Regular exercise has many benefits that may help individuals live longer, healthier lives. Individuals who engage in regular moderately intense physical activity may reduce their risks of developing heart disease and other serious illnesses.
Benefits of an Exercise Routine
Regular physical activity can improve health and lengthen life expectancy by helping a patient to achieve and maintain an appropriate weight, become energetic and fit, strengthen the immune system, and preserve emotional balance.
Engaging in exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, carries with it several cardiovascular benefits. Among these, research has shown that exercise:
- Reduces the risk of stroke
- Reduces the risk of heart attack
- Lowers LDL, or "bad," cholesterol level
- Raises HDL, or "good," cholesterol level
- Improves circulation
- Improves oxygen levels
- Lowers blood pressure
Other Health Benefits
Among the other far-reaching advantages of maintaining a program of regular exercise, are greater physical strength and fitness, a stronger immune system, and a more positive frame of mind. There is increasing evidence that proper exercise:
- Lowers the chance of developing type 2 diabetes
- Improves symptoms of type 2 diabetes, asthma or arthritis
- Helps to build and maintain bone, muscle and joint health
- Elevates self-esteem, reduces depression, anxiety and stress
- Improves patterns and quality of sleep
Obstacles to Exercise
The hardest part of exercising is getting started. This is one of the reasons it is important to start an exercise regimen early in life, preferably in childhood. The following obstacles, frequently rationalizations or forms of procrastination, may be the stated reasons for failing to undertake an exercise regimen:
- Not having the time
- Not knowing how to exercise properly
- Finding physical activity too boring
- Having aches and pains
Overcoming these obstacles starts with finding the time. Clearing out 30 minutes a day for 4-5 days a week from a busy schedule is a great start. If exercise seems boring, it might help to find an activity that is personally enjoyable, such as bicycling, swimming, or playing basketball. Exercising with a friend may provide helpful support and motivation, as well as making the physical activity more fun. As far as aches and pains go, most diminish with physical activity, particularly if the patient consults a physical trainer or therapist before beginning an exercise regimen.
Types of Exercise
Every person is different, so the type of exercise that works well for one person may not work well for another. Engaging in a variety of different activities has a dual purpose. It keeps the individual from becoming bored by the routine and is productive in achieving fitness goals.
An efficient exercise routine should also help the individual to improve balance and coordination as well as strengthening the body's core, or trunk, and improving the body's immune response. Ideally, an exercise program should be designed to improve: aerobic fitness, muscular strength, bone density, balance and flexibility.
Cardiovascular or Aerobic Exercise
Sometimes referred to as cardio, this type of exercise involves steady physical activity using large muscle groups. Aerobic exercise, evidenced by increased respiration and heart rate, strengthens the heart and lungs, improving the body's ability to use oxygen.
This type of exercise involves repeated muscle contractions until the muscle becomes tired. Strengthening exercises include weight lifting, crunches and lunges. This kind of exercise strengthens bones and muscles.
Stretching before and after you exercise can help prepare your muscles for activity and may help prevent injury and muscle strain. Regular stretching also increases range of motion and flexibility.
What to Include in an Exercise Program
A healthy and effective exercise session should include a warm-up, a conditioning phase, and a cool-down.
The best warm-up begins with stretching and then beginning an activity at a low intensity level. This helps your body adjust slowly from rest to exercise. A warm-up reduces the stress on your heart and muscles by slowly increasing your breathing, circulation, and body temperature gradually. It also helps by improving flexibility and reducing subsequent muscle soreness.
The conditioning phase is where the main benefits of exercise are gained and calories are burned. Conditioning should last at least 20 minutes.
The last phase of a healthy exercise session allows your body to gradually recover from the conditioning phase as your heart rate and blood pressure return to near resting levels. The best way to cool-down is to slowly decrease the intensity of your activity. Stretching again may also help. It is not good to simply sit or lie down after a conditioning session because it may cause dizziness, light-headedness, or heart palpitations.
In general, in order to achieve a healthy body, the individual should gradually work up to an aerobic session lasting 20 to 30 minutes, most days of the week, with time for both a warm-up and cool-down.
Sticking With Your Exercise Program
Knowing that physical activity is healthy does not necessarily mean that the individual will find it easy to make it a part of a daily routine. It is difficult to adopt a new habit. It is easier to start out slowly and work the way up to a higher level of activity. Plan to exercise at the same time every day so exercise becomes a habit: Once an individual engages in exercise regularly, more often than not exercise becomes an anticipated and pleasurable part of the daily routine.