“We do not stop exercising because we grow old – we grow old because we stop exercising.” ~ Dr. Kenneth Cooper
By now we all know about the importance of exercise, and the benefits we get from regular physical activity. Adopting an exercise plan has been shown to improve outcomes in chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. Research proves that exercise plays a role in the treatment and prevention of more than 40 diseases, including obesity, osteoporosis, and depression. It increases energy levels, lowers blood pressure, improves muscle tone and strength, and keeps you looking fit. It also reduces stress and anxiety, improves sleep, and boosts self-esteem. Regular exercise may be as close to a Fountain of Youth as there is. Despite all this, statistics still show that the vast majority of people in the U.S. don’t meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity.
If an active lifestyle benefits the body and mind, a sedentary one does the opposite. Recent articles in Time, Forbes and The Huffington Post – among numerous others – have declared that “Sitting is the new smoking,” increasing the chances of developing cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The case for exercise is hard to ignore. Add to that rising health care costs and an increasing emphasis on wellness and prevention, and the question becomes: Can we afford not to exercise? One of the main roadblocks to exercise for many people is finding the time to fit it in. People are busy – we work, we have families to take care of, and sometimes aging parents to tend to. We have numerous obligations both inside and outside the home. Yet some of us find the time to make exercise a part of our lives, while others don’t. What’s the difference? I believe part of the answer lies in our priorities. We make time for what is important to us. If you really want to make regular exercise a part of your life, you will find a way. Often, the hardest part is getting started. When you begin to incorporate exercise into your schedule, and give it a fair trial, exercise can and will become a habit.
How much is enough? If you are currently inactive, any increase in physical activity is good for you. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults get a minimum of 2-1/2 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or a minimum of 1-1/4 hours per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a combination of the two. You can break down the 2-1/2 hours over the course of a week however you like. For example, 2-1/2 hours of moderately intense activity over the course of a week could mean 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 days a week. It’s also recommended that adults do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.
When it comes to exercise the most important thing you can do is this: Find a plan that works for you so that it becomes a part of your routine. Make that time non-negotiable.
If you tend to be more social, having a scheduled time to walk or workout with a friend or your spouse is a great idea. Schedule exercise into your weekly calendar, just as you would any other activity. (I’ve done this forever.) This way, you’ll have the time blocked out at the beginning of the week, so you know you have it.
I have a friend who walks 5-6 days a week for an hour. She kept a pair of walking shoes in her car and took advantage of breaks in her work day to fit in a walk between appointments. She’s still one of the fittest and most energetic people I know.
Deciding to take responsibility for your health and making exercise part of your life is a choice that you make. The philosopher, Wolfgang von Goethe, said, “We always have time if we will but use it aright.” Keep the big picture in mind: you, strong, fit and healthy – for life.