Make Regular Exercise Part Of Your Daily Routine

How important is your health? Exercise regularly.

I try to exercise regularly, but sometimes real life gets in the way,” your client confesses. “The other things in my life just seem more important. I guess the school board feels the same way; my kids only get one physical education class a week now, and the school has less support for sports programs than ever. How important is exercise anyway?”

How important is exercise?

We might begin to answer this question by asking, How important is your health? When health problems arise, work, family and other responsibilities suffer. By taking care of your health, you are indirectly fulfilling your responsibilities as a parent, worker or friend. So the importance of health is not truly separate from the other important priorities in your life. Exercise is important because it promotes good health in many ways, and has both short- and long-term effects. Physical activity is beneficial for people of all ages. Exercise has the potential to decrease health-care costs for individuals, businesses and the country as a whole. Most importantly, regular physical activity improves quality of life by helping people have fun, manage stress and stay healthy.

Important for the prevention of chronic illnesses

Everyone has heard by now that exercise helps to prevent many of the most common causes of premature death and disability, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type II diabetes, obesity, and colon and breast cancers. Just how much does exercise affect the prevention of chronic illness?

Several studies over the years have tried to answer this question. Studies such as the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study have observed large groups of people over extended periods and compared health outcomes of active people to those of people who were less active or sedentary. These studies show that sedentary people are substantially more likely to die over a given period of time than people who are the most physically fit. For example, in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, men in the least fit group were about three times as likely to have died over a 15-year period as men in the most fit group.1 Sedentary women were about four times as likely to have died over this period as women in the most fit group. Other studies have found similar results, with active people showing significantly lower mortality rates from cardiovascular disease and other causes.2 People engaging in even fairly low levels of physical activity fare much better in all studies than those who are completely sedentary. These studies have a number of limitations, most importantly the self-selection of subjects into activity levels. It makes sense that healthy people may choose to be more active than people with an underlying, but as yet undiagnosed, disease. People who engage in high levels of physical activity may also be more likely to take other positive self-care measures such as eating a healthful diet and avoiding risky behaviors like smoking. Studies try to take these factors into account, but it is hard to isolate an exercise effect in free-living humans.

Research that has used exercise as a treatment (assigning certain subjects to an exercise condition rather than letting subjects select their own exercise levels) supports the beneficial effect of exercise, especially on heart disease risk factors such as hypertension, type II diabetes and cholesterol levels. In these studies, the effect of exercise is not so easily confounded with the effects of other variables, so the observation that exercise is associated with a reduction in mortality rates makes biological sense.

Important for people with heart disease risk factors

Exercise is not only good for preventing chronic disease; it is also an important part of treatment for people who are overweight or who have hypertension, type II diabetes, high serum cholesterol levels, or are being treated for most types of artery disease (under a physician’s direction, of course). Appropriate regular physical activity improves medical prognosis and quality of life.

Important for all ages

Prevention begins in childhood and continues into old age, so appropriate programs of physical activity are important for all ages — from the very young to the very old. The quality of life benefits of physical activity are also important at all ages. Children and adolescents enjoy playing and moving. Many adults depend on physical activity not only for good health but for weight control and stress management. Exercise in old age helps maintain functional capacity in many spheres.

Important for decreasing health care costs

The increasing cost of health care has caused concern for individuals, employers and nations. The impact of regular physical activity on health care costs has been studied most intensively in the context of worksite health promotion programs.3 In the workplace, employees participating in regular physical activity cost employers fewer health care dollars. For most companies, the cost of administering a fitness program for employees is outweighed by the health care savings that accrue from healthier employees.3

Important for quality of life

Regular physical activity enhances quality of life. A strong, healthy body allows you to get on with the other important things in your life (besides your exercise program). When health limitations are present, regular exercise helps you maximize your abilities. Exercise improves psychological outlook and self-esteem.

Bodies (and, by association, minds) need movement to stay healthy. It is unfortunate that for most people, physical activity is not a “natural” part of daily life. When people have to go out of their way to work out, maintaining an exercise program can be difficult. That is why exercise has to be a priority, just as staying healthy must be a priority. Reinforcing the importance of regular physical activity for good health and quality of life helps you and your clients to keep exercise a top priority.

REFERENCES

Blair, S.N., H.W. Kohl, III, R.S. Paffenbarger, et al. Physical fitness and all-cause mortality: A prospective study of healthy men and women. Journal of the American Medical Association 262: 2395-2401, 1989.

Paffenbarger, R.S. Jr., & I.M. Lee. Physical activity and fitness for health and longevity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 67:S11-28, Sept. 1996.

Shephard, R.J. Worksite fitness and exercise programs: A review of methodology and health impact. American Journal of Health Promotion 6: 292-301, 1996.

Medical experts now see obesity as a chronic condition that is remarkably resistant to treatment. Obesity rates in American adults and children continue to climb, with no reversal of this trend in sight.

A healthy lifestyle includes time out and vacations.

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