I often get questions from people who want to know if I can recommend just one thing to do to improve their health. I would argue that true, thriving health takes a combination of a few factors that I outline in my book, Built to Thrive…but, if there is just one change you can make to start feeling better and seeing results — it’s movement and exercise. The benefits of exercise for health are many and varied. Exercise can help keep your body strong and your mind sharp.
And the great news? Exercise doesn’t have to mean grueling hours of intense cardio or pushing tractor tires across a parking lot (if that’s not what you like to do). Often, consistency is more important than the type of exercise you choose to do. In other words, what’s most important is that you find something you enjoy doing and stick with it.
Exercise is definitely one of the best ways to improve and maintain your health. It’s literally good for just about every part of your body. Movement can help improve mood. Regular exercise can help maintain and control your weight. It can help protect bone density as you age. Exercise is a wonderful prescription for helping to reduce issues with heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
Let’s look at a couple of ways exercise can benefit health and which exercises top my list of recommendations.
Exercise For A Healthy Heart
According to the American Heart Association, you should be getting 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise to gain and maintain heart health.
Moderate intensity means that you’re not quite pushing yourself to your limit, you’re exercising at 50-70% of your capacity. For example, if you’re walking, you’re walking fast, but not so fast that you can’t carry on a conversation.
If you enjoy more vigorous exercise, say jogging or running to the point that you’re out of breath and can’t talk easily, you can get away with 75 minutes per week of exercise.
Something to remember here — “exercise” doesn’t have to mean something that happens in a gym or on a treadmill.
Movement minutes can be found while gardening, dancing, or playing tag with your kids.
Exercise For Mental Health
One of the most amazing benefits of exercise is its impact on mental health. Studies suggest that even a single session of exercise can reduce levels of anxiety and depression. And it doesn’t seem to matter if that exercise is light, moderate, or hard, either.
It’s certainly no secret that after you work out, you feel amazing, right?
And one study even showed that when participants stopped exercising, they felt more depressed.
Furthermore, physical activity has been linked to a reduction in the likelihood of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Again, it doesn’t appear that the exercise has to be particularly difficult, either. It just needs to be consistent.
If that’s not a reason to start a regular exercise program, I don’t know what is.
Which Exercises Are Best For Health?
To me, the best exercise for your health is the one that you will actually do. Sure, sessions of high-intensity interval training might be “healthy” but if you hate them and find any excuse not to do them — you certainly won’t derive any benefits from them.
There are so many options for healthy movement, all of which are beneficial. Cross Fit and Zumba classes offer a social component and that can be enjoyable for some people. Others find exercising outdoors to be the way to go.
Two of my all-time favorite ways to get moving are:
Walking is such an underrated form of movement. Most people can do it without fear of injury, it’s easy to squeeze in pretty much anywhere, and it’s rather relaxing and enjoyable. Plus, you don’t need any fancy or expensive equipment to go for a walk.
Walking at a brisk-ish pace (about a 15-20 minute mile) for just 20 minutes a day can reduce your risk of mortality by 16-30%.
Another excellent exercise that I can’t recommend enough is yoga.
Just like with walking, one of the things I love about yoga is that it’s easy for most people to do, you don’t need anything special to start practicing, and you can do it almost anywhere.
Yoga intimidates a lot of people, but the advanced, pretzel-like things you may see people doing aren’t necessary to get started — and there are many yoga instructions for beginners available on the internet.
I often recommend yoga to my patients because it generates all the benefits of exercise and can become a wonderful tool to quiet the mind and connect with your spirituality, too.
Choose An Exercise And Just Start
As we’ve explored, you don’t have to kill yourself in the gym or only exercise super intensely to reap many of the benefits of activity and movement…unless that’s what you enjoy, of course!
The most important thing is to just start. Start something and keep doing it as often as you can. Creating the habit is the real key to success.
And I know how difficult it can be when you feel tired and run down, depressed, your schedule is packed, and the last thing you want to make time for is exercise.
But if you can motivate yourself past that initial resistance — major health benefits are waiting for you on the other side.
Get tired often? You can also try taking my quiz below and see if I can help you unravel the mystery of why you feel so tired all the time.
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