You probably have a vague sense that exercise is good for you—and you’ve probably heard that it’s “healthy for the heart.” But if you’re like most people, that’s not enough motivation to get you to break a sweat with any regularity. As I report in the TIME cover story, “The Exercise Cure,” only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week, more than half of all baby boomers report doing no exercise whatsoever, and 80.2 million Americans over age 6 are entirely inactive.
Begin standing with feet together. Step the right foot forward and bend the knees into a forward lunge, keeping the right knee in line with the second toe of the right foot; extend the arms forward and drive the fingertips toward the right foot. Push off the right foot and briefly balance on the left leg, keeping the right knee bent 90 degrees and bending both elbows; the palms should be facing one another. With control, step the right foot back into a reverse lunge position, bending both knees while simultaneously reaching both arms overhead. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. Complete a total of eight to 10 reps on the right side before switching to the left.
A combination of aerobic workouts (which, depending on your fitness level, can include walking, running, swimming, and other vigorous heart-pumping exercise) and strength training (weight lifting, resistance training) is considered best for heart health. These exercises improve the muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the circulating blood. That reduces the need for the heart—a muscular organ itself—to work harder to pump more blood to the muscles, whatever your age.
My name is Julie and I am a full-time blogger, new mama, fitness enthusiast (certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor) and food fanatic (mostly healthy... but also not-so-healthy) living in North Carolina with my husband, dog and baby boy. Thank you for visiting Peanut Butter Fingers! I hope you enjoy little glimpses into my life and have fun trying the sweaty workouts I frequently share and making some of my favorite recipes along the way!
Exercise stretches muscles and joints, which in turn can increase flexibility and help prevent injuries. Exercise may also improve balance by increasing strength of the tissues around joints and throughout the body, thus helping to prevent falls. Weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking and weight training, strengthens bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. Exercise often can improve function and reduce pain in people with osteoarthritis, although regimens must be developed specifically for each person, and exercises that put undue strain on joints, such as jumping and running, may need to be avoided.
Dr. Robert Sallis, a family physician at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in California, has prescribed exercise to his patients since the early 1990s in hopes of doling out less medication. “It really worked amazingly, particularly in my very sickest patients,” he says. “If I could get them to do it on a regular basis—even just walking, anything that got their heart rate up a bit—I would see dramatic improvements in their chronic disease, not to mention all of these other things like depression, anxiety, mood and energy levels.”
Whether it’s a pick-up game of soccer, a group class at the gym, or just a run with a friend, exercise rarely happens in a bubble. And that’s good news for all of us. Studies show that most people perform better on aerobic tests when paired up with a workout buddy Aerobic exercise is promoted when individual performance affects the group: a test of the Kohler motivation gain effect. Irwin, B.C., Scorniaenchi, J., Kerr, N.L. et al. Kinesiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2012;44(2):151-9.. Pin it to inspiration or good old-fashioned competition, nobody wants to let the other person down. In fact, being part of a team is so powerful that it can actually raise athletes’ tolerances for pain Rowers’ high: behavioural synchrony is correlated with elevated pain thresholds. Cohen EE, Ejsmond-Frey R, Knight N, Dunbar RI. Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Biology Letters 2010 February 23;6(1):106-8.. Even fitness beginners can inspire each other to push harder during a sweat session, so find a workout buddy and get moving! Two-playered partner exergame for obesity prevention: using discrepancy in players’ abilities as a strategy to motivate physical activity. Feltz, D.L., Irwin, B., Kerr, N. Department of Kinesiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology 2012; 6(4):820-7.
It boosts immunity. Regular exercise can reduce your risk of certain serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. It can also decrease your chances of developing -- and getting stuck with -- more common illnesses, such as flus and colds. (According to one recent study, colds lasted 43 percent longer for people who exercised once a week or less.)
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT500 is faculty in kinesiology and integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University and professor of yoga studies at MiraCosta College, where she helps to grow and mentor the next generation of health and wellness professionals. A dynamic speaker, respected educator, fitness industry veteran and featured wellness expert, Jessica is a trusted and recognized go-to media resource, regularly contributing to numerous publications and outlines on topics ranging from fitness and yoga, to health coaching and career development. Additionally, she serves as ACE’s senior advisor for health and fitness education, and is the lead editor and author of the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Handbook: The Professional’s Guide to Creating Memorable Movement Experiences. You can connect with her at www.jessica-matthews.com, @fitexpertjess (Twitter and Instagram) and www.facebook.com/fitexpertjess.
Endorphins, amiright? The link between exercise and happiness has been well-studied, and the results are very positive (just like you’ll be after some gym time). One study from the University of Vermont found that just 20 minutes of exercise can boost your mood for 12 hours. Cardio and strength training can both give you a lift, and 30-60 minutes of exercise three to five days a week is optimal for mood benefits, according to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.