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How much improvement can you experience with just 90 minutes of physical activity? The best way to answer this question is to look at the dangers of being physically inactive.

"In evolutionary terms, human beings are active creatures," says Dr. Michael Pratt of the CDCP. "When we are inactive, we pay a dangerous physical price. We are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. It's probable we are more susceptible to certain forms of cancer. And we may even be more likely to suffer from mental depression."

People who are almost entirely sedentary _ they incorporate minuscule amounts of physical activity into their lives _ have the most to gain from 90 minutes of exercise per week. Sedentary people are walking, er, sitting time bombs. They are more likely to have flabby heart muscles, clogged-up digestive systems, fragile bones and excess body fat. When they exert themselves they are up to six times more likely to suffer heart attacks or other life-threatening injuries.

Physical activity is hailed as a panacea. The benefits of exercise _ even in small amounts _ read like an advertisement for the Fountain of Youth.

Studies have shown that physical activity ...

Lengthens your life span;

Improves the functions of your heart, lungs, blood vessels, muscles and bones;

Increases the efficiency of your internal organs;

Helps you cope with stress, anxiety and depression;

Improves your performance at work;

Gives you more energy to spend on family and friends;

Burns off calories, making it easier to maintain a desirable weight;

And on, and on ...

If physical activity is such an obvious precursor to good health, then why do so few people do it?

Every person is different, and there are legitimate reasons for not exercising. If your doctor advises you limit your levels of physical activity for medical reasons, then that is beyond argument.

But here are some excuses that aren't so solid:

I'm too old to exercise:

Wrong.

Studies have shown that people can maintain high levels of cardiovascular fitness into their 80s and beyond. Regular exercise helps older people to minimize the effects of arthritis, reduce the risks of diabetes and ward off osteoporosis.

I'm too young to need exercise.

It is true that our need for physical activity increases with age, but children, teenagers and young adults also can suffer negative consequences when they are sedentary. For instance, it's estimated that less than 50 percent of American children has adequate heart-lung endurance and as much as 30 percent is obese or has elevated cholesterol levels.

Studies have shown that children who are physically active are more likely to remain that way as adults. It's a habit that's hard to break.

I don't have the time or discipline to exercise enough to make it worthwhile:

Come on. That excuse might cut it if you had to exercise 300 minutes a week to see benefits, but we're talking 90!

Of course, there are limits to what you can achieve in this short time. You won't turn into an super-athlete. You won't become immune to disease. And your body eventually will adjust, demanding more effort if you wish to achieve more benefits.

But 90 minutes a week is a great place to start.

"I believe that something is better than nothing, more is better than less, and anything that moves you toward increasing your levels of activity should be pursued," says Dr. Steven Blair of the Institute for Aerobic Research in Dallas. "Ninety minutes a week could become the starting point for changing your life.

"Try it. Give it a chance. If you do, you can expect to see benefits _ even early on. Beginning an exercise program is as important in reducing the risks of disease as quitting smoking."

What more need be said?

Up next:Take heart!

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