By Dr. Mercola
A report summarizing data from the 2009 National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides national estimates for a broad range of health measures for the U.S. population.
Estimates were calculated for selected chronic conditions, selected mental health characteristics, functional limitations, health status, health care access, and health behaviors.
One set of data looked at physical leisure-time activity. The survey showed that:
- 33 percent of adults were considered "inactive"
- 35 percent of adults engaged in leisure-time physical activity on a regular basis
- More than half of adults over the age of 18 never engaged in any vigorous leisure-time physical activity lasting 10 minutes or more per week
- 28 percent of adults engage in periods of vigorous leisure-time physical activity lasting more than 10 minutes or more, three or more times per week
- Men engaged in leisure-time physical activity on a regular basis more often than women.
According to the report:
"Regarding vigorous leisure-time physical activity, 50 percent of men never engaged in periods of vigorous leisure-time physical activity lasting 10 minutes or more per week compared with 60 percent of women. Thirty-one percent of men engaged in such activities three or more times per week compared with 25 percent of women."
The Importance of Remaining Physically Active
The fact that more than half of all American adults NEVER engage in any type of physical exercise at all is troubling because such profound lack of exercise can have severe health repercussions. The reason why women are less active than men may be because men in general tend to be more involved with group sports. Women also tend to carry a heavier burden running the household and caring for children, often working as well, which leaves less time for leisure activities.
Whatever your reasons, regardless of your sex, a growing body of research clearly shows that "exercise deficiency" threatens your overall health and mental well-being, and shortens your lifespan.
- In one 2010 study, published by the American Cancer Society, women who spent six hours a day sitting down increased their risk of death by 37 percent compared to those who spent less than three hours a day sitting down.
- According to a 2009 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the more time you spend sitting down, the greater your risk of dying from all causes.
- Less physical activity leaves you more prone to depression because you have lower levels of endorphins or feel-good hormones. Numerous studies have demonstrated that exercise may in fact the one of the most powerful strategies for depression, out-performing anti-depressants.
- A study featured in Clinical Cardiology showed that morbidly obese individuals – those with body mass indexes between 40 and 49.9 – spent on average just over 23 hours and 50 min per day either sleeping or engaged in sedentary activity, and took less than 2,500 steps daily, which is far below the recommended 10,000 steps for healthy living. Needless to say, obesity has been linked to five of the top 10 diseases with the highest mortality rates: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and stroke.
- Obesity and physical inactivity makes your body less sensitive to the glucose-lowering effects of insulin. Insulin resistance leads to higher blood levels of insulin, which can increase your risk of at least 20 serious diseases and health conditions that are directly attributable to being overweight. As for overweight children, teens and young adults, it's important to realize that carrying excess weight early in life increases the number of years they're exposed to all the health risks associated with obesity.
The benefits of regular exercise are so numerous, summarizing them all would easily require an entire book or two, but below are a dozen examples. For more information about how exercise can help you prevent or treat the following conditions, please review the hyperlinked articles:
Two Factors Influenced by Exercise Account for Many of its Health Benefits
While the biological influence of exercise cannot easily be summed up, I'd like to point out two factors that are strongly influenced by physical activity, which helps explain how the benefits of exercise can be so far-reaching:
- Exercise reduces your insulin levels and helps normalize your insulin receptor sensitivity, and this is the single most important physical factor responsible for decelerating and preventing nearly every chronic disease known to man
- Exercise helps prevent telomere shortening, which drives cellular aging, making it a very powerful anti-aging strategy. It does this by activating the enzyme telomerase, which stabilizes telomeres, producing an anti-aging effect at the cellular level. Research indicates physically active people have significantly less erosion of telomeres than even healthy, non-smoking, but sedentary folks.
How to Overcome Resistance to Exercise
Probably the most common reason people give for not exercising is that they don't have enough time. I would ask you to start thinking about exercise as being every bit as important as eating, sleeping and breathing. This is precisely what I do and I can confidently assure you that I work my schedule around my exercise. I rarely let anything ever interfere with it. I seek to work out every day, but nearly always alternate hard workouts with easy ones like Pilates or Power Plate stretching. My hard workouts are once a week doing a Peak Fitness workout on the elliptical, and three strength training days.
Once you start viewing it as a necessity rather than a 'leisure activity,' you may finally discover that there's time for it after all. The trick to making time for exercise is to view it as a non-negotiable part of your day. You need to place a high priority on it and schedule your day around the exercise; not the other way around. Another way to look at it is to view exercise as a drug, and actually write out a prescription for it, based on factors such as:
- your current physical condition
- your fitness goals
- your health concerns
- activities you enjoy
- best time of day for you to workout
A great tool for creating your own exercise prescription is my Daily Exercise Table. If you are overweight or have other health concerns, your goal should be to do Sprint 8's up to three times per week and once you reach your ideal body weight cut back to one or two per week. Remember if you are doing these workouts properly, you should really never do it more than three times a week. Additionally you should add strength workouts to your regimen as the increased muscle mass will help reduce fat.
As for age, please don't use that as an excuse because no matter what your age, exercise can provide enormous benefits for your health. And it actually becomes increasingly important with age. Ditto for pregnant women and those with serious diseases like cancer. Within the last two years, health authorities have begun urging people in both of these categories to engage in regular exercise to promote a healthy pregnancy and successful recovery.
Getting Back Into the Exercise Groove
If you're just getting back into exercising, you'll need to work your way up slowly. Trying to do too much at once can lead to burnout and make you less likely to continue your program. To start, you might try walking interspersed with a period of fast walking to incorporate the Peak Fitness ideology. Then, as your body grows more conditioned, you can increase to a higher intensity workout. A sound, well-rounded regimen will include the following types of exercises:
- High intensity interval exercises
- Conventional aerobics
- Strength training
- Core exercises like Pilates
- Stretching like Yoga or active isolated stretching
If you experience emotional resistance, you may want to try a few of the recommendations from the article Five Ways to Pick up the Exercise Habit Again. As you remove the emotional resistance that is keeping you from exercising, and plan regular workouts to fit into your schedule, you'll have an easier time sticking to your exercise routine. And the more you exercise -- and therefore the more benefits you experience -- the more addictive it becomes.
At that point, you won't need enormous levels of discipline. You'll simply feel so good, you won't want to stop and lose that feeling.