We know exercise is good for us. But how vital is it?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), American College of Sports Medicine, and the American Heart Association, “…more active or fit individuals tend to develop less coronary heart disease than their sedentary counterparts. If coronary heart disease develops inactive or fit individuals, it occurs at a later age and tends to be less severe.” Many other studies also prove the protective effects of physical activities against a number of other chronic medical conditions including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and colon cancer. As a nation, we do very poorly with being as active as we should. Studies show that less than one-third of Americans meet the minimum requirements to receive these preventative benefits.
Specifically, it has been shown that regular exercise will increase your exercise tolerance, decrease body weight, decrease blood pressure, decrease bad (LDL and total) cholesterol, increase good (HDL) cholesterol, and increase insulin sensitivity (ability to control glucose levels in the blood). Many studies have shown that exercise programs improve “bone health and ability to perform daily activities, as well as a lower likelihood of developing back pain and of disability, particularly in older age groups.” Exercise has also been found to be beneficial for your mental health.
How much and what type of exercise is needed to get these beneficial effects? According to the CDC/ASCM consensus statement, “Every American adult should participate in 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity, on most, and preferably all, days of the week.” There are many types of activities that could qualify including walking briskly, golf without a cart, gardening, cycling, swimming, hiking, tennis, running, etc. You do not have to choose just one activity. Do a different activity every day or learn a new activity each week. The 30 minutes do not have to be consecutive either. Studies show that, “It has been shown that repeated intermittent shorter bouts of activity (such as 10 minutes) that include occupational and recreational activity or the tasks of daily living have similar cardiovascular and other health benefits if performed at the moderate intensity level with and accumulated duration of at least 30 minutes per day.” If you are already meeting these requirements, then continue these healthy habits. Consider increasing the intensity of your current activities as that will add additional benefits.
If I already have heart disease is it too late to start? Emphatically NO! Starting to exercise will still bring improved health to your heart as well as the other benefits mentioned. Patients who have heart disease who meet these requirements find an “earlier return to work and improvements in other measures of quality of life, such as more self-confidence, lower stress, and lower anxiety.” Studies show that those who have previously had a heart attack who participate in a formal exercise program have a reduction in the death rate of 20-25%. That is significant. It is never too late to start. If you have current heart disease and two or more the following risk factors then consult your physician prior to starting and exercise program. Those risk factors include age over 45, family history of heart disease before 55, history of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity and/or previous sedentary lifestyle.
Choose to start today. Your heart, mind, and body will thank you. Start small by doing 10 min of exercise 2-3 days a week for 2 weeks. Then increase the number of days you exercise by one for 2 weeks. Continue this pattern until you are exercising on most days of the week. Then increase the amount of time you are exercising. Then increase the intensity until you are exceeding the requirements.
Quotations from Meyers, Jonathan. Exercise and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation – Journal of the American Heart Association. 2003;107:e2-e5.