Since your childhood, you have most likely heard the health benefits of regular exercise expounded by everyone from your gym teacher to your parents. When you were young, it may not have seemed difficult to run around outside, bike through your neighborhood with friends or take an entire Saturday afternoon to shoot some hoops with your classmates. However, exercise typically takes a bit more thought as you grow older.
At this point in your life, you may find it incredibly difficult to take even 15 minutes for some exercise outdoors let alone an hour several times each week for an in-person exercise class at a local workout facility. However, when you learn just how important regular exercise is to overall physical and mental health, you will think twice about just how low of a priority you have made physical activity. In fact, a renewed emphasis on smart exercise habits can help you grow older with grace, dignity and fewer chronic health conditions and may even be able to increase your longevity.
If you are considering starting up a new exercise routine but do not know where to start or are wondering just how much this daily habit could help you, read on for some tips and a brief look at the research proving the benefits of physical activity.
Types of Exercise
Exercise comes in many forms, allowing you to find the one that best meets your needs, hits your body goals and meshes with your likes and dislikes. Ideally, you will combine several different types of exercise to create a well-rounded routine. However, you will find that there are certain times your body clearly seems to need one type of high-intensity exercise while there are other times your body needs to rest with simple flexibility routines. As you try out a variety of exercises, you will learn what works best for you.
Exercises can be broadly categorized into aerobic and anaerobic activities. Both have their benefits and both can be part of a healthy lifestyle. In general, aerobic exercise is the more well-known of the two as some of the most popular activities, including walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, rowing and elliptical training, fall into this category.
Aerobic exercise is so named because your body will require high amounts of oxygen to power the large muscles that are working during these activities. Your heart rate and respiratory rate will go up to help send oxygenated blood to your muscle cells. For the best results, aerobic exercise should be performed for a minimum of 150 minutes per week according to the American Heart Association.
On the other hand, anaerobic exercise does not increase oxygen consumption in the body because the body instead breaks down glucose to fuel muscle cells. Because the cells run low on oxygen, they produce lactic acid. Anaerobic activities also come in several formats and either rely on intense work for muscle groups or incredibly high-powered bursts of activities. Strength training is one option. However, sprinting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are two other common options.
In general, aerobic exercises tend to be gentler on the body. However, anaerobic activities may be able to burn the same number of calories in a shorter time depending on the type of activity chosen. Both types are helpful to the body and can provide similar health benefits. You may find that combining both types of exercise throughout your week will leave you feeling your best.
In addition, you will not want to overlook gentler stretching activities. Although this type of exercise does not burn many calories, it can help you become more flexible, making future, higher-intensity activities safer. Without regular stretching, your muscles can actually become shorter and may not function as well as you would like them to for other activities. In fact, short muscles can lead to muscle cramps and strains. Flexibility routines are best done when your muscles are already warm following an aerobic or anaerobic workout.
Health Benefits of Regular Exercise
Over time, regular physical activity can provide a myriad of impressive results. Many of these will show up clearly in your body while others will become more evident as you find yourself staying healthier longer. From increased strength and endurance to fewer chronic illnesses, these benefits can help you feel more energized while also saving you money on future health care bills. Some of the top physical benefits of exercise according to the Mayo Clinic include the following:
- Improved heart health
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased cholesterol
- Prevention or management of type 2 diabetes
- Lowered risk of stroke
- Decreased risk of many types of cancer, including colon, uterine, lung and breast cancers
- Improved sleep
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Reduced risk of falls
- Decreased pain from arthritis
- Weight management
- Improved sexual health for men and women
That is not all that regular exercise will do. Although the effects on your mind and emotions may not be as noticeable immediately as improved flexibility and strength are, they are nonetheless present. Exercise has been shown to boost the mood thanks to the feel-good hormones called endorphins that are released during activity. In addition, you may feel more energized and focused following your workout routine. Research has even shown that exercise can decrease anxiety and depression while reducing stress.
You may be surprised to learn that exercise may even be able to help you live longer. As you can imagine, decreasing the many chronic illnesses listed above can keep you feeling younger longer than you may have imagined. In addition, research proves that physical activity can reduce your risk of dying from some of the most common diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. You do not even have to exercise for long periods or engage in very vigorous workout routines to see improvements. Instead, you can benefit even from smaller amounts of moderate-intensity exercise.
Starting Up an Exercise Routine
If you have not been exercising regularly before now, you will want to take some time as you get into a new routine. Jumping in with too much intensity all at once may leave you feeling not only tired and unmotivated but also stiff and in pain. Of course, you will also want to check with your personal physician to ensure that the exercises you would like to do will work well for your level of overall health.
The National Institute on Aging recommends that you slowly build on your current fitness level to reduce your risk of injury. Try working out once or twice per week, ensuring that you have at least one rest day built in between your sessions. As you get used to this routine, increase your exercising gradually until you are working out between three to five times each week. Try not to worry about how well you are doing or about improving in your physical fitness. At this point, the biggest indicator of your success is how regular you are in sticking to your workout routine.
Of course, the key to refusing to give up on your newfound exercise routine is to ensure that you are doing something you love. While walking is typically an easy exercise that you can do without any special equipment, you may find that you prefer a different type of activity or environment. You may find that a group sport, such as tennis, works well for you or that you prefer the accountability of an in-person workout class. You may want to try several different exercises before choosing two or three that most appeal to you and that you could imagine yourself doing several times each week.
In addition, remember that you do not have to commit to a specific type of workout class if that does not appeal to you. There are many ways that you can get plenty of exercise in your everyday life or in doing some of the things that you have loved for years. You might want to consider doing more outdoor gardening work during the warmer months, parking further away from stores or taking the stairs as often as possible.
Of course, good nutrition is vital for fueling your body both before and after each of your workouts. Without the proper vitamins and minerals, you will not have the strength to perform well. In addition, your body needs the proper amount of macronutrients, most notably carbohydrates and proteins. Even if you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, you will need enough nutrients to keep you from injury and even from hormonal imbalance.
Carbohydrates are a very important fuel that your muscles need to function properly. Try to consume a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal following your workout. If you focus on moderate-intensity workouts, you will need between 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of your weight daily.
Proteins are also important as they are the building blocks your body uses to repair itself. You should consider adding a protein-rich snack both before and after your workout. Ideally, consume your snack within 15 minutes of working out to improve energy and muscle repair.
Exercising As You Age
As you age, you may find that you may not be able to perform the same type of activities for the same amount of time and at the same level of intensity as you once could. However, some activity is always better than nothing and will still give you some of the great health benefits listed above. Try to be as active as your body will allow you to be within the confines put in place by your physician.
Pay attention to how your body feels as you exercise and during the hours following your exercise. If you have too much discomfort or stiffness, you may need to lower the intensity of your activities. You may also find that you need more time than you once did to recuperate between activities. Try taking at least one rest day between every active day. This should still give you the ability to work out at least two to three times per week. If you find that you need to take a longer period to recuperate, such as after an illness or surgery, you will want to get your body back into regular activity slowly, paying careful attention to how you feel as you progress.
As you can see, regular exercise does not have to feel as if it is a drain on your energy. You can keep it fun and make it fit into your everyday life. By working to increase your activity levels now, you can reap long-term rewards in your physical and mental health and may even find that you enjoy the aging process more than you would have thought possible.