Photo: Couple on Mountain Bikes

by Tandis Bishop

With our everyday busy schedules, physical exercise is an activity or for some, a task, that only occurs if and when we can make time for it. For many Americans, it’s not a part of our lifestyle but only a concept that you know would be good to do but realistically never happens. Physical inactivity is a major public health problem, and convincing evidence shows that it contributes to several chronic diseases and conditions. As a nation we have dug ourselves into a big hole of inactivity. Now is the time to pull ourselves out of it!

It’s not an option:

Recognition of the numerous health hazards of a sedentary lifestyle has led many groups to advocate public health recommendations for physical activity. Compelling research proves that a fit, active life offers tremendous health benefits while inactivity promotes disease and reduces length of life.1,2,3,4Therefore, physical activity is not an option. Individuals of all ages and sexes absolutely need it in order to help prevent disease, fight disease, and increase longevity. 

Even low amounts of exercise are helpful:

The current recommendation of physical activity for adults by the US Health Department’s Physical Activity Guideline is 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise a week.5

However, don’t be discouraged if you initially feel this may be difficult to do or to fit into your schedule. Studies suggest that even 15 minutes a day or 90 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise offers many health benefits, even for those at risk for chronic diseases.6,7 This may be more realistic and doable for people who are currently inactive.

What to do? Take a 15 minute brisk walk, dance to music, play doubles tennis, or ride a bike. Even heavy cleaning such as washing windows, vacuuming, or mopping for 15 minutes counts as moderate physical activity!

The key is consistency:

A common mistake people make is to start engaging in long, vigorous exercise that leaves them feeling sore and over-exhausted for days. You don’t want to dread the next time you exercise. Of course, you may experience some soreness initially as your body and muscles are activated after being sedentary for some time. However, don’t make it so hard or unrealistic that you can’t stick to it. The key is to be active consistently--even if it’s a little bit--every week. It’s that constant pumping and engaging of your heart, lungs, muscles, and cells that makes the difference. It’s the constant flow of fresh blood, oxygen, and balancing of the body’s hormones that gives you benefits. Your body needs that consistency! So let’s get active! We all have 15 minutes in our day to do what is invaluable for our health and wellbeing.

Footnotes: 
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention Status Reports: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. 2013. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/psr/2013/npao/index.html
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. State Indicator Report on Physical Activity. 2010. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/pa_state_indicator_report...
  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity and health: a report of the Surgeon General. 1996.
  4. U.S. Department of Health. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines. Available at: https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/
  5. Ibid.
  6. Slentz CA. et al. Effects of the amount of exercise on body weight, body composition, and measures of central obesity: STRRIDE--a randomized controlled study. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Jan 12;164(1):31-9.
  7. Pang Wen, C. et al. Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet. Volume 378, Issue 9798, 1–7 October 2011, Pages 1244–1253