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It’s time to exercise — your health will thank you


It’s the season of New Year’s resolutions to “get into shape” and “exercise” or “exercise more.” Some join gyms or online exercise courses. Others buy treadmills, bicycles or just a new pair of running shoes. These vague resolutions and high hopes often fall flat by the end of February. One reason why is because there are so many ways to exercise and no one knows exactly how much they need or what they should be doing.

(Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press/TNS) For the many adults starting off the new year with the resolution to lose weight, working the muscles will help maintain their mass while preferentially losing fat.

Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press/TNS

For the many adults starting off the new year with the resolution to lose weight, working the muscles will help maintain their mass while preferentially losing fat.

Every now and then, without much fanfare, the United States Department of Health and Human Services publishes the “Physical Guidelines for Americans” that helps answer which exercises and how often. The opening letter shares the astounding statistic that one-half of all American adults (that’s about 117 million of us) have a preventable chronic disease and that seven out of 10 of these diseases are favorably affected by regular exercise. At the same time, 80% of adults do not meet the current guidelines for aerobic physical activity and muscle strength. This gap in strength and activity is lined to about $120 billion in annual health care costs and accounts for about 10% of premature deaths.

Those are some amazing and provocative statistics. Aside from the numbers, one little phrase caught my eye: “muscle strength.” For all the talk about doing aerobic activity, how much to do and how it helps the heart, brain and soul, the idea of strength is often left aside. For some people, like those on the elliptical, strength is only for beefy dudes trying to get more ripped for show and bragging rights, whereas cardio is for weight loss and “real” health.

Muscle strength is important at all ages. The guidelines are broken down into chapters based on age group; strength and cardio requirements do vary by age group. There’s even a section for exercise during pregnancy. The muscle-strengthening section for adults points out that muscle strength is related to bone strength. This is increasingly important with age. For the many adults starting off the new year with the resolution to lose weight, working the muscles will help maintain their mass while preferentially losing fat. It is advised to exercise all major muscle groups at least two days a week.

Along with muscle strength, the guidelines recommend maintaining flexibility. Stretch and flexibility are important aspects of maintaining the ability to do everyday activities. They are also part of safety; regular exercise and strength is associated with lower incidence of hip fracture than inactive adults. Buttock and core strength is associated with lower risk for chronic back pain as well as increased stability. Grip, arm and shoulder strength are important for carrying things and many falls and injuries happen while trying to carry something.

The recommendation for exercise for adults over age 65 is 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise a week or half that if doing vigorous/intense aerobic activity. Ideally, it is spread out over the days rather than a weekend warrior lifestyle. The guidelines observe that there is no harm in doing more. People who exercise 150 min a week have a 33% lower rate of mortality than inactive adults, and people who exercise more than 300 minutes have about a 40% lower rate of mortality. There are few things that affect mortality in such a positive way with the exception of quitting toxins (smoking, drinking three or more drinks a day, etc.).

The recommendations vary by age group. Children and adolescents are recommended to do an hour of exercise per day. This is associated with better development and academic achievement.

At all ages, exercise is associated with lower anxiety and depression, and better sleep. At older ages, it also appears to decrease cancer risk. Many of these benefits still hold true for people who are overweight. In other words, the weight does not have to be lost before the benefits start to accumulate.

With all the benefits of exercise, it is too bad it can’t be put in a bottle and sold. Until then, maximize that New Year’s resolution and bring a friend along, too.

Dr. Sal Iaquinta is the author of “The Year They Tried To Kill Me.” He takes you on the Highway to Health every fourth Monday.



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