Could exercise change your life? In one simple, precise, and perfectly accurate answer: yes. Here’s why and how you can start exercising in 2019.
Why is it so important to start exercising?
We’ve heard the statistics. Two-thirds of people in the U.S. are considered overweight. We also know our lifestyles have greatly changed in the last several decades to include less physical activity – think of the time you spend commuting, instead of say, walking – and more processed foods.
The good news is, it is entirely within each person’s control to start exercising and change your life. New research shows behavior change isn’t as difficult as you may think. Fitting into those jeans in the back of your closet may be a goal that you achieve in 2019. And, exercise is the easiest way to change your health trajectory today. It needn’t cost hundreds (or even dozens) of dollars to get and stay fit. You don’t need a special trainer or a complicated fitness routine.
Evidence is mounting: if you want to improve the quality of your daily life while increasing your longevity, start moving. Here’s how it can benefit you.
Avoiding premature death
Sweating and increasing your heart rate daily is key to avoiding premature death. In a six-year study of over 246,000 people in Australia, researchers found that those who engaged in both vigorous and moderate activity daily decreased their chance of death by nine to 13%. Lead author Dr. Klaus Gebel from James Cook University’s Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention found the benefit of vigorous exercise crossed all demographics:
“The benefits of vigorous activity applied to men and women of all ages, and were independent of the total amount of time spent being active. The results indicate that whether or not you are obese, and whether or not you have heart disease or diabetes, if you can manage some vigorous activity it could offer significant benefits for longevity.”
Previous recommendations from the World Health Organization have included 150 minutes of moderate exercise and 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, but this new research increases the recommendation for vigorous exercise and suggests that interval training might be a way to work in the new recommended amount of daily sweat.
Helps with chronic conditions
Although the above study recommends an increase in vigorous exercise, not everyone can add more vigorous workouts to their daily routine. Fortunately, for some, moderate exercise is enough to increase the daily quality of life for people who desperately need a boost: cancer patients.
A study out of Kansas State University found that moderate exercise may be just what is needed to improve outcomes during cancer treatment. This same moderate exercise can counteract the negative effects of treatment, including low blood pressure, fatigue, and lost muscle mass. Exercise increases tumor oxygenation which can help improve treatment success for cancer patients, especially for those with difficult-to-treat tumors.
Brad Behnke, associate professor of exercise physiology, points out the potential for moderate exercise’s positive effects on both overall health and improved cancer treatments:
“If we can increase the efficacy of radiation treatment, then the patient’s prognosis is enhanced. An intervention like exercise has almost universally positive side effects versus other treatments that can have deleterious side effects. Exercise is a type of therapy that benefits multiple systems in the body, and may permanently alter the environment within the tumor.”
Moderate exercise also has progressive benefits for the elderly, including increased life expectancy and increased quality of life. This benefit starts in adolescence, as women who began exercising in their teens had a 16% lowered risk of death from cancer and 13% risk from all other types of death.
Other benefits of exercise
Other research shows that exercise can:
- Reverse age-related bone loss in middle-aged men. Moderate exercise helps to improve balance and coordination, which can prevent the falls that lead to injury. This results in fewer incidents of brittle-bone fractures.
- Exercise with a physiotherapist as an add-on to medication results in a positive effect on depression. Study participants who exercised with an eye to reducing their weight and improving their physical fitness found the most benefit.
- Lessen the effects of brain damage due to senility or minor stroke, allowing those who suffer from either to stay active and mobile for longer.
- Improve erectile and sexual function in men; this result was found to cross race and economic status.
- Aerobic exercise lessens the severity of asthma attack symptoms by lessening the inflammatory response that is mounted by the body during an attack.
Exercise can save not only the life of individuals, but can reflect the improved life of an entire neighborhood. A community effort to revitalize a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama led to an increase in exercise and improved diet, both due to an increase in green spaces that include walking trails that led to grocery stores that had fresh fruits and vegetables.
How to start exercising
It is clear that exercise can change your life both in quality and quantity. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine does not require totally overhauling the way you live. If you’re planning to diet to lose weight or to get fit, exercise will likely be part of that plan. Working out and staying in shape can prevent pain and help with your weight loss efforts.
If you’re not currently exercising at all, your first step is simply to take the first step; you’ve just got to start moving. Talk to your doctor about your fitness goals, then start small by incorporating something as simple as a 15-minute daily walk.
Make it fun
Officials at Mayo Clinic report seven critical benefits of daily exercise. These include:
- Weight control
- Prevention of health conditions and disease
- Improvement of mood
- Increased energy
- Improved sleep
- Improved sex drive
Fun?! you might be thinking, “If exercise was ‘fun,’ I’d be doing it every day already. One tool to behavior change is finding activities that are actually enjoyable and fun for you. Perhaps you don’t see yourself ever crossing the finish line of a marathon, but remember when you loved to golf? Enjoyed that bowling team? Caught up with friends on long walks?
To make exercise a lifestyle, you simply need to find an activity you like doing, and do it regularly. Set a goal to do something fun at least two or three times per week. Perhaps it is swimming laps, or chasing your grandchildren around the park. Maybe you enjoy yoga, golfing, tennis or even playing Frisbee with the dog. Just because you exercise doesn’t mean you have to strap yourself to an elliptical at the gym. Make exercising fun. If you find joy in an activity it won’t seem like exercise.
If you start with a daily walk, follow recommendations for both vigorous and moderate exercise by participating in interval training.
Walk for two minutes at a moderate pace, then increase the pace for one minute to work up a sweat and get your heart pumping. As your fitness level increases, swap that ratio and go for two minutes of vigorous walking with one minute of moderate rest. The same goes for other activities you do. Incorporate short bursts of higher intensity in your tennis match, swimming, or yoga.
Organize a buddy walk
Improving your own fitness is a great way to change your life, so why not improve the lives of those around you? Invite your kids, your neighbors, or your coworkers for a daily walk in the morning, during lunch, or after dinner. Exercising with others is a great way to build community and to hold everyone in the group accountable.
To find an exercise plan that works for you, it helps to have a buddy hold you accountable. If you have someone walking the neighborhood with you every morning, you’re less likely to pass on a chilly morning or a hot summer evening. You also want to find someone on a level playing field. If this is the first time you’ve worked out in ten years, you don’t want your buddy to be a fitness pro. Why do that to yourself? Find someone at a similar level and start there.
Small changes add up but only if you stick to a daily schedule. If you follow the rule of not missing more than one day in a row you will build the habit of healthy exercise, and that habit will change your life.
Find your motivation
Once you set a goal and achieve it, give yourself a reward, but don’t reward yourself with food. That’s one of the bad habits you’re trying to break! “I’ve had a rough week. I deserve a pizza. Or a hotdog.” Nope.
You deserve good fuel in the form of a healthy meal and rest or self-care. That’s how you reward yourself. Take your kids bowling or spend the day at the park. Buy a new shirt. Now, that’s a reward.
Create achievable goals
Here’s how to make goals you can actually keep by:
- Being specific: Set a goal and give it detail. For example, “exercise more,” is great, but “exercise three times a week” is stronger. “Exercise for 20 minutes three times a week after I leave work” is best.
- Making attainable goals: Nothing is less motivating than constantly failing at your goal. Set a goal for drinking five glasses of water per day, or eating two pieces of fruit each day. Don’t make your goal, “Lose 20 pounds this month,” or you’ll likely feel miserable when your target is missed.
- Forgiving yourself: Exercise and weight loss is a long-term goal. Short-term weight loss has shown to be destructive and short-lived. Consider losing weight a life-long challenge and you’ll be more forgiving when you have that piece of fried chicken or hit the snooze button instead of going to the gym. Weight loss, like any behavior change, takes daily dedication over a long period of time.
Starting with exercise
Speak with your doctor today for more information about healthy weight loss. Your pain specialist will be able to tell you what your healthy weight is, and how being in this range will likely lessen your pain.
Let’s review. Finding an easy exercise plan to suit your needs means starting slow. You don’t want to take yourself out with an injury before you’ve been able to see and feel real results. Set your goals, find non-food rewards and a good buddy to work with you and you’ll feel better in no time! And keep the pain away. Hit the comments to share why you’re choosing to exercise in 2019 and how you’re going to get started.