"From the top of your head to the bottom of your toes, being physically active is the stimulus that gets most organs in the body to work at their best," says Miriam Nelson, an exercise expert at Tufts University in Boston.
If you are among those chronically busy people who have been putting off introducing exercise into your lifestyle, perhaps the beginning of a new year would be a good time to recharge and take action.
The most common excuse for not exercising, even for retired folks, is not having enough time. Fortunately, it is never too late to begin reaping the many benefits that exercise offers. The National Institute on Aging has found that almost anybody, regardless of age, can benefit from exercise. Cedric Bryant, the chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, tells us, "Most people plan for financial independence, but too often, they neglect what they need to be physically independent."
Here are seven reasons to help motivate you to exercise every day.
Strengthen bones: According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, fragile bones affect 10 million men and women, with another nearly 34 million having low enough bone density to place them in the "at risk, waiting to happen" category. Research shows that weight-bearing activities such as strength training and cardiovascular exercises can make a dramatic improvement in bone density. Such training and exercise prevents further loss of bone, thereby contributing to better balance and reducing the risk for fractures. Balance exercises also help to strengthen legs. Instead of using weights, these exercises focus on using balance to build strength.
Strengthen muscle: Both bones and muscles respond to the stresses placed upon them. "For every decade after about age 50, you lose some 6 percent of your muscle mass, which comes with a 10 to 15 percent loss of your strength. After two months of training, we see a 40 percent increase in strength," says Ben Hurley, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Reduce risk of diabetes: Moderate aerobic exercise can lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes and it also offers many positive benefits for those already affected. It can lower blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity and strengthen the heart. "The one thing that seems to deteriorate quickest with inactivity is insulin sensitivity. It also responds most consistently when you train," Hurley says. If you are currently dealing with diabetic issues, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Prevent strokes: Researchers say that regular exercise workouts are protective against ischemic strokes; blood flow is obstructed, therefore blood is not getting to tissues past that point, resulting in cellular death. "We believe that maintaining and even initiating moderate to heavy activity such as racquet sports and swimming, is an important component of risk reduction strategies against ischemic strokes," said Dr. Joshua Willey of New York's Columbia University.
Improve heart health: Among the many health benefits for the heart from exercising just 30 to 40 minutes three times a week are an increase in HDL, the good cholesterol that transports fat away from the arteries; an improvement in circulation by preventing blood clots that can lead to heart attacks; a lowering of blood pressure; and more effective fat loss. Steady physical activities that use large muscle groups, as in aerobic activities such as walking and jogging, offer the most cardio benefits.
Stimulate the brain: Just as you can lose muscle mass through the aging process, beginning in your 40s, your brain functioning begins to also suffer a decline. More and more positive information is being released about the benefits aerobic exercise has upon the brain. And you don't have to run marathons to get the "anti-aging" benefits — moderate walking, swimming and biking will get you there. Exercise will increase your breathing and heart rate so that more blood travels to the brain. "You can push yourself back two to three years with six months of aerobic exercise," says Arthur Kramer, professor of human perception and performance at the University of Illinois.
Reduce stress and fatigue: Energy begets energy. You might say exercise is meditation in motion. The repetitiveness of breathing and the movement create a similar effect as the repetitiveness of saying a mantra. As exercising brings more oxygen into the bloodstream, it also helps to energize you. Exercise releases the "feel good" hormones (serotonin and dopamine) and as a result, people who exercise regularly have more energy and an increased sense of well-being.
If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Write to Sally Anderson, a trainer, in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
Knee drops: This exercise stretches and strengthens the hips and lower back. Lying on your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor, drop both knees toward one side. With arms relaxed out to the sides, turn head to the opposite side of the knee drops. Relax and take four to five deep relaxation breaths, then repeat on other side. Tip: Try to keep knees together as you drop them to the side. This is a good stretch to do whenever you feel tightness in your back or hips.
Plie squat: Targets entire lower body, especially inner thighs, calves and buttocks. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart; toes pointed outward. With hands on hips, lower the hips with the back straight, until thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Beginners, do not attempt to go that low. Keeping knees bent, lift heels off floor and push up through the calves into a standing position. Tip: Beginners may need to hold on to a support and begin with just the plie squat without the heel lifts. Repeat eight to 10 times.
Lunge and twist with medicine ball: Strengthens arms, legs and abdominals. While holding a ball or weight with straight arms (slightly relaxed elbows), step forward in a lunge position; back leg bent, with knee facing floor and back heel off floor. Move from the waist as you turn to the side, eyes following the ball. Repeat eight to 10 times for each side. Tip: While doing the exercise, contract abdominals.