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Exercise: The Secret To Great Health

The article below is copied from the 2/8/11 issue of:
Healthbeat, the Harvard Medical School Newsletter.
with a short intro by myself

I've been working with people to improve their health for almost 2 decades, and what I can tell you unequivocally is that getting regular exercise is the most important health decision you can make. 

So many of my patients get stuck on what the best exercise is:  "Should I walk on the treadmill?"  "Should I lift weights?"  "Is swimming the best exercise?"  Let me tell you, the best exercise, is the one you do regularly.  As Nike says: "Just do it!"  And don't stop doing it.  Do it at least 5 days a week for the rest of your life.

Try to mix it up.  Your body gets used to doing the same routine day in a day out.  So do a little walking or jogging one day, get on the elliptical another and get on the bike the third day.  Weight resistance exercise is just as important if not more important then your aerobics.

My personal protocol is to do about 15-20 minutes of aerobic exercise, followed by about 10 minutes of "Core" muscle training (click here  to watch me do my "Core" routine and download a PDF copy of the exercises), and then about 20 minutes of weight resistance exercises.  Some days I do more of one and less of the other.  Other days I might be in a rush and only do an abbreviated 15 minute version; but I do at least a little bit almost every day.

Another great idea is to have  a lofty goal, such as jogging a 5 or 10 K,  or being able to swim 50 laps without stopping, maybe doing 40 push ups in a row.  Having a goal, something to shoot for, can help to keep you on track.  I have a "sprint triathlon" coming up in 4 months.  I'm already training for it.  Having that goal helps to keep me motivated and moving in the right direction.  If this sounds overwhelming to you, start out small, but try and work up to at least 30 minutes of physical exercise per day. 

Remember to start out slowly.  Your goal on the first few days should simply be to go through the motions and not get hurt.  Then pick up the pace as your body gets used to the new demands your placing on it.

Good luck.

Harvard does a nice job of outlining the benefits of exercise below:

The secret to better health — exercise

Whether you’re 9 or 90, abundant evidence shows exercise can enhance your health and well-being. But for many people, sedentary pastimes, such as watching TV, surfing the Internet, or playing computer and video games, have replaced more active pursuits.

What exercise can do for you

Millions of Americans simply aren’t moving 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 decades of solid science 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 you avoid a host of serious ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and several types of cancer, particularly breast and colon cancers. Regular exercise can also help you sleep better, reduce stress, control your weight, brighten your mood, sharpen your mental functioning, and improve your sex life.

A well-rounded exercise program has four components: aerobic activity, strength training, flexibility training, and balance exercises. Each benefits your body in a different way.

Fighting disease with aerobic activity

Aerobic exercise is the centerpiece of any fitness program. 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. This level of activity is safe for almost everyone and provides the desired health benefits. Additional health benefits may flow from increased intensity.

Protecting bone with strength training

Strength or resistance training, such as elastic-band workouts and the use of weight machines or 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.

Ease back pain with flexibility exercises

Stretching or flexibility training is the third prong of a balanced exercise program. Muscles tend to shorten and weaken with age. Shorter, stiffer muscle fibers make you vulnerable to injuries, back pain, and stress. But regularly performing exercises that isolate and stretch the elastic fibers surrounding your muscles and tendons can counteract this process. And stretching improves your posture and balance.

Preventing falls with balance exercises

Balance tends to erode 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.

Exercise at a glance

In a nutshell, exercise can:

  • reduce your chances of getting heart disease. For those who already have heart disease, exercise reduces the chances of dying from it.
  • lower your risk of developing hypertension and diabetes.
  • reduce your risk for colon cancer and some other forms of cancer.
  • improve your mood and mental functioning.
  • keep your bones strong and joints healthy.
  • help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • help you maintain your independence well into your later years.