Wondering the Benefits of Physical Activity? We Got You Covered!
If there’s one thing nearly everyone knows about exercise, it’s that we all need it if we want to be healthy. This association is undoubtedly common knowledge by this point, but what some may fail to fully understand is just how far these benefits go. Research continues to amount that shows how maintaining adequate physical activity levels is associated with a plethora of both physical and mental health benefits, and it can extend your expected lifespan, too.
This list is expansive and encompasses numerous fundamental areas of health, but some of the most notable benefits of exercise and physical activity include the following:
- Physical activity reduces the risk for several types of cancer, including liver, lung, breast, kidney, colon, rectal, and bladder cancer
- Regular physical activity and high fitness levels are associated with a reduced risk for premature death from any cause, particularly heart disease, in individuals with no symptoms
- Regular exercise increases strength and flexibility and lowers the risk for musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis, strains and sprains, fractures, and other painful problems; it also increases stability and reduces the risk for falls in older adults
- Regular physical activity reduces the risk for developing type 2 diabetes—especially in individuals who are considered “prediabetic”—and improves outcomes in patients with diabetes
If reading these benefits motivates you to become more active, you may be wondering just how much physical activity you should be striving to get regularly. The American Heart Association, CDC, and guidelines from most other authority sources recommend that all adults aim for the following each week:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate–intensity aerobic physical activity
- At least 75 minutes of vigorous–intensity aerobic physical activity
- At least two sessions of muscle–strengthening exercises
Aerobic physical activity, or “cardio,” is any activity that increases your heart rate, and intensity is how hard your body is working during a physical activity. A moderate–intensity aerobic physical activity is one that causes you to work hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One of the easiest ways to determine if an activity is moderate intensity is that you’ll be able to talk, but not sing, the words to your favorite song. Here are a few examples of moderate–intensity physical activities:
- Brisk walking
- Water aerobics
- Riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
- Playing doubles tennis
- Mowing your lawn
A vigorous–intensity aerobic physical activity is one that increases your heart rate more noticeably, causing you to breathe harder and faster. The easiest way to tell if the intensity of an activity is vigorous is the talk test: if you’re unable to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath, you’re engaging in a vigorous–intensity activity. Here are a few examples:
- Running or jogging
- Swimming laps
- Riding on a bike fast or on hills
- Playing singles tennis
- Playing basketball
Any exercise or activity that builds strength is classified as a strengthening exercise, and weights are not necessarily required. Strengthening exercises should be done in addition to aerobic activity and work all the major muscle groups of the body: legs, hips, back, chest, abs, shoulders, and arms. These exercises can be performed on the same or different days of the aerobic activity—whichever is easier for you—and should be done to a point where it’s hard for you to do another repetition without help. Try to do at least 1 set of 8–12 repetitions for each exercise, but more is always better. Here are some examples of muscle–strengthening exercises:
- Lifting weights
- Working with resistance bands
- Doing bodyweight exercises (eg, pushups and sit–ups)
- Heavy gardening (eg, digging and shoveling)
- Some forms of yoga
If you’re interested in increasing your physical activity levels but don’t know where to begin, we can help you get started on an exercise program that works for you.
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