"Move more and sit less." That advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 is timeless and true. Regular physical activity, including structured moderate to vigorous exercise every week, has enormous benefits.
Physical activity is any bodily movement that involves your muscles and expends energy. That includes simple movements such as climbing stairs, walking to work, raking leaves, strolling with your dog or playing with your kids. Exercise is physical activity that is planned, structured and repetitive. Examples include bicycling, swimming, using an elliptical trainer, brisk walking and running.
Fitness is the goal of exercise. It means improving the health and efficiency of the various systems of your body, including:
The more "load" you place on your body with regular exercise, the stronger these systems become. If you stick with it, you'll feel improvement. Daily activities will become easier. Going up stairs won't leave you feeling winded. Walking will become more fluid and invigorating.
As you get older, your body undergoes natural changes that underscore the need for regular exercise.
Other normal changes in your body systems occur as you enter middle age:
This is why a program integrating cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility is so important, especially in older age.
If you haven't exercised before or it’s been a while, it's best to get clearance from your doctor about what is and isn't safe for you to do. This is especially important if you are living with a chronic illness, being treated for cancer, are pregnant or recovering from a serious illness. The American College of Sports Medicine publishes guidelines for exercising, including special guidance for people with health issues.
Scheduling an assessment with a physical therapist, exercise physiologist or physiatrist (a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation) is an excellent way to learn about your strengths, range of motion and areas where you can improve and discuss the best exercises and regimen for you. Your exercise routine should ideally aim to adhere to the FITT principle:
National guidelines recommend the following weekly exercise goals for healthy adults:
How hard should you be working? A simple way to know is the talk test. With moderate-intensity exercise, you can talk but you can't sing. With vigorous exercise, it's challenging to get even a few words out. The "perceived exertion scale" (rated from 6 to 20) is another approach:
Check out the Physical Activity Pyramid to see which kinds of activities you should do and how often.
It can be overwhelming to think of all the components of an effective exercise routine. Think of these recommendations as goals, rather than starting points, and break up your workouts into smaller chunks if that works better for your schedule. Also remember that it can take weeks or even months of doing something before it becomes a habit, so try to stick with it.
Here are some other ways you can fit physical activity into your day:
The key to motivation and success is balance. Be kind to yourself. Aim for full pain-free motion. Listen to your body and ease up if you are feeling sore, then resume your activities. Choose activities you enjoy and consider those that enable you to spend time with friends and family, such as taking walks. Every step you take is a step toward better well-being and good health.
This article is from the Health Connection: Movement is Medicine issue and brought to you by Community Education & Outreach.