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Why Exercise? What's in It for You



Better Than Any Pill

Regular exercise can help improve your mind and body in a variety of ways and help you avoid several serious diseases.

Strength and fitness. Physical activity helps build muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility, which will contribute to the health of your muscles and bones. This, in turn, can help you avoid low-back pain, prevent falls, and give you more stamina for everyday activities. Cardiovascular endurance also improves with exercise, so you can work or play harder without getting out of breath.

Weight control. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease and can be a culprit in other diseases, as well. Exercise coupled with a healthy diet is the key to effective weight loss.

Cardiovascular diseases. Inactivity in and of itself is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. The most common of these are heart attacks and strokes—the leading causes of death in the United States. And exercise can also improve blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes—other major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. In fact, regular physical activity cuts your risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases by 40%.

People who exercise, eat right, and lose weight will benefit the most.

Diabetes. Because physical activity helps regulate blood sugar, it can decrease the need for medication in people who have diabetes. It also helps control obesity, which worsens some forms of diabetes.

Osteoporosis. Exercise can protect against osteoporosis (see "Boning Up for Better Health"). Women's bone mass is greatest in their mid-20s to mid-30s, then declines slowly until menopause, when bone is lost rapidly. Physical activity performed during younger years will help you have sturdy bones at menopause. And physical activity begun during menopause will help slow the loss of bone.

Arthritis. When joints wear down, causing arthritis, exercise strengthens muscles and increases joint flexibility and motion.

Cancer. Some studies show that cancers of the ovaries, cervix, uterus, vagina, breast, and colon are lower in active women as compared with inactive women.

Mental health. Physical activity can improve self-esteem and your general sense of well-being. It can also supplement medications in battling depression and anxiety.

If a miracle drug existed that could help you lose weight, live longer, build muscles, avoid heart disease, prevent cancer, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, stave off bone loss, and improve your mental health, would you take it? Before you answer, you should know that it does require a time commitment. You need to take the drug three to five times a week, and each dose takes about 30 to 45 minutes to administer. Also, the drug causes most people to sweat and breathe heavily, but only during its administration.

Still interested? With benefits like that, who could refuse?

The "drug," of course, is exercise. And if a real drug produced the results that exercise can, scores of people would flock to buy it—despite the minor side effects. So why don't more people exercise? Good question.

Maybe exercise needs a good ad agency. An ad for exercise would tell you that physical activity—even moderate exercise like walking—will improve your health. And vigorous activity can get you even more fit. Coupled with proper nutrition, physical activity is the cornerstone of healthy living and can help prevent and control many diseases (see "Exercise: Better Than Any Pill").

Many women of all ages are becoming more physically active. Care to join them?

Activity in All Things

If, after reading all the great tips in this article, you still can't decide on an exercise program, try walking. Walking is safe, cheap, and accessible. You can also boost your activity level by adjusting everyday activities:

  • Walk briskly during chores, shopping, or errands.
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator, or park your car far away from the entrance of a mall or your job.
  • Restrict sitting to activities that require it, like eating, learning, keyboarding, and essential driving.
  • Contract and relax all your muscle groups while sitting.
  • Get up and move for 5 to 10 minutes for each hour of sitting, or use breaks to walk or stretch.

Exercise is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure a long, healthy, and prosperous life. So get started!

Getting Started

If you have a hard time starting an exercise program, you probably have good reasons. But millions of people do exercise routinely and seem to enjoy it. Here are some tips.

  • Realize that all physical activity counts and is good for you. Even chores, like cutting the grass or washing windows, count as exercise.
  • List physical activities you enjoy, from walking with a friend to playing catch. Don't exclude anything. Remember that milder activities like walking the dog, weeding the garden, or playing a relaxing sport can pay big health dividends—as well as be fun.
  • Make a plan. Decide when, where, how often, and with whom you are going to exercise. Have a backup plan in case of bad weather or conflicts.
  • Participate daily in one or more of your enjoyable activities, or at least three times a week.
  • Exercise at moderate intensity (you don't need to huff and puff). If you've been inactive, begin slowly at 10 to 15 minutes per session and work up to 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Garner support from friends and family—and believe in yourself. This will help keep your motivation high.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing to prevent injury.
  • Squeeze some physical activity into your day, no matter how busy you are. Exercising in snippets is one option: Ten 3-minute bursts count as much as one 30-minute session.
  • If you have questions about your health, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Sticking With It

Staying motivated is tough for all exercisers—even true jocks. A variety of techniques, though, can help you stick with it. Pick and choose the ones below that suit you.

  • Victory celebration. Reward yourself for sustaining an exercise program. Eat a special meal, or treat yourself in some other way—a new jogging outfit, perhaps.
  • Spicing it up. Use a variety of activities to keep things interesting. For instance, walk on 2 days, swim laps on 1 day, and lift weights on 2 days. Also, change the duration or intensity of your workout. Or try new scenery.
  • Quick change. Change directly from work clothes into workout clothes. This will keep you from getting sidetracked.
  • Unrivaled competition. Gain satisfaction from achieving goals. Try to jog a bit farther or for a bit longer than the session before. (But don't fret over minor setbacks—improve over weeks and months.)
  • Logging in. Keep a diary of daily exercise accomplishments. It will help you track your progress and can serve as reinforcement.
  • Driven by distractions. When working out on an exercising machine, read, watch TV, or listen to tunes. (But don't wear earphones when exercising outside near traffic.)
  • Buddying up. By working out with a partner, you can inspire and encourage one another—and spend more time with a friend.
  • Wake-up call. Exercising first thing in the morning means only one shower and dressing session. But remember that not everyone's body—or mind!—is suited for it. (If you have a heart problem or may be at risk for one, check with your doctor first.)
  • Bait 'n' switch. If you're feeling lethargic, tell yourself you'll do only a little exercise. Then, once you are up and out, you probably will decide to do a full-blown workout.
  • Straight expectations. Fitness takes time. If you've put on weight, don't expect it to disappear in 3 weeks!

Prepared by James R. Wappes