Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. If you don’t keep it strong with regular physical activity, your whole body will suffer. You won’t feel as good as you could. Your enjoyment and participation in life will suffer, and your life will be shorter. Fully 20 percent of all deaths over age 35 are due to a lack of physical activity.

Your heart needs to be worked and pushed to stay healthy. Regular physical activity helps protect against a first heart attack, helps patients recover from heart surgery and reduces the risk of having another heart attack.

Inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease. At least a third of all heart disease deaths are due to a sedentary lifestyle. Being inactive (sedentary) is as potentially harmful as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol. In addition to heart disease, inactivity raises your risk of developing diabetes, obesity, certain types of cancer, and anxiety and depression; it reduces your skeletal muscle mass.

Sooner or later your health will deteriorate if you don’t move more. Couch potatoes miss out on a lot of good living that an active lifestyle offers. Think of the things you love to do and imagine if you couldn’t participate because of poor health. Travel, playing with your grandkids or pets, hunting or playing sports, an all-day shopping trip, throwing a family barbeque – you don’t want to miss a moment of the good life. The choice is yours.

What are the benefits of activity?

A healthier body. It’s almost impossible to be healthy without getting some type of regular physical activity. One study from Australia showed that each hour spent watching TV is linked to an 18 percent increase in the risk of dying from heart disease. Activity can reduce your “bad” LDL cholesterol level and increase “good” HDL cholesterol, control high blood pressure, lower your risk for diabetes, and achieve and maintain a healthy weight. An increasing number of studies show that exercise reduces inflammation, a cause of many of the chronic conditions that plague so many of us.

Energy balance. Physical activity, exercise, movement, aerobic activity – whatever you want to call it – helps you achieve energy balance. Energy balance means the number of calories you take in through food and beverages is equal to the number of calories you use being active. Energy IN equals energy OUT. When your energy is balanced, your weight stays the same.

A healthier brain. Physical activity provides a huge boost to mental functioning, memory, productivity and reducing stress. It causes your brain to release chemicals made in your body called endorphins that reduce stress naturally.

Better mood. Exercise has been proven to reduce depression, anxiety and helps dispel the frustration of just having a bad day.

Setting a good example for the children in your extended family and neighborhood. Nearly half of Arkansas’ children are either overweight or obese. This means a lifetime of bad health, higher medical costs and a shortened life expectancy. Modeling healthy exercise helps set children on the road to becoming healthy adults.

Saves money on health care costs. Inactive people have more doctor visits, hospitalizations, more days of illness, more chronic conditions and take more medications. You’ll also pay more co-payments. Inactive people have less productivity so your job or other tasks can suffer.

Fully 60 percent of Americans report that they are physically inactive. Only about 22 percent of Americans report regular, sustained physical activity (activity of any intensity lasting 30 minutes or more 5 times a week). About 15 percent of Americans report vigorous activity (activity intense enough to make you breathe harder and your heart beat faster for at least 20 minutes, 3 times a week).

Physical inactivity is more prevalent among women, blacks and Hispanics, older adults and the less affluent. People with less than a high school education are also more likely to be sedentary. In addition, people who are physically disabled, people with injures that limit movement, adolescents and adults who are overweight are more likely to have a sedentary lifestyle.

Our modern sedentary lifestyle is partly caused by how our lives have changed over the past 70 years. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased 83 percent since 1950. Physically active jobs now make up less than 20 percent of the U.S. workforce, down from roughly half of all jobs in 1960. Twenty years ago, many of the things we do now while sitting used to require movement – shopping in stores versus online shopping, walking to do errands versus driving, home delivery of a prepared dinner versus going grocery shopping and cooking dinner for the family, unwinding on the couch after work versus gardening or walking your dog.

Are you ready to make a change?

If you’re ready to fully commit to leaving your sedentary lifestyle in the dust, here are some things that can help. Your personal commitment to adopting a more active lifestyle is essential to your success.

Reduce the amount of time you sit for a long period of time. People who regularly sit for a long time have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and death. Any extended sitting – at a desk, driving, or crashing on the couch to watch TV for a couple of hours – is harmful. Sixty-five percent of Americans watch at least two hours of TV every day.

Incorporate movement throughout your day, every day. Even if you’re getting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day, it matters what you do the other 23 hours of the day. National Institutes of Health researchers say that while high levels of regular exercise can lessen some of the risks of too much sitting, being active all day long helps more. The danger point of sitting seems to be about 10 hours a day. Sitting more than 10 hours a day dramatically increases your heart and lung disease risk. On average, Americans sit about 11 hours per day.

If you sit at a desk all day, aim for 10 minutes out of every hour of standing, walking around (take the long way to the restroom or coffee pot), stretching, turning and bending at your desk. Stretching works well in an office because it’s quick and easy, you won’t break a sweat and it can be done without disturbing your co-workers. Stretching improves blood circulation, flexibility and posture; reduces stress; and can reduce or prevent back pain caused by too much sitting.

Use your lunch break to be active. This may involve bringing your lunch, so you don’t spend all your break driving to get fast food or standing in a cafeteria line. Start by walking just a few blocks to get this habit established. And, bring your lunch buddies with you so you can still enjoy the social time.

On your work breaks, walk up and down the stairs, walk to your co-worker’s desk when you need to get or give information, stand whenever you can—conference calls, returning calls, even in meetings. Standing uses more muscles and burns more calories than sitting. Taking a brisk walk in the afternoon and you will be much more productive in your last couple of work hours. Research shows that humans tend to lose full focus and energy due to body fatigue after 90 to 120 minutes. Moving your body at least that often helps your brain better consolidate and retain information.

Rearrange how the office works (with your supervisor’s approval), such as walk-and-talk meetings, standing meetings (they’re always shorter without chairs), or try moving trash cans out of cubicles so people must move around to throw things away. Rearrange your work schedule so you can take 10- 15-minute walk breaks, instead of gossiping by the water cooler. Encourage your gossip mates to come with you.

Keep it movin’ for the rest of the day. Start developing your own whole-day approach to physical activity. While you’re cooking do some leg lifts. If you’re watching TV, use the commercials to do floor exercises such as planks and other core exercises, run in place or dance. Stretch while you are on your cell phone. The type of movement you do is not as important as the fact that you’re moving. It’s the movement that improves your health. Start slow and add a little more activity every day or week. If you want to lose weight, you’ll need to build in more activity and more strenuous activity and reduce your calorie intake. Adults need to burn an extra 3,500 calories a week to lose one pound. It’s very difficult to lose weight through exercise alone without adjusting calorie intake.

Make it fun. Everyone likes to have fun but who likes to exercise? Those who enjoy exercising are doing something they love – a sport or an active hobby. Try revisiting some of the activities you enjoyed as a child. Doing activities you love makes exercise fun. You can forget yourself and your troubles. It’s no longer work, or something to endure until you’ve done the required number of reps. If it’s fun, you’ll stay motivated – motivation is one of the biggest hurdles when starting an activity plan.

Cut down on sedentary activities such as video games, cell phone and tablet use, TV and other screen time. If you’re spending time in front of a screen, you’re not moving. Another health-related reason to reduce screen time is because an increasing number of studies show that blue light emitted from electronics makes us unhappy, decreases the amount and quality of our sleep, and contributes to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. A multi-year national study of teens reconfirms each year that every activity that did not involve screen time (exercising, playing sports, meeting friends in person, reading or doing homework) was linked to more happiness. Teens who spent more than five hours a day online were twice as likely to be unhappy as those who spent less than an hour a day. The longer teens were online, the lower their self-esteem, satisfaction with their life, satisfaction with their friends and the amount of fun they said they were having. Among adults, those who gave up Facebook for a week ended the week feeling happier, less lonely and less depressed, compared to those who continued using Facebook.

How much exercise do I need?

Here’s what the experts recommend:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that every adult get:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic (cardio) activity on 3-5 days a week; or, vigorous-intensity cardio physical activity on 3-5 days for a minimum of 75 minutes each week, and
  • 8-10 strength-training exercises, with 8-12 repetitions of each exercise, twice each week

The American Heart Association recommends 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-4 times per week.

Moderate-intensity activities include pleasure walking, climbing stairs, gardening, yard work, moderate-to-heavy housework, dancing and home exercise.

Vigorous aerobic activities include brisk walking, running, swimming, bicycling, roller skating and jumping rope. This level of activity is best for improving heart and lung fitness.

What exercise is most effective?

A large, 10-year European study analyzed the types of activity that are most effective in improving health and reducing deaths. Researchers found significant reductions in deaths from any cause for racket sports like tennis (47% reduction), swimming (28%), aerobics (27%) and bicycling (15%). Running and soccer were not associated with a significant decline in risk.

The same study analyzed the risk of dying from heart disease and again found racket sports provided the most reduction in risk (56%), followed by swimming (41%) and aerobics (36%). No reduction was found for bicycling, running or soccer. Racket sports, swimming and aerobics involve both the upper and lower body in vigorous exercise, making the heart work harder. Researchers added that, regardless of activity, the more often they exercised, the greater the decline in risk of death.

Another way to incorporate more movement into your day is to wear a pedometer and work up to at least 10,000 steps per day. Start by adding 1,000 steps each week to your current daily total until you work up to 10,000.

Always talk with your doctor before you start a new exercise plan. Ask about how much and what kinds of physical activity are safe for you.

There’s more information on staying motivated to exercise here:


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