A Prescription for Health

Did you know that poor diet and lack of exercise account for more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. annually?  Or that 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 has 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 we have.  Yet studies show that only 30 percent of the population report engaging in physical activity regularly.  If an active lifestyle benefits the body, being sedentary does the opposite, increasing the chances of becoming overweight and developing a chronic disease.

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?  I talk to lots of people about their health and lifestyle concerns, and one of the main things I consistently hear is finding the time to fit in exercise.  We all have busy lives – 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.  Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. Once you get into a routine, and give it a fair trial, exercise can and does become a habit.

How much exercise do you need?  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.  If you translate 2-1/2 hours of moderately intense activity into a weekly plan, this could mean 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 days a week.  Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week. You can break down the 2-1/2 hours over the course of a week however you like.  Make your exercise plan work for you so that it becomes a part of your routine.

If you’re healthy and ready to adopt an exercise program, here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Lose the excuses.  Seriously.  “I don’t have time” or “I’m too tired today, I’ll do it tomorrow” isn’t going to cut it anymore.  The time you set aside for that 30 minute walk/jog, or strength training session has to be non-negotiable.  You have to be responsible for your time and how you choose to use it.  Notice I use the word “choose.”  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.”
  • Slow and steady really does win the race.  Don’t set out trying to run 3 miles your first morning.  A mistake that people often make when beginning an exercise program is starting out too fast.  If you have been inactive for a while, it is particularly important to give your body time to adapt.  Start with 10 to 15 minutes of aerobic activity daily, and add 5 minutes each week until you are up to 30 minutes 5 days a week.
  • Studies show that individuals who exercise in the mornings are more successful in maintaining an exercise program.   This is because if you exercise first thing in the morning, you are less likely to get sidetracked as the day goes on.  Put your exercise clothes and shoes out the night before so they are ready when you wake up.  You may need to get to sleep a half-hour early, so you can get up to exercise but once you get in the habit, it can be a great way to start your day.  On the days you plan to workout, have your gym bag packed and ready to go.  Set yourself up for success!
  • Work exercise into your life in a way that works for you.  This way you will be more likely to stick with it over the long haul.  It’s fine to break up your activity into smaller bursts, as long as you sustain the activity for at least 10 minutes.  If you are someone who tends to be more social, having a scheduled time to walk with a friend or your spouse might be the perfect answer for you.
  • Schedule exercise into your weekly calendar, just as you would any other activity.  I myself have done this forever.  This accomplishes two things.  First, you will have the time blocked out at the beginning of the week, so you know what you are going to be doing. Second, this will give you a record of what you have done and the progress you are making.  It can be a great feeling to look back and realize you started out with a half-mile walk, and are up to walking/jogging 3 miles a day.
  • Maintaining a wellness lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint.  (I am not sure if that pun was intended or not, but you get the idea.)  Keep the big picture in mind: you, strong, fit and healthy – for life.

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