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When it comes to successful and lasting weight loss, eating well is only part of the battle. Physical activity will help you inch closer to your goal by burning calories and building muscle. However, that’s not the only reason to make exercise part of your daily life. Exercise also helps prevent many health conditions, decreases stress, and makes you feel better.
You don’t need to join a fancy gym or buy expensive home equipment to build a good fitness program. Daily activities that count as physical activity include:
You’ll want to get your heart pumping and break a sweat to burn a significant amount of calories.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages healthy adults to complete at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. Moderate aerobic activity includes many forms of exercise, such as brisk walking, using an elliptical machine, or swimming laps. Alternately, you can complete one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, such as running or cycling.
It’s best to spread your exercise out throughout the week. Aim to get 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity on most days. The CDC also recommends doing strength training, such as weightlifting or yoga, at least twice per week.
You have many options for aerobic activity. For example, you can:
You can also look for aerobics classes, yoga studios, or karate dojos in your area. When it comes to exercise, there’s something for everyone.
One excellent, widely available option is walking. Its low-impact nature makes it gentle on your joints, and you can do it anywhere. You can walk:
Walking can raise your levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which is often called "good" cholesterol. It can also lower your levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or the "bad" kind. Walking can reduce your blood pressure, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, and boost your mood.
When you go for a walk, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate clothing. If you’re walking at night, choose to wear items with reflective material to help drivers see you in the dark. Start with five minutes of slow walking to warm up, concentrating on long strides to stretch your muscles. Once you’re warmed up, pick up the pace. For the most benefits, walk at a pace that challenges you but still allows you to talk without feeling breathless. Cool down at the end of your walk by strolling at a slower pace for five minutes, and then stretch afterward.
You also have other options besides walking. Just make sure to start slowly and gradually build up your fitness level. Beginning an exercise program too quickly is a recipe for injury and could set you up for failure. By building a solid fitness base, you’re more likely to make exercise a lifelong habit rather than a fleeting phase.
Regular exercise has many benefits:
You must burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. Exercise helps you do this. The more you exercise, the less you need to reduce your food intake. Instead of eliminating 500 calories from your food choices alone, you can cut 250 calories from your daily diet and work off the other 250 calories at the gym. That may be as simple as removing a bag of chips from your menu and using the elliptical machine for 30 minutes.
Aerobic activity is great for burning calories, but strength training can also help you lose weight. By increasing your muscle mass, you increase your metabolism. When you replace fat with muscle, your body burns more calories at rest.
Regular physical activity helps you:
After following your exercise routine for a while, your heart and lungs won’t need to work as hard to function. This can give you more energy to propel you through your day.
Exercise also improves sleep quality. It can help you get a better night’s rest and leave you feeling ready to tackle the day.
In general, people who exercise regularly are healthier and get sick less often. Regular workouts can help you prevent and manage many health problems, including:
By increasing your activity levels, you improve your blood circulation throughout your body and improve your coronary artery flexibility. This promotes good blood flow and lowers your risk of heart disease, including heart attacks.
Exercise also increases the number of white blood cells in your body. These are the cells that fight off pathogens, which can cause illness.
Whether you prefer a fast-paced spin class or a relaxing mind-body yoga workout, exercise can help you relieve stress and feel calmer. That’s because physical activity stimulates the release of feel-good brain chemicals, including endorphins. These chemicals create the so-called "runner’s high" that many people experience after exercise. Using your muscles can also help ease tension, which often accompanies stress.
After your workout, you may find yourself feeling less stressed, more focused, and more optimistic. Regular physical activity can also increase your confidence. It may even help prevent depression. For example, a Duke University Medical Center study found that a brisk 30-minute walk or jog three times per week may be just as effective as medication for relieving the symptoms of major depression in certain people. Always speak to your doctor before making changes to your medication routine.
Maintaining a daily fitness routine often requires careful time management and dedication. But the benefits of exercise are worth every moment you spend on it. From weight loss to disease prevention, exercise is a natural and proven health elixir. Make it a daily part of your life to reap the benefits for years to come.
Written by: Leslie Goldman, MPH
Medically reviewed on: May 05, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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