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Time to Make a Move: The Benefits of Daily Activity

Exercise and Nutrition
Author name: Lee Health

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Exercise photo

Every May, we celebrate National Physical Fitness and Sports Month across the United States. This annual event was created in 1983 to encourage Americans to become more active and live healthier lifestyles. 

Why is regular physical activity such a big deal? And how can we get more movement in our daily lives?

Erika Graziani, a certified lifestyle medicine practitioner and registered dietitian with Lee Health, discusses the benefits of staying fit and shares tips for how to get active every day.

The amazing benefits of physical activity

Getting regular exercise and moving your body is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and wellness, Erika says. The impacts are significant for all ages.

“Getting active can seem like a challenge, especially if you’re not used to being physically active or if you’re trying to get started again,” she says. “Even small steps can make a difference. The key is to start at a comfortable and realistic pace for you, then build from there. You’ll be amazed by the benefits.”

  • Strengthens your heart and lungs. Aerobic activities like walking, running, swimming, and dancing strengthen your heart and lungs. Your heart can pump blood more efficiently, and your lungs can take in more oxygen. This helps your entire cardiovascular system work better.
  • Builds muscle strength. Muscle-strengthening activities like lifting weights or doing push-ups make your muscles bigger and stronger. Having more muscle tone boosts your metabolism and gives you more strength for everyday activities.
  • Controls weight. Regular exercise burns extra calories to maintain a healthy weight or lose excess body fat. It also revs up your metabolism to burn more calories, even while resting.
  • Improves bone health. Weight-bearing exercises like walking, running, or lifting weights apply force to the bones. This promotes new bone growth and helps prevent osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones) later in life.
  • Reduces risk of falls. Activities that improve balance, flexibility and coordination can help prevent falls and injuries, especially for older adults.
  • Boosts mood and energy levels. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin in the brain, which are natural mood boosters. Physical activity also gives you more energy and stamina throughout the day.
  • Promotes better sleep. People who exercise regularly tend to sleep better at night and wake up feeling more refreshed. Quality sleep is vital for your physical and mental health.
  • Reduces disease risks. Staying active can help prevent or manage many chronic conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, arthritis, and depression.
  • Increases longevity. Research shows that people who maintain moderate to high physical activity levels have a lower risk of premature death compared to inactive adults.

How much activity do you need to do?

Fitting in daily movement provides a variety of health perks for your body and mind.  But just how much physical activity is enough?

“Research shows that health benefits from physical activity begin to accumulate once you’ve started moving,” Erika says. “More activity provides more benefits. Even one episode of physical activity will provide some health benefits. The key is just to start moving, whether it’s going for a brisk walk or riding your bike through the neighborhood.”

However, ideally, health experts like Erika recommend a total amount of at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, based on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans reduce the risk of many chronic diseases and other adverse health outcomes. 

Ask your doctor what types of activity are safe for you.

What are aerobic activities?

When you engage in aerobic activity, also known as cardio activity, you’re moving the body’s large muscles in a rhythmic manner for a sustained length of time. 

“Brisk walking, running, bicycling, jumping rope, and swimming are all examples,” Erika explains. “Aerobic activity causes a person’s heart to beat faster, and they will breathe harder than normal. When done regularly, this activity can improve your heart's ability to pump blood to your lungs and throughout your body. As a result, more blood flows to your muscles, and oxygen levels in your blood increase.”

Aerobic physical activity has three components:

  • Intensity, or how hard you work to do the activity. Common intensity levels are moderate activity like brisk walking and vigorous activity like running or jogging
  • Frequency, or how often you do an aerobic activity 
  • Duration, or how long you do an activity 

Try to aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week, Erika recommends.

“You can also do a combination of both,” Erika suggests. “A general rule is that two minutes of moderate-intensity activity counts the same as one minute of vigorous-intensity activity. Just remember, the more active you are, the more you can benefit.”

What are muscle-strengthening activities?

Muscle-strengthening activities include resistance training and lifting weights. This type of activity causes the body’s muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight. 

“To strengthen your muscles, you can lift weights, use elastic bands, or use your own body weight for resistance, like push-ups, for example,” Erika says. 

Muscle-strengthening activity has three components: 

  • Intensity, or how much weight or force you’re able to lift or hold 
  • Frequency, or how often you do a muscle-strengthening activity
  • Sets and repetitions, or the number of times you lift a weight or do a push-up 

Erika says it’s important to work all the major muscle groups of your body, including the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.

WATCH: Fuel Your Workouts with Nutrition: Here’s How

What are bone-strengthening activities?

Bone-strengthening activity, also called weight-bearing activity, produces a force that challenges the body's bones, promoting bone growth and strength. Jumping jacks, running, brisk walking, and weight-lifting exercises will strengthen your bones, cardiovascular system and muscles. 

What are balance and flexibility activities?

Balance and flexibility exercises can help you increase muscle strength, maintain bone density, improve balance, and reduce joint pain. More specifically, balance activities can help you reduce your risk of falls by improving your balance and strengthening your core. These exercises strengthen the muscles of your back, abdomen, and legs to help improve your coordination and balance. 

Balance examples include standing on one leg, standing march, and tightrope walking. 

Flexibility activities improve the ability of a joint to maintain the movement necessary for you to do daily tasks and physical activities. Examples of flexibility activities include stretching, yoga, tai chi, and Pilates.

Balance and flexibility activities are great for all ages, especially older adults

“Talk with your doctor about your overall health and fitness goals,” Erika advises. “Your doctor can provide guidance on exercises to include or avoid based on your health.” Your doctor may also refer you to an exercise specialist or physical therapist for more specifics. Ideally, older adults should practice balance exercises at least three times a week. 

Fitting in fitness: simple strategies  

How can you fit extra activity into your daily routine? Erika suggests these tips and tricks:

  • Start small.  Going from no activity to a full workout routine can be tough. Instead, start with just 10 minutes per day and gradually increase from there as you build strength and endurance.
  • Make it fun.  The best activity is one you actually enjoy! Explore different options like sports, dancing, hiking, cycling, or fitness classes until you find some favorites.
  • Grab a buddy. Having an exercise partner keeps you motivated and accountable. Invite friends, family members or co-workers to join your active lifestyle.
  • Use tech tools. Wearable fitness trackers and mobile apps with step counters can help set goals, monitor your progress, and inspire you to keep moving.
  • Break it up.  You don't have to get all your activity at once. Three 10-minute sessions throughout the day can be just as beneficial as one 30-minute workout.
  • Build routines. Make physical activity part of your regular daily or weekly schedule. Go for a walk during your lunch break, do bodyweight exercises before bed, or take a fitness class on weekends.
  • Get creative at home. No need for a gym membership! You can get plenty of movement by cleaning the house, dancing around, or doing an exercise video. Yardwork and gardening also count.

“The key is finding activities you enjoy and building them into your life in a sustainable way,” Erika says. “Staying physically active is one of the smartest choices you can make for better health and well-being at any age.”

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