Health inactivity is the exercise equivalent of smoking
Think of inactivity as the exercise equivalent of smoking, only worse. One study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine found that being sedentary and out of shape may be more hazardous than other well-known risk factors, such as smoking, hypertension, and heart disease.
"Our study showed that a person's exercise capacity, measured by their ability to perform on a treadmill, was a more powerful predictor of mortality than all other risk factors," says lead author Jonathan Myers, PhD, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University. "And it also showed that, regardless of any other risk factors you have, if you're physically fit, you can cut your risk of premature death in half." And you don't have to even break a sweat to gain a few more years of life.
"Just going from being sedentary to being moderately active can cut your risk of coronary artery disease by 30 to 50 percent," says Dr. Myers. "The studies are very consistent that getting half an hour of exercise a day can dramatically reduce your risk of disease and boost health." While the new Institute of Medicine recommendation to get 60 minutes a day of exercise could confer even more benefit, Dr. Myers says that, in a time-crunched world, "just 30 minutes of exercise a day is enough to substantially improve health. Most people would benefit as much from that amount of exercise as from some of the medicines they take."
"Many people still consider exercise an all-or-nothing phenomenon, where they either go all out at the gym or sit on the couch," says southern California RID-spokesperson Suzette K. Smith, Dr PH, a preventive care specialist and registered dietitian. "What we do know is that adding more movement into your days by taking short walks, climbing the stairs, even playing actively with your kids can add up to real health benefits."
She's stopped using the word "exercise" because "it turns many people off," Dr. Smith says. "I tell them to find some form of physical activity they like or are able to do, and schedule about 30 minutes of it into their day." If time is an issue, she recommends that you "break it up, so you move for 10 minutes three times a day or 15 minutes twice a day." Start slowly, and progress gradually until you reach your goal (it is your goal, you know) of being active for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
It's very important that you stick with it for 60 to 90 days. That's how long it may take to make your new activity a habit, notes Dr. Smith. And though it may be hard to believe now, when heaving yourself off the couch is a Herculean task, one day, she promises, you'll actually look forward to it. "After a while, you may find yourself finding excuses to include physical activity in your day instead of making excuses not to," she adds.
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