You already know that exercise is good for you. What you may not know is just how good — or exactly what qualifies as exercise. We have known that exercise is good for us for centuries...Hippocrates wrote about the dangers of too little activity (and too much food). Tai chi, an exercise system of graceful movements that originated in China, dates from the 12th century B.C. Yoga's roots in India go back much further.
So, why should you exercise? Here are four important health reasons:
Exercise helps prevent heart disease. We're used to hearing about exercise fending off heart attacks. The American Heart Association published its first set of exercise guidelines in 1972. If you're physically active, your heart gets trained to beat slower and stronger, so it needs less oxygen to function well; your arteries get springier, so they push your blood along better; and your levels of "good" HDL cholesterol go up.
Exercise helps prevent diabetes. Physical activity helps prevent diabetes. Muscles that are used to working stay more receptive to insulin, the hormone that ushers blood sugar into cells, so in fit individuals blood sugar levels aren't as likely to creep up.
Exercise helps the fight against some cancers. Research has shown that physical activity may play a role in combating some cancers specifically: breast, colon, endometrial, perhaps ovarian. The effect of physical activity on breast cancer prevention may be stronger after menopause than before, although some research suggests that it takes quite a lot to make a difference: four to seven hours of moderate to vigorous activity a week. Studies have found that if you've had colon cancer or breast cancer, physical activity reduces the chances of it coming back.
Exercise helps the brain. Several studies have found that exercise can reduce the symptoms of depression, and it changes the brain in ways similar to antidepressant medications. In old age, physical activity may delay the slide of cognitive decline into dementia, and even once that process has started, exercise can improve certain aspects of thinking.
Below is a free "kick start" fitness program designed by the experts at the American Council on Exercise (ACE).