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It’s common for people to have a love-hate relationship with exercise. We know regular physical activity is a key to good health, but it can be difficult to make exercise a priority. The health benefits are indeed undeniable. Studies show frequent exercise reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and some cancers. It also helps prevent high blood pressure, helps manage stress and eases the symptoms of depression. Physical activity reduces the risk of falls, increases strength and is an effective way to manage weight.
Committing to regular exercise often fails because people have the misconception that exercise has to be “a program.” The reality is that beneficial physical activity can occur right in your own home with simple exercises or by walking in your neighborhood. For cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends adults engage in moderate physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week. This equals just 30 minutes a day, five days a week. While the definition of “moderate activity” depends on each person’s fitness level, in general people should aim for exercising at an intensity that elevates their heart rate. For some, this is brisk walking; for others, it could be jogging or running. Engaging in exercise that allows you to speak, but not sing, is a good way to gauge whether or not your heart rate is elevated. Personal activity trackers record heart rate, as well as number of steps, and can be helpful in meeting exercise and fitness goals.
Establishing a personal exercise routine takes time and planning. Remember that any physical activity that goes beyond what you normally do during the day will have some health benefits. This is true even if you’re able to carve out just 10-15 minutes of exercise a couple of times a day. Other points to consider:
• Start slow, set reasonable goals and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you’re not able to exercise for a day or two, let it go and focus instead on getting back on track.
• Think about unconventional ways to get up and move like walking during a lunch break, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking at the far end of the lot and walking to the entrance.
• Some people find it helpful to treat longer periods of exercise like any other meeting or appointment by blocking the time on their calendar.
If you have chronic illness or a history of health issues, be sure to talk to your primary care provider before starting regular exercise. He or she can offer advice and help you set realistic goals based on your current health and physical fitness.