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Exercise Can Save Your Life

An alarming statistic indicates that 60% of Americans do not exercise regularly and 80-90% are not involved in a regular exercise program. This is especially surprising because exercise can provide numerous benefits: it can improve cardiovascular fitness; it can improve muscular endurance; it can increase energy; it can dramatically reduce the risk of coronary artery disease; it can aid in weight control; it helps lower cholesterol levels; and it can improve one's sense of well-being and raise self-esteem.

In addition, risk factors associated with certain kinds of cancer can be modified by exercise and regular physical exercise can reduce mildly elevated blood pressure over the long term. Before starting on an exercise program, check with your doctor. Age is no barrier to exercise and its benefits. The more a person exercises, the better his chances to outlive his peers.

Exercise contributes to longer life by reducing the effects of growing old. Regular aerobic exercise seems not only to help preserve neurological functioning into old age, but also potentially to enhance it in older people who had been sedentary. Staying physically active appears to be more important the older we get. Problems of aging, such as increased body fat, decreased muscular strength and flexibility, loss of bone mass, lower metabolism and slower reaction times, can be minimized or even prevented by exercise.

Incorporating a relatively modest amount of activity in what was once a sedentary life style derives the greatest surge in life expectancy. Remember, in order to get benefits from any form of exercise, it must become a long-term habit. Exercise helps in weight loss and weight maintenance by building muscle tissue. The only exercise that burns fat is aerobic exercise.

There is no evidence that exercise reduces or increases appetite. With regular exercise, though, the calories burned should more than make up for any slight increase in appetite. Also, a program of regular aerobic exercise may help lower total cholesterol and raise the HDL ("good") cholesterol. Exercise at least three times a week for thirty minutes a session to get this benefit.

There is a drawback, though. Exercise can affect your blood cholesterol levels by temporarily causing a rise in cholesterol levels, by as much as 10-15%, for up to an hour after you've stopped exercising. Do not exercise just prior to having a blood cholesterol level test done. Variety in exercise is one of the keys to staying fit. No single exercise adequately builds all aspects of fitness equally well.

Having more than one activity to turn to also keeps exercise from getting monotonous. Cross training allows you to exercise more muscle groups than a single activity would. Start slowly when you begin cross training. The best method is to pair sports that train different parts of the body: swimming with cycling, rowing with running, etc. Split the total exercise time between the two activities, such as 20 minutes each for a 40 minute total workout.

The benefits of exercise can be lost if you stop exercising altogether. If you merely cut back, however, you are often able to avoid or postpone the loss of benefit for at least several months. Some tips for exercising: don't overdo; discomfort isn't necessary ("no pain, no gain" is a myth); use adequate/appropriate footwear; control movements or slow down; watch your form and posture; don't bounce while stretching; avoid high-impact aerobics; warm up and cool down; set realistic exercise goals; start slow and easy; seek convenience; find a support group; and add variety.

Warming up before exercising is the right and best way to begin; stretching cold muscles can injure them. Regardless of the activity, it is essential to warm up first, then stretch. Warming up gradually increases your heart rate and blood flow, raising the temperature of muscles and connective tissue, and improves muscle function. It may also decrease the chance of a sports-related injury.

Warm up tips include: a 5-10 minute warm-up is usually adequate (warm weather less time, colder weather more time); after exercise, cool down, slowing down gradually; in cold weather, warm up indoors before going outdoors and wind up cooling down indoors. old weather workouts require some allowances for the weather: don't overdress; wear several layers of loose-fitting, thin clothing; zip up; wear mittens versus gloves; wear a hat or cap; and wear shoes that offer good traction and shock absorption.

Warm up and stretch indoors; drink plenty of fluids, as much water in the cold as in the heat; compensate for the wind; be on the defensive, remembering shorter daylight hours, etc.; keep moving; and wear sunglasses and sunscreen. Always remember: Drink plenty of fluids, especially in hot weather, to replace fluids lost through sweating.

If you are 45 or older, consult your physician before beginning an exercise program. If you are 35 or older and have any risk factors for heart disease (recurrent chest pain, high blood pressure or cholesterol levels, smoking, or obesity), see a doctor. And, at any age, you should consult your physician if you have cardiovascular or lung disease, or symptoms suggestive of these diseases.


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