Why Fitness Really Matters
Chances are you've heard about the benefits of exercise. You may even have promised yourself to become more active as soon as you find the time.
Perhaps you aren't aware, however, of just how crucial an active lifestyle is to your health and well-being.
"Simply put, inactivity is hazardous to your health," says James M. Rippe, M.D., cardiologist and founder and director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute in Boston. "Study after study has shown that being inactive nearly doubles your risk of heart disease."
What does that mean in simple terms? Leading an inactive life increases your risk of heart disease as much as if you smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, according to Dr. Rippe.
Way too busy
Although most people agree activity is good for them, many have a difficult time working it into their daily lives.
"A lot of people get confused about the distinction between moderate physical activity and exercise," says Dr. Rippe. "Many normal daily activities qualify as being moderately physical. Also, most people make the mistake of trying too hard. Whatever you choose to do should be pleasurable, and you should feel calm, happy, and relaxed afterward."
It's not necessary to make time each day for continuous, intense exertion, Dr. Rippe adds. Rather, you can accumulate this activity in short sessions throughout the day and still receive health benefits.
While some experts may disagree about how vigorous activity should be, Dr. Rippe notes there's no disagreement about the health benefits of any activity.
"If you're currently inactive, some activity is clearly better than none," he says. "If you're already slightly active, more activity is better than a little."
Activity is critical
Incorporating activity into your daily routine can prevent or alleviate many chronic conditions besides heart disease—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, some types of cancer, and osteoporosis, to name a few.
Consistent activity helps you to remain limber, strong, healthy, and safe as you age. "While some people accept a decreased ability to move easily as a natural consequence of aging, 'use it or lose it' applies here," Dr. Rippe says. "Regular physical activity is the best way to maintain optimal function throughout your life and improve your mobility, flexibility, strength, balance, walking speed, and reaction time."
Being active also helps you stay mentally fit. "It provides a chance to sort out problems and relieve stress. In turn, stress reduction can help reduce your risk of a wide variety of other illnesses, from arthritis to the common cold," he says.
The time is now
The best news is that it is never too late to adopt a more active lifestyle.
Most people who have difficulty sticking with health-promoting measures probably make them too complex to follow, says Dr. Rippe.
Along with activities that promote cardiovascular fitness, such as walking or cycling, you can add all sorts of leisure activities (dancing, bowling), indoor work activities (vacuuming, sweeping the floor), outdoor work activities (gardening, washing the car), and recreational sports (golf, volleyball). You have hundreds of choices for healthy activities.
"Physical activity is the closest thing to a magic bullet we have," says Dr. Rippe. "If this were a medicine, people would think it was the most incredible medicine available. In fact, it is, and it's available now, to everyone, for free. Take advantage of it."