Feel like you’re slowing down? Lost that old vim and vigor? Are you too tired to even think about going for a walk, much less hitting the gym?
You’re probably not going to like what I’m about to say. But it’s my job to say it anyway – that weary feeling is a sign that you need to get moving.
Exercising is counter-intuitive – those times when you least feel like working out are when you need it most.
In fact, when you get depressed the last thing you want to do is exercise. But several good studies confirm that exercise is the best medicine for depression. So if you’re feeling down, stop moping and get moving.
And yes, you do need it. The science is clear on the many benefits of exercising and the health impact of not moving.
Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and the rest of your body, reduces risk of depression, combats stress, makes weight management easier, strengthens bones, improves sleep, and supplies the cells in your body with the oxygen they need to function properly.
When you don’t exercise, you age faster, experience steadily deteriorating overall health, and risk developing blood clots by avoiding exercise.
On the other hand, if you do exercise, you’ll strengthen your heart – remember, the heart is a muscle! – and improve your overall health in ways that no medication can.
And if you have a chronic health condition, like heart disease, being sedentary can make the situation worse.
For example, even heart failure patients benefit from exercise, according to a new study. The ability to tackle everyday activities, often difficult for individuals with heart failure, improved with regular exercise, say researchers, along with strength and endurance.
Arthritis pain? Exercise helps that, too. Even something as gentle and slow moving as Tai Chi, a system of exercise based on meditative movements, does the job. Researchers reviewing previous clinical trials found that Tai Chi relieved pain and improved physical functioning in patients with arthritis of the knee.
Then there are the unexpected benefits. Researchers say there’s one area where exercise really shines, and that is in maintaining a healthy brain.
Here’s how that works: Hardening of the arteries plays an enormous role not just in heart disease, but in stroke, too.
Flexible arteries – in your heart and brain – can handle the force of blood pressure much better than those that are rigid and can’t expand.
One of the best ways to keep arteries soft and flexible is with exercise. That’s why your risk of heart attack or stroke escalates when you’re sedentary.
So do yourself a favor and schedule time to work out at least five times a week. I recommend being active for 45 to 60 minutes daily, five or six days per week.
The best exercise program is one that you’ll actually follow through on.
So try walking, dancing, yoga, stretching, resistance training (specially designed rubber bands are a lightweight alternative to weights), swimming, biking, or another activity you enjoy.
You’ll start experiencing benefits almost immediately. But only if you avoid making this all-too-common exercise error.
Too often, I’ll discover that my patients have been working out daily. But afterward, they sit. And sit. And sit some more.
And that is a huge mistake. No matter how much you sweat during each exercise session, being sedentary for the rest of the day literally wipes out all that hard work.
Instead, break up the exercise time so you’re active throughout the day. That could mean a short stretching session first thing in the morning, a 10-minute walk after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a little yoga or Tai Chi before bed.
In addition, you should get up every 20 minutes and walk or stretch for two minutes. Moving frequently prevents blood clots from forming, stimulates circulation, and invigorates your body.
A patient I’ll call Kathy avoided exercise like the plague, even though she desperately wanted to lose weight. Then her younger sister died from a heart attack. Finally, Kathy followed through on the exercise advice I’d been giving her and began an after-meal walking program.
The results were so beneficial, she decided to do more. Now Kathy sets a timer on her computer, gets up and walks down the hall or climbs a flight of stairs every 20 minutes or so.
“So far, I’ve lost about a pound a week,” she explained. “And now the weight is staying off, which it never did with just dieting alone.
“I’m finding that when I move more, my brain works better and I get work done more quickly. I never knew exercise had mental benefits. I’m sold!”
Remember, the pay-offs from exercise are huge, and your whole body – including your brain – benefits.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: September 16, 2014