Have you ever heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen”? It’s true, we can’t out-run or out-exercise an unhealthy diet. Be that as it may, exercise is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. However, that doesn’t mean you must spend hours at the gym. In this sense exercise refers more to being active in general.
One of the major benefits exercise offers is the positive effect it has on cardiovascular health. Experts in the field including the CDC, the American Heart Association, the American College of Sports Medicine and the US Surgeon General all agree that those who are more active develop less coronary heart disease than those that tend to be more sedentary. When we increase our heart rate during exercise we are training our heart, just like we do any other muscle.
A healthy heart pushes out more blood with each beat, decreasing the amount of stress on the heart and arteries, resulting in lower blood pressure. Regular cardio-based exercise can help prevent heart attacks by improving blood flow and increasing circulation in the small arteries around the heart where blockages often occur. It’s never too late to start, studies have shown that even after suffering from a heart attack, incorporating regular exercise into our daily routine can reduce the risk of death by up to 25%.
One reason for this is when we exercise our body releases endorphins, and endorphins make us happy. Endorphins are chemicals produced by our body to alleviate pain and promote pleasure. They often result in a feeling of happiness or euphoria and are found to reduce pain, increase pleasure, reduce stress, anxiety and depression, improve mood and boost self-esteem.
There are numerous other ways our bodies benefit from regular exercise. Adults who exercise regularly report reduced time to fall asleep, less laying awake a night and are even less likely to experience sleep apnea. Results of better sleep include increased energy during the day and a reduced need for sleep medications.
Exercise can also be a tool to strengthen our immune system and prevent disease. When we exercise, it increases the production of white blood cells which help destroy harmful bacteria and viruses. Physical activity promotes the movement of these blood cells throughout our bodies and can last for up to three hours after the exercise is completed.
Strength training specifically (which includes body weight, weight training or resistance bands) can help reduce the risk of injury by strengthening bones and muscles. As we get older, we gradually lose bone mass. By adding stress with strength training, we can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures as we age. Engaging in muscle-strengthening exercise increases the muscle’s strength, size, power and endurance. This, in turn, can help when performing daily activities and protect our bodies from injury. Stretching can also help with joint pain and injury prevention by increasing flexibility and circulation.
When trying a new exercise routine it’s important to start small and work your way to more intense workouts. If you are new to exercise, a great place to start is a daily step count. I wear a fitness watch and aim for 10,000 steps a day – I may or may not do laps around my living room at night to get those last few steps in each day. It takes some effort, especially if you work a desk job, but taking breaks throughout the day to get up and do a lap or two around the parking lot or around the block can really add up.
Once you’ve got that down and are ready for something more intense, add cardio and strength training workouts to your routine. High Intensity Interval (HIIT) workouts incorporate short bursts of high intensity work with longer periods of lower intensity workout. This is a great option if you are looking to get a great workout in a shorter amount of time.
Change things up to keep from losing interest. If you do the same thing every day not only will you get bored, the more you practice a certain routine the better you become at it so after time the same workout that used to be difficult becomes easier and less challenging. Even when we take a day off from strenuous exercise, it’s still important to stay active, as opposed to vegging out on the couch and watching Netflix all day (guilty).
Do What’s Best For You
Realistically a small percentage of us are going to be ripped. We aren’t professional athletes and can’t spend that much time at the gym. There are some lucky individuals who naturally have a slim, muscular physique, kudos to you. You may be toned with little effort. However most off us would have to eat a strict diet and spend more time than I’m willing lifting heavy weights.
Instead of focusing on unrealistic goals (unless your goal is to be super buff, then go for it!), do what you enjoy. Hate running? Don’t run. Love riding your bike? Amazing, do that. Enjoy going to the gym? Great, go! Prefer to workout at home? No problem, find a YouTube trainer you like and do that.
I Exercise 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day. I used to workout 7 days a week, an hour a day. I’ve slowly allowed myself to be where I am now. Was I any healthier, any stronger, any more toned when I forced myself to exercise every day? Nope. The moral of the story, is do what you enjoy. Make sure you are active throughout the day and try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise 3 – 5 days a week, whatever that looks like for you.
If you haven’t exercised for some time or you have health concerns, you may want to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.