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Why Should You Exercise? Tips for getting started on a fitness plan


Updated October 30, 2009

Why Should You Exercise?

Studies have shown that regular exercise significantly increases life expectancy and improves overall health. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. It can reduce or improve symptoms of menopause, PMS, diabetes, as well as numerous other conditions. An improved self-image and increased energy level are frequent added benefits of exercise.

Regular exercise is also helpful in the prevention of one of the most common reasons for doctors office visits-- lower back pain. Special exercises for those with back pain are many times beneficial in reducing and/or eliminating lower back pain.

However, safe and injury-free workouts require certain precautions be taken before beginning a new exercise program including seeing your physician first, and for women fifty and over having an exercise stress test to check for any underlying heart problems.

Taking it slow and easy...

Walking offers the easiest, least expensive way to work out for most people. Research shows that people who go from a sedentary lifestyle to one which includes moderate amounts of physical activity derive the most health benefits from exercise.

It's important to start out slowly if you have been inactive for a long period of time. The speed and length of your walk should match your level of fitness. It may be necessary for you to start with just 10 or 15 minutes and increase your walking as you feel able.

A good way to measure weather you are working too hard is if you are unable to carry on a conversation-- if you can't talk-- slow down your walk! A healthy, injury-free walk is one in which you can easily continue talking while you walk.

Back and neck stretch

Stretching the back, neck and abdominal muscles before exercise can prevent sprained backs and necks.

Foot stretching

Foot pain can be prevented by gently stretching the Achilles tendon. Pull your foot backward and hold for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times. Properly fitted and appropriate foot ware is also important in preventing foot injury.

Stretching muscles

Gently stretch all major muscles prior to a workout to prevent muscle strains and pulls. Strengthen the muscles on the front of your thighs by contracting and relaxing the muscle with your knee straight. Contract to the count of ten and relax- repeat 10 times on each leg.

Shin stretching

Shin injury can be prevented with a slow warm-up before and stretching following each workout. Proper arch support is also important as is a soft workout surface-- grass, instead of asphalt.

Shoulder stretch

After-workout shoulder pain is prevented by standing straight and rolling the shoulders backward in a circular motion, also stand and hold the back of a chair while bending at the waist so that your back is parallel to the floor-- make 25 circles with your free arm and repeat on other side.

Elbow stretch

Forearm strength can be built up by doing reverse curls with light weights or squeezing a rubber ball.

Eating your way to injury prevention...

Proper nutrition for those who participate in endurance sports such as running, jogging, and bicycling includes consuming large amounts of carbohydrates before an event or work out session. Studies have shown that a depleted store of muscle glycogen results in fatigue, which results in injury.

A diet rich in carbohydrates (60 to 70 percent of daily calorie intake), increases the amount of glycogen stored in the muscles, however the carbohydrates must be consumed shortly before a workout in order to be beneficial. It is also a good idea to consume carbohydrates soon after a heavy work out.

What if I already have osteoporosis or another bone disorder?

Even people with bone and joint conditions can safely participate in a balanced program of moderate physical activity. Swimming is probably the best overall activity for those who are afflicted by diseases of the bones and joints-- no stress is put on the joints and the water offers exceptional, non-stressful resistance.

But I don't have time to exercise...

Your daily one hour can be broken up into segments of time-- perhaps, one hour of brisk walking in the morning and one hour of gardening or another physical activity in the evening. Keeping a daily activity record might help you to remember your daily workout.

Remember, any amount of exercise is better than none at all and once you establish an exercise routine, you will probably find yourself exercising beyond the minimum one hour, three to five times a week required for good health.


Exercise and Physical Fitness. Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/exerciseandphysicalfitness.html. Accesed 08/20/2009

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