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Quick GuideExercise and Fitness Pictures Slideshow: Top 10 Fitness Facts
7. Psychological Benefits.
Improved self-esteem is one of the top benefits of regular physical activity. While exercising, your body releases chemicals called endorphins that can improve your mood and the way you feel about yourself. The feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as "euphoric" and is accompanied by an energizing outlook. Exercise can help you cope with stress and ward off depression and anxiety.
And these are just a few of the ways exercise improves your health. Studies have suggested it can also help with certain types of cancer, improve immune function, and more.
Putting It All Together: Exercise and a Healthy Diet
Exercise alone produces modest weight loss; when combined with a reduced-calorie diet, the effects are much more impressive.
In a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that people who exercised regularly and ate a healthy, modest-calorie diet lost weight and improved cardiorespiratory fitness regardless of the length or intensity of their workouts.
Another study published in JAMA showed that it is never too late to reap the benefits of physical activity. Sedentary women 65 years and older who began walking a mile a day cut their rates of death from all causes by 50%.
If exercise is so good for us, why aren't people doing it?
Some 64% of men and 72% of women fail to fit in activity on a daily basis, according to data from the 2000 National Health Interview Survey. Americans today are no more active than they were a decade ago.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a combination of aerobic exercise (the type that makes you breathe harder, like walking or jogging) for cardiovascular conditioning; strength training (like lifting weights or calisthenics) for muscle toning, and stretching to improve your range of motion.
Strive for doing all three types, but remember that any exercise is better than nothing. Here are some easy ways to work physical activity into your life:
- Adopt a dog and take it for walks every day.
- Do things the old-fashioned way -- get up and change the television channel; open the garage door manually; use a push lawnmower.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk briskly whenever you can.
- Minimize use of your car; walk to destinations within a mile.
- Take up tennis or any other game or sport you enjoy.
- Join a gym or health club.
Next time you are tempted to skip exercising, keep these wonderful health benefits in mind and remember, every little bit helps. You may not feel up to a rigorous workout, but how about a walk in the neighborhood?
Don't pass up a chance of a lifetime -- that is, a longer and healthier one.
Originally published Jan. 27, 2004.
Medically updated Dec. 9, 2004.
SOURCES: The New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 7, 2002. Stroke, Sept. 19, 2003. Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 16, 2001. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 13, 2002; Sept. 10, 2003; May 14, 2003.