We all know that one of the most important contributors to better health is exercise. Evidence suggests exercise can enhance your health and overall well-being.
Unfortunately for very many people, desk-based jobs and sedentary pastimes, such as watching TV, going online, or playing computer and video games, have replaced more active lifestyles.
What exercise can do for you
People are simply not physically active enough to meet the minimum threshold for good health – that is, burning at least 700 to 1,000 calories a week through physical pursuits. The benefits of exercise may sound too good to be true, but studies confirm that exercise improves health and can extend your life.
Adding as little as half an hour of moderately intense physical activity to your day can help avoid a host of serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and stress and depression. Regular exercise can also help you sleep better, reduce stress, control your weight, improve your mood, sharpen your mental functioning, and improve your sex life.
A well-rounded exercise programme has four components: aerobic activity, strength training, flexibility training, and balance exercises. Each benefits your body in a different way.
Aerobic exercise is the key element of any fitness programme. Nearly all of the research regarding the disease-fighting benefits of exercise revolves around cardiovascular activity, which includes walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling.
Experts recommend working out at moderate intensity when you perform aerobic exercise – brisk walking that quickens your breathing is one example we can incorporate into our daily lives. This level of activity is safe for almost everyone and provides the desired health benefits although studies also show that additional health benefits may flow from increased intensity.
Strength or resistance training, such as the use of free weights, is important for building muscle and protecting bone. Bones lose calcium and weaken with age, but strength training can help slow or sometimes even reverse this trend. Not only can strength training make you look and feel better, but it can also result in better performance of everyday activities, such as climbing stairs and carrying bundles.
Stronger muscles also mean better mobility and balance, and thus a lower risk of falling and injuring yourself. In addition, more lean body mass aids in weight control because each pound of muscle burns more calories than its equivalent in fat.
Stretching or flexibility training is the third element to a balanced exercise programme. Muscles tend to shorten and weaken with age. Shorter, stiffer muscle fibres make you vulnerable to injuries, back pain, and stress. But regularly performing exercises that isolate and stretch the elastic fibres surrounding your muscles and tendons can counteract this process. And stretching improves your posture and balance.
Our ability to balance well can diminish over time, and regularly performing balance exercises is one of the best ways to protect against falls that lead to temporary or permanent disability. Balance exercises take only a few minutes and often fit easily into the warm-up portion of a workout. Many strength-training exercises also serve as balance exercises. Or balance-enhancing movements may simply be woven into other forms of exercise, such as tai chi, yoga, and Pilates.