If I promised you a way to drastically improve your life would you not jump at the offer? I’ll even nix the three easy payments of $19.99 that you usually see associated with such offers by hyperactive TV sales people. If I told you that one thing could make you physically and psychologically healthier, happier, and increase your longevity would you bite? Good! Here is the secret…
Exercise can be defined as physical bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness. And it can be super enjoyable. There are four types of fitness:
- Strength: Resistance work to improve muscular strength and endurance.
- Flexibility: Stretching to avoid stiffness and improve range of motion.
- Balance: Ability to maintain posture, increase range of motion, and avoid falls.
- Aerobic: Sustained efforts that build cardiovascular fitness (respiratory and circulatory system).
Healthy levels of fitness require all four, but the good news is that we can improve all four, in most cases, with one type of exercise. This implies that all types of exercise are not the same and it’s true when we’re talking about overall health benefits. Aerobic exercise gives you the biggest boon for your behavior. Examples include running, walking, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing and rowing. You don’t have to train at Olympic levels, just move your body by following these two guidelines.
Research shows these two factors are key. Exercise should be planned because, let’s face it, getting out the door is the hard part. All forms of exercise, especially aerobic, is about consistency. It’s a lifestyle choice…and it is a choice. If you don’t work it into your daily schedule as a priority, it will most likely suffer the fate of our New Year resolutions. Exercise should be sustained because the greatest benefits come from conditioning, and that builds over time primarily by aerobic forms of movement. Think of it as lower-grade workouts, compared to strength work like weight lifting, for longer periods of time. How much do you need to do to increase aerobic (cardiovascular) capacity?
- 30-minute sustained effort.
- Five days per week.
Recent research suggests more is better, but other data shows that even 15 minutes, fivedays a week is better than nothing (see Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s research out of the Aerobic Center). Nothing is a terrible standard, of course, but we have to start somewhere. Just move your body any way you can in a planned, sustained way for 30 minutes, five days each week. Give it about six-week blocks of time to see significant gains.
Steven Blair of the Department of Exercise Science and Epidemiology/Biostatistics has shouted from the rooftops that physical inactivity is a dangerous epidemic and “the biggest public health problem of the 21st century.” In 2009, he reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that physical inactivity is dangerous and a serious health risk. Blair showed that low levels of cardiovascular fitness is a far greater risk for death than factors such as obesity, smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. Yes, you read that correctly; low levels of cardiovascular are really, really bad for you. It’s old information but unknown to most people.
We should elevate this conversation, if just for a couple sentences, out of the domain of disease to remind ourselves exercise is the magic bullet for achieving optimal health. It has that kind of range! Higher fitness levels are associated with increased longevity. The great thing is that it’s not magic but controllable behavior!
You don’t necessarily have to run, but it would be a lot cooler if you did. Would you run from a hungry velociraptor (you remember, the really scary dinosaur from Jurassic Park)? Probably, because it just might save your life. Would you exercise every week to save your life? You should, because it just might save, and dare I say improve your life.