Benefits now and later

By Jo Finzi

Did you know that more than 60 per cent of women don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, and one in four women aren’t physically active at all?

Even more worrying is that those figures increase staggeringly in women over 55 - nearly 40 percent of whom say they get no leisure-time physical activity.

UAEasy.com pictureYet the benefits of physical activity and exercise are massive, and this is particularly true if you’re middle-aged or older. They affect your body literally from head to toe, contributing more to your overall health and longevity than any pill or diet ever will.

And studies find that your mid-30s through your 40s is a critical time period for determining whether you’ll stay active after menopause. What’s the best reason for exercising more? You’ll probably live longer. One large study of older women found that exercise reduced all causes of death in postmenopausal women.

Here are some good reasons to start you exercise regime. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure, reduces levels of “bad” cholesterol while raising levels of “good” cholesterol and slows your resting heart rate so it works more efficiently. In one study, women who walked briskly for three or more hours per week slashed their risk of heart disease by 35 percent.

Several studies have found that physically active women experience less intense and fewer symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes. In one survey of 625 runners aged 34 to 72 (average age 51), three-quarters said running had a positive impact on menopause, one-third said it improved their mood and overall emotional status, and a quarter said it decreased menopausal symptoms.

Physical activity also reduces your risk of colon cancel; perhaps by helping food move through the digestive tract more quickly, thus limiting the contact of cancer-causing chemicals with the cells that line the colon. It also reduces the risk of kidney stones, gallstone surgery and diverticular disease.

Weight-bearing exercise three or four times a week, like walking, riding a bike or lifting weights, not only strengthens muscle, but also strengthens bone, helping increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis.

Exercise can also lower the risk of the disease women fear most: breast cancer. A study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health Fitness Journal of 26,000 women found that women who exercised at least four hours a week had 37 percent fewer breast cancers than sedentary women. Researchers think that moderate to high activity levels lower a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen, a primary risk factor for breast cancer.

Exercise has numerous emotional benefits, too. It can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer and deeper, and relieve depression. One study found that just 30 minutes of daily walking on a treadmill at various intensities worked faster than medication to lift depression. But even if you’re not depressed, the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins during physical activity can provide a euphoric feeling.

Then there are exercise’s well-studied stress-reducing benefits. In study after study, aerobic exercise (i.e., walking) reduces anxiety, improves depression, helps you better cope with stress and contributes to a positive mood, self-esteem and mental functioning. Not bad for a brisk march around the block.

Excuses, excuses

So if the benefits of exercise are so clearly significant, why isn’t every woman out there running, biking, walking, swimming, lifting or any of the other numerous activities that are out theret?

“The number one barrier we hear is ‘I don’t have the time,’” says Bess H. Marcus, PhD, who directs the Physical Activity Research Center at Brown University Medical School in Providence, RI. The centre conducts scientific research on various aspects of physical activity and health.

That may be due to the mistaken belief that physical activity means hard, intense exercise, the kind that makes you drip with sweat and leaves your muscles aching the next morning.

Get over it, say exercise experts. You can gain significant benefits in as little as 30 minutes a day of physical activity, ranging from vigorously cleaning your house to riding your bike to swimming laps.

And you don’t need to do it all at once; you can break your exercise into smaller increments that together add up to 30 minutes. That’s why many exercise experts were alarmed by the recent recommendation from the Institute of Medicine that Americans need 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

“That’s a recommendation for weight loss, not health,” Dr. Marcus says reassuringly. So if you’re trying to lose weight, yes, you need to increase the amount of physical activity you get (and decrease the amount you eat). But if you’re focused on health, 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity should do it.

Which brings us to the next confusing issue around physical activity: Just what do they mean when they say “moderate intensity?”

“Moderate intensity is walking between three to four miles an hour with some urgency, like you’re late for an appointment or to catch a bus,” says Dr. Marcus. “It’s definitely not strolling.” In otherwords, you can still talk while doing it, but you’re slightly breathless.

But don’t get all hung up about time and intensity, says Dr. Marcus. “The most important way for people to be able to stick with physical activity is to be flexible in their approach. Particularly women.”

That means walking around the block while your child is at piano practice. Doing a light jog or a brisk walk around the soccer field while your kids practice. Using a 15-minute break at work to briskly walk up and down the stairs, or a free half hour at home to weed the garden. The important thing is to plan for the activity, and stick to your plan. You’ll soon see the benefits.

Did you know that more than 60 per cent of women don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, and one in four women aren’t physically active at all?

Even more worrying is that those figures increase staggeringly in women over 55 - nearly 40 percent of whom say they get no leisure-time physical activity.

Yet the benefits of physical activity and exercise are massive, and this is particularly true if you’re middle-aged or older. They affect your body literally from head to toe, contributing more to your overall health and longevity than any pill or diet ever will.

And studies find that your mid-30s through your 40s is a critical time period for determining whether you’ll stay active after menopause. What’s the best reason for exercising more? You’ll probably live longer. One large study of older women found that exercise reduced all causes of death in postmenopausal women.

Here are some good reasons to start you exercise regime. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure, reduces levels of “bad” cholesterol while raising levels of “good” cholesterol and slows your resting heart rate so it works more efficiently. In one study, women who walked briskly for three or more hours per week slashed their risk of heart disease by 35 percent.

Several studies have found that physically active women experience less intense and fewer symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes. In one survey of 625 runners aged 34 to 72 (average age 51), three-quarters said running had a positive impact on menopause, one-third said it improved their mood and overall emotional status, and a quarter said it decreased menopausal symptoms.

Physical activity also reduces your risk of colon cancel; perhaps by helping food move through the digestive tract more quickly, thus limiting the contact of cancer-causing chemicals with the cells that line the colon. It also reduces the risk of kidney stones, gallstone surgery and diverticular disease.

Weight-bearing exercise three or four times a week, like walking, riding a bike or lifting weights, not only strengthens muscle, but also strengthens bone, helping increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis.

Exercise can also lower the risk of the disease women fear most: breast cancer. A study published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health Fitness Journal of 26,000 women found that women who exercised at least four hours a week had 37 percent fewer breast cancers than sedentary women. Researchers think that moderate to high activity levels lower a woman’s lifetime exposure to estrogen, a primary risk factor for breast cancer.

Exercise has numerous emotional benefits, too. It can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer and deeper, and relieve depression. One study found that just 30 minutes of daily walking on a treadmill at various intensities worked faster than medication to lift depression. But even if you’re not depressed, the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins during physical activity can provide a euphoric feeling.

Then there are exercise’s well-studied stress-reducing benefits. In study after study, aerobic exercise (i.e., walking) reduces anxiety, improves depression, helps you better cope with stress and contributes to a positive mood, self-esteem and mental functioning. Not bad for a brisk march around the block.

Excuses, excuses

So if the benefits of exercise are so clearly significant, why isn’t every woman out there running, biking, walking, swimming, lifting or any of the other numerous activities that are out theret?

“The number one barrier we hear is ‘I don’t have the time,’” says Bess H. Marcus, PhD, who directs the Physical Activity Research Center at Brown University Medical School in Providence, RI. The centre conducts scientific research on various aspects of physical activity and health.

That may be due to the mistaken belief that physical activity means hard, intense exercise, the kind that makes you drip with sweat and leaves your muscles aching the next morning.

Get over it, say exercise experts. You can gain significant benefits in as little as 30 minutes a day of physical activity, ranging from vigorously cleaning your house to riding your bike to swimming laps.

And you don’t need to do it all at once; you can break your exercise into smaller increments that together add up to 30 minutes. That’s why many exercise experts were alarmed by the recent recommendation from the Institute of Medicine that Americans need 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

“That’s a recommendation for weight loss, not health,” Dr. Marcus says reassuringly. So if you’re trying to lose weight, yes, you need to increase the amount of physical activity you get (and decrease the amount you eat). But if you’re focused on health, 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity should do it.

Which brings us to the next confusing issue around physical activity: Just what do they mean when they say “moderate intensity?”

“Moderate intensity is walking between three to four miles an hour with some urgency, like you’re late for an appointment or to catch a bus,” says Dr. Marcus. “It’s definitely not strolling.” In otherwords, you can still talk while doing it, but you’re slightly breathless.

But don’t get all hung up about time and intensity, says Dr. Marcus. “The most important way for people to be able to stick with physical activity is to be flexible in their approach. Particularly women.”

That means walking around the block while your child is at piano practice. Doing a light jog or a brisk walk around the soccer field while your kids practice. Using a 15-minute break at work to briskly walk up and down the stairs, or a free half hour at home to weed the garden. The important thing is to plan for the activity, and stick to your plan. You’ll soon see the benefits.

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