Physical Activity

The Benefits of Physical Activity

Here is a terrific video showing the benefits of exercise.  If you watch to near the end, he shows how obesity plus inactivity leads to disease, but obesity plus exercise is not associated with greater risk for health problems.  Moderate physical activity was the best “medicine” for preventing all kinds of physical and mental health problems!

 

Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can help:

  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve your mental health and mood
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
  • Increase your chances of living longer

If you’re not sure about becoming active or boosting your level of physical activity because you’re afraid of getting hurt, the good news is that moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, is generally safe for most people.

Start slowly. Cardiac events, such as a heart attack, are rare during physical activity. But the risk does go up when you suddenly become much more active than usual. For example, you can put yourself at risk if you don’t usually get much physical activity and then all of a sudden do vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, like shoveling snow. That’s why it’s important to start slowly and gradually increase your level of activity.

If you have a chronic health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease, talk with your doctor to find out if your condition limits, in any way, your ability to be active. Then, work with your doctor to come up with a physical activity plan that matches your abilities. If your condition stops you from meeting the minimum Guidelines, try to do as much as you can. What’s important is that you avoid being inactive. Even 60 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is good for you.

The bottom line is – the health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks of getting hurt.

If you want to know more about how physical activity improves your health, the section below gives more detail on what research studies have found.

To maintain your weight: Work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week. Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity can help you maintain your weight over time. However, the exact amount of physical activity needed to do this is not clear since it varies greatly from person to person. It’s possible that you may need to do more than the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to maintain your weight.

Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. But following the Guidelines and getting at least 150 minutes a week (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity can put you at a lower risk for these diseases. You can reduce your risk even further with more physical activity. Regular physical activity can also lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels.

Reduce your risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a condition in which you have some combination of too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, or high blood sugar. Research shows that lower rates of these conditions are seen with 120 to 150 minutes (2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of at least moderate-intensity aerobic activity. And the more physical activity you do, the lower your risk will be.

Already have type 2 diabetes? Regular physical activity can help control your blood glucose levels.

Reduce Your Risk of Some Cancers

Being physically active lowers your risk for two types of cancer: colon and breast. Research shows that:

Physically active people have a lower risk of colon cancer than do people who are not active.

Physically active women have a lower risk of breast cancer than do people who are not active.

Reduce your risk of endometrial and lung cancer. Although the research is not yet final, some findings suggest that your risk of endometrial cancer and lung cancer may be lower if you get regular physical activity compared to people who are not active.

Improve your quality of life. If you are a cancer survivor, research shows that getting regular physical activity not only helps give you a better quality of life, but also improves your physical fitness.

Strengthen Your Bones and Muscles

As you age, it’s important to protect your bones, joints and muscles. Not only do they support your body and help you move, but keeping bones, joints and muscles healthy can help ensure that you’re able to do your daily activities and be physically active. Research shows that doing aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activity of at least a moderately-intense level can slow the loss of bone density that comes with age.

Hip fracture is a serious health condition that can have life-changing negative effects, especially if you’re an older adult. But research shows that people who do 120 to 300 minutes of at least moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week have a lower risk of hip fracture.

Regular physical activity helps with arthritis and other conditions affecting the joints. If you have arthritis, research shows that doing 130 to 150 (2 hours and 10 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, low-impact aerobic activity can not only improve your ability to manage pain and do everyday tasks, but it can also make your quality of life better.

Build strong, healthy muscles. Muscle-strengthening activities can help you increase or maintain your muscle mass and strength. Slowly increasing the amount of weight and number of repetitions you do will give you even more benefits, no matter your age.

Improve Your Mental Health and Mood

Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits. Some scientific evidence has also shown that even lower levels of physical activity can be beneficial.

Improve Your Ability to do Daily Activities and Prevent Falls

A functional limitation is a loss of the ability to do everyday activities such as climbing stairs, grocery shopping, or playing with your grandchildren.

How does this relate to physical activity? If you’re a physically active middle-aged or older adult, you have a lower risk of functional limitations than people who are inactive

Already have trouble doing some of your everyday activities? Aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities can help improve your ability to do these types of tasks.

Are you an older adult who is at risk for falls? Research shows that doing balance and muscle-strengthening activities each week along with moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, can help reduce your risk of falling.

Increase Your Chances of Living Longer

Science shows that physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from the leading causes of death, like heart disease and some cancers. This is remarkable in two ways:

Only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity. People who are physically active for about 7 hours a week have a 40 percent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week.

You don’t have to do high amounts of activity or vigorous-intensity activity to reduce your risk of premature death. You can put yourself at lower risk of dying early by doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.

Everyone can gain the health benefits of physical activity – age, ethnicity, shape or size do not matter.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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Page last reviewed: February 16, 2011
Page last updated: February 16, 2011

Websites and Apps for Fitness

For those techies out there, here are a sampling of free apps that you might find useful.  DIFO does not endorse any in particular: you can choose whether the philosophy and format work for you.

MyFitnessPal FREE

A fast and easy-to-use calorie counter, with a large food database (over 2,000,000 foods), and amazingly fast food and exercise entry. Also includes a barcode scanner and custom entry tool. Connect online with friends and a community for motivation and tips.

SparkPeople FREE

The SparkPeople Diet and Food Tracker connects you to the popular online community when you are on the go. The app includes everything you need to track your diet: a large food database, detailed calorie and nutrition info, and progress reports on your weight and exercise goals.

Eat This, Not That! Restaurant

Based on the bestselling book series, the Eat This, Not That! Restaurant app is the complete no-diet weight-loss tool. Discover thousands of simple food swaps, track calories, and create a personalized weight loss plan. It’s designed to make smart food choices easier, no matter where you’re making them.

Nike Training Club FREE

Nike Training Club acts as your own personal trainer, anytime, anywhere. Get lean, toned and strong with more than 100 custom-built workouts. Workout, gain points, and unlock exclusive extra workouts from professional athletes like Hope Solo, Serena Williams and Paula Radcliffe. Detailed instructions and audio support are on hand to help you perfect each of Nike Training Club’s dynamic drills. Choose a workout that fits your goal. Set it to your music and share your progress.

MapMyFitness FREE

Uses built-in GPS technology to provide users worldwide with the ability to map, record and share their exercise routes and workouts in an online database. In addition, users have access to a searchable database of over 80 million global routes, online training tools, nutrition tracking, fitness calculators, event listings, and the ability to easily share their activities with friends.

Moves FREE

Moves automatically records any walking, cycling, and running you do. You can view the distance, duration, steps, and calories burned for each activity. The app is always on, so there’s no need to start and stop it. Just keep your phone in your pocket or your bag.

Sitting is the New Smoking- Even for Runners

There’s no running away from it: The more you sit, the poorer your health and the earlier you may die, no matter how fit you are.

By Selene Yeager; Published July 20, 2013

You’ve no doubt heard the news by now: A car-commuting, desk-bound, TV-watching lifestyle can be harmful to your health. All the time we spend parked behind a steering wheel, slumped over a keyboard, or kicked back in front of the tube is linked to increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even depression—to the point where experts have labeled this modern-day health epidemic the “sitting disease.”

But wait, you’re a runner. You needn’t worry about the harms of sedentary living because you’re active, right? Well, not so fast. A growing body of research shows that people who spend many hours of the day glued to a seat die at an earlier age than those who sit less—even if those sitters exercise.

“Up until very recently, if you exercised for 60 minutes or more a day, you were considered physically active, case closed,” says Travis Saunders, a Ph.D. student and certified exercise physiologist at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “Now a consistent body of emerging research suggests it is entirely possible to meet current physical activity guidelines while still being incredibly sedentary, and that sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity. It’s a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much.”

Unfortunately, outside of regularly scheduled exercise sessions, active people sit just as much as their couch-potato peers. In a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers reported that people spent an average of 64 hours a week sitting, 28 hours standing, and 11 hours milling about (nonexercise walking), whether or not they exercised the recommended 150 minutes a week. That’s more than nine hours a day of sitting, no matter how active they otherwise were. “We were very surprised that even the highest level of exercise did not matter squat for reducing the time spent sitting,” says study author Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., professor and director of the inactivity physiology department at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. In fact, regular exercisers may make less of an effort to move outside their designated workout time. Research presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine from Illinois State University reports that people are about 30 percent less active overall on days when they exercise versus days they don’t hit the road or the gym. Maybe they think they’ve worked out enough for one day. But experts say most people simply aren’t running or walking or even just standing enough to counteract all the harm that can result from sitting eight or nine or 10 hours a day.

Spuds on the Run

Unless you have a job that keeps you moving, most of your non-running time is likely spent sitting. And that would make you an “active couch potato”—a term coined by Australian researcher Genevieve Healy, Ph.D., of the University of Queensland to describe exercisers who sit most of their day. If they aren’t careful, she says, active couch potatoes face the same health risks as their completely inactive counterparts.

“Your body is designed to move,” Hamilton says. “Sitting for an extended period of time causes your body to shut down at the metabolic level.” When your muscles, especially certain leg muscles, are immobile, your circulation slows. So you use less of your blood sugar and you burn less fat, which increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Indeed, a study of 3,757 women found that for every two hours they sat in a given work day, their risk for developing diabetes went up seven percent, which means their risk is 56 percent higher on days they sit for eight hours. And a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that a man who sits more than six hours a day has an 18 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease and a 7.8 percent increased chance of dying from diabetes compared with someone who sits for three hours or less a day. Although running does much good for you, Healy says, if you spend the rest of your waking hours sitting, those health benefits depreciate. In a 12-year study of more than 17,000 Canadians, researchers found that the more time people spent sitting, the earlier they died—regardless of age, body weight, or how much they exercised.

Adding to the mounting evidence, Hamilton recently discovered that a key gene (called lipid phosphate phosphatase-1 or LPP1) that helps prevent blood clotting and inflammation to keep your cardiovascular system healthy is significantly suppressed when you sit for a few hours. “The shocker was that LPP1 was not impacted by exercise if the muscles were inactive most of the day,” Hamilton says. “Pretty scary to say that LPP1 is sensitive to sitting but resistant to exercise.”

Heart disease and diabetes aren’t the only health hazards active couch potatoes face. The American Institute for Cancer Research now links prolonged sitting with increased risk of both breast and colon cancers. “Sitting time is emerging as a strong candidate for being a cancer risk factor in its own right,” says Neville Owen, Ph.D., head of the Behavioral Epidemiology Laboratory at Australia’s Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. “Emerging evidence suggests that the longer you sit, the higher your risk. It also seems that exercising won’t compensate for too much sitting.” According to Alberta Health Services-Cancer Care in Canada, inactivity is linked to 49,000 cases of breast cancer, 43,000 cases of colon cancer, 37,200 cases of lung cancer, and 30,600 cases of prostate cancer a year.

As if that weren’t enough to put you in a sad state, a 2013 survey of nearly 30,000 women found that those who sat nine or more hours a day were more likely to be depressed than those who sat fewer than six hours a day because prolonged sitting reduces circulation, causing fewer feel-good hormones to reach your brain.

Scared straight out of your chair? Good. Because the remedy is as simple as standing up and taking activity breaks. Stuart McGill, Ph.D., director of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Waterloo says that interrupting your sedentary time as often as possible and making frequent posture changes is important. “Even breaks as short as one minute can improve your health,” he says. Developing healthier habits will also improve your running performance, says Nikki Reiter, biomechanist with The Run S.M.A.R.T. Project. The combination of going for a run and then parking your butt for the rest of the day (or vice versa) could be a recipe for injury. “The static sitting position can cause certain muscles to become tight or overstretched, neither of which is good for your running,” she says. Even if you went for a really intense or long run, regular activity throughout the day will help your recovery. So stand up now: It’s good for your body and mind.

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