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The “Whats,” “Whens,” and “Whys” of Exercise

Most of us now know that exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but knowing doesn’t always get us off the couch. Starting a new workout routine, a new class, or just getting back to the gym after some time away can be intimidating.

And if you’re not sure what kind of exercise will work or how much to do, that can be daunting as well. If you’re looking to start a new fitness program or need incentive to get back on track with exercise, here’s some information backed by real research that can help motivate you.

It’s okay to be a “weekend warrior.” Wondering how much and how often you should exercise? Experts say your target should be 150 minutes—two and half hours—of moderate exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous activity (think running, Zumba, or HIIT), or a combination, every week. If your schedule doesn’t allow that much time, getting the job done in just a couple days can still lower your risk of premature death by 30 percent. According to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the reduced risk of life-threatening disease was comparable to that of adults who were active for the same amount of time, but more frequently.

Bad mood? Break a sweat.  Need an incentive to move more at the office? A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Psychology shows that even a 15-minute walk during your lunch break can be enough to boost your mood, improve concentration, and make you feel less fatigued. You’ll also come home happier—something your family/roommates will be sure to appreciate! If you’re tight on time during the workday, pack a lunch. Not only will you have more time to get moving, but you’ll be guaranteed a healthier meal than you’d be getting with takeout.

Boost your heart, lung and brain health. During exercise, we’re often focused on the benefits to our muscles, lungs, and heart. But it’s also a boon to our brain health, too! If you’re concerned about memory loss or at risk for Alzheimer’s, hop in the pool, or lace up those sneakers. Running and swimming quickly elevate your heart rate, pumping more oxygen into the brain. People who regularly exercise also show better glucose metabolism—a key part of brain health, and physical activity not only helps repair and protect brain cells, but promotes new cell growth.

Don’t neglect those muscles. More women are doing weight bearing exercise these days but it bears repeating: strength training won’t leave you bulky, but it will leave you healthier. In addition to building stronger bones and lean muscle mass, picking up those dumbbells will also lower your risk for disease. Women who incorporated strength training into their fitness routine were 30 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and 17 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who didn’t. It’ll also decrease your risk for osteoporosis. Long-term benefits of regular strength training include the prevention of bone loss—as well as the promotion of new growth.

And don’t neglect your mind, either.  It’s important to remember that mental health is as equally important as physical health. Incorporating some kind of mind-body exercise into your fitness routine—whether it’s yoga, tai chi, or meditation—is an integral part of reducing disease-promoting inflammation. It doesn’t have to be hours-long or all the time, either. Just 15 minutes of mindfulness a day can be enough reverse inherited genetic risks, or damage done by chronic inflammation caused by long-term stress.


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