Friday, June 25, 2010

Get Up and Get Moving: 7 Big Benefits of Physical Activity

It's a simple formula: People who are physically active are healthier, less likely to develop chronic diseases, and have better aerobic fitness compared to people who don't. In short, physical activity gives you a great chance to enjoy a long, healthy life - and who could ask for more than that? Yet despite the clear health benefits of regular physical activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over half of American adults do not engage in physical activity at levels consistent with public health recommendations.

Are you guilty as charged?

According to the CDC, adults need to engage in at least 2½ hours (150 minutes) each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity to achieve substantial health benefits. Examples include brisk walking (3 miles per hour), bicycle riding (less than 10 miles per hour), ballroom dancing, or even general gardening. Aerobic activities that keep you moving are integral to an anti-aging lifestyle. Below are 7 of the wide-ranging benefits of physical activity. Read these and then get up and get moving with some physical activity of your own!

1. Help Your Heart

Researchers at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation found that exercising three times a week not only helped reduce the risk of premature death in people with coronary artery disease, it helped reduce the death rate of people that were simply over stressed. The researchers found that the subjects who became physically fitter during the study period (by exercising) were 60 percent less likely to die in the following six years. Exercise also helped reduce stress levels from one in 10 patients to fewer than one in 20 patients, which lowered the overall death rate for stressed subjects by an impressive 20 percent.

2. Grow Brain Cells

Studies done at the National Institute on Aging found that mice that exercised regularly (on a running wheel) increased their number of brain cells and enabled them to perform better at spatial learning tests compared to mice that did not exercise.

3. Fight Breast Cancer

Canadian researchers explored how sex hormones are positively influenced by aerobic exercise, examining how an aerobic exercise intervention influenced these circulating hormones, which may impact breast cancer risk. The researchers found statistically significant reductions in estradiol and free estradiol, as well as increases in SHBG, among the exercising women compared to controls. The researchers stated:

"This trial found that previously sedentary postmenopausal women can adhere to a moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise program that results in changes in estradiol and SHBG concentrations that are consistent with a lower risk for postmenopausal breast cancer."

4. Build Strong Bones

Older women who were enrolled in the Senior Fitness and Prevention Study in Germany had higher bone density in their spine and hip, and also had a 66 percent reduced rate of falls. Also, fractures due to falls were twice as common in the controls versus the exercise group. The authors' conclusion: "Compared with a general wellness program, our 18-month exercise program significantly improved bone density and decreased fall risk."

5. Stress a Little Less

Anxiety often remains unrecognized or untreated among patients with a chronic illness, and may have serious consequences including declines in quality of life and a lack of compliance with their treatment plan. Researchers at the University of Georgia found that, on average, patients who exercised regularly reported a 20 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to those who did not exercise. "Exercise training programs lasting no more than 12 weeks, using session durations of at least 30 minutes, and an anxiety report time frame greater than the past week resulted in the largest anxiety improvements," said the researchers.

6. Defend Against Stroke

The Harvard School of Public Health examined the effects of leisure-time activities on stroke risk in women. Relying on data from 39,315 healthy American women, the team investigated the subjects' physical activity for a period of nearly 12 years, and tracked the incidence of stroke during the same time frame.

The researchers found that those women who engaged in moderately intense exercise during the study period were at a markedly lower risk of stroke; specifically, walking time and pace were inversely related to the risk of any stroke (longer time, faster pace = lower stroke risk). Stroke risk declined by as much as 37 percent as the pace of walking increased from less than 2 to more than 3 miles/hour.

7. Enjoy Your Golden Years

The Harvard School of Public Health also explored whether physical activity is associated with improved overall health among those who survive to older ages. They found that women who survived to age 70 or older as of 1995-2001 engaged in higher levels of physical activity at the beginning of the study and were less likely to have chronic diseases, heart surgery or any physical, or mental impairments. According to the researchers, "These data provide evidence that higher levels of midlife physical activity are associated with exceptional health status among women who survive to older ages and corroborate the potential role of physical activity in improving overall health."

Make the Move Toward Better Health!

A healthy life isn't necessarily a happy life, but most people agree it certainly makes the going easier. After all, if you're sick all the time, develop a chronic, life-threatening illness, and/or die sooner than you should, how much fun is that? Take some advice from the experts, starting today: Get up and get moving! As the research shows, consistent physical activity has huge health and wellness benefits that you deserve to enjoy!

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