fat
- Prevents or delays the development of high blood pressure and helps reduce blood pressure in adolescents and adults with hypertension
- Helps release stress
It is recommended that you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. This is especially important if you have not been physically active for a while, if you have health problems, or if you are pregnant or elderly.
Start out slowly. If you have been inactive for years, you cannot run a marathon after two weeks of running. Begin with a 10-minute period of light exercise or a brisk walk every day and gradually increase how long and the intensity of your exercise.
Sneak exercise into your day by:
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Going for a walk during your coffee break or lunch.
- Walking all or part of the way to work.
- Doing housework at a fast pace.
- Raking leaves or doing other yard work.
- Choose something you like to do. Make sure the activity is easy to engage in without straining. For instance, swimming is easier on arthritic joints.
- Get a partner. Exercising with someone else can make it more fun.
- Vary your routine. You may be less likely to get bored or injured if you change your routine. Walk one day. Bicycle the next. Consider some activities and racquet sports, and even household chores like vacuuming or mowing the lawn.
- Choose a comfortable time of day. Don’t work out too soon after eating or when it’s too hot or cold outside. Find a time that works best for you and when you feel good.
- Don’t get discouraged. It can take some time before you notice some of the changes or benefits from exercise.
- Forget “no pain, no gain.” While a little soreness is normal after you first start exercising, pain isn’t. Stop if you hurt.
- Make exercise fun. For example, watch television while riding a stationary bicycle, or take a walk through the zoo. You can learn a new enjoyable physical activity.
Regular physical activity can help you to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Being active also can help women maintain or lose weight. It also helps to control blood pressure, lessens a diabetic's need for insulin and boosts the level of “good” HDL-cholesterol.
I know that exercise is good for my heart health, but what kinds of activity are best?
Even low- to moderately-intensive activity, such as pleasure walking, stair climbing, gardening, yard work, moderate-to-heavy housework, and home exercise, can help to lower the risk of heart disease. To get heart benefits from these activities, do one or more of them every day. More vigorous exercises improve the fitness of the heart and can lower heart disease risk even more. This kind of activity is called “aerobic” activity and includes such activities as walking, jogging, swimming and jumping rope. Any physical activity that you do briskly for at least 30 minutes also can strengthen your heart.
Do I need to get my doctor's permission before I begin an exercise program?
Most people do not need to see a doctor before they start a gradual, sensible program of physical exercise. However, do consult your doctor before you start or increase physical activity if you have heart trouble or have had a heart attack, or are taking medicine for high blood pressure or a heart condition. It is also a good idea if you are older than 50 years of age and are not used to energetic activity or if you have a family history of developing heart disease at a young age.
What type of exercise is appropriate for older women?
It is always a good idea to include stretching, strength-training, and aerobic or endurance exercise in your exercise routine. It is recommended to start your exercise slowly. You can begin all your exercise by a good stretching routine before engaging in other activity. This allows for your muscles and joints to be flexible and you are less likely to injure yourself when you do actually begin exercising. Aerobic exercises strengthen the heart and improve overall fitness by increasing the body’s ability to use oxygen. Swimming and walking are “low-impact” aerobic activities. Low-impact activities are less likely to stress your body by avoiding the muscle and joint pounding of more “high-impact” exercises like jogging and jumping rope. Weight-bearing exercises (walking, jogging, tennis) help to keep bones strong. The goal of physical activity is to improve health. Current recommendations for physical activity are to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the weeks. You can do this in smaller bouts that add up to 30 minutes a day to receive the health benefits. For example, three 10-minute bouts, two 15-minute bouts, or one 10-minute and one 20-minute bout of walking can meet the recommendation.