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Get Moving to Stay Healthy

Based on a conversation with Va’Ronda Varnado, FNP

Physical activity is an important element of maintaining one’s health. It is clear that inactivity affects the likelihood of developing a litany of conditions, including high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and even certain types of cancer. These in turn affect individuals’ overall health and mortality.

Physical activity also improves mental health by improving cognition, reducing dementia risk, reducing anxiety, reducing depression risk, and improving sleep. If combined with a balanced nutrition plan, physical activity can support healthy body composition and weight.

A sedentary lifestyle may be an even stronger predictor of mortality than established risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, and diabetes. Epidemiologic studies show that as compared to more physically active individuals, physically inactive individuals are two to three times more likely to experience acute cardiovascular events or to die during follow-up regardless of their risk profile, physique, or cardiovascular health.

Physical activity and exercise

The definition of “physical activity” is very broad. In general, it includes any activity with sustained body movement. This includes exercise, but also everyday activities such as gardening and heavy labor.

“Exercise” is a subcategory of physical activity which is planned, purposeful, and repeated on a regular basis to improve or maintain health and fitness. It can be divided into four major types:

Activity Type Objective Examples
Aerobic or endurance Increase cardiovascular and respiratory fitness
  • Walking
  • Running
Strength or resistance Increase muscular strength
  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Squats
Balance Improve balance and proprioception (the sense through which we believe the movement of the body) in order to prevent falls
  • Heel-toe walking
  • Tai Chi
Mobility or flexibility Maintain or improve range of motion around a joint or lengthen a muscle
  • Stretching
  • Yoga

Determining the appropriate fitness activities for an individual

A person’s existing fitness level (defined as a set of attributes, such as cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, body composition, and flexibility which determines their ability to engage in physical activity), or lack thereof, determines the physical activities which are most appropriate for them. In particular, chronic conditions may affect the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of cardiovascular exercise. Those with health concerns or chronic conditions such as cardiovascular, metabolic, or kidney disease should be evaluated by their primary care doctor before starting an exercise program.

Differences in lifestyle, muscle tissue, genetic makeup, and overall health all contribute to determining an individual’s personal fitness level. Each individual’s current fitness level and health goals will determine the best activities for them based on both safety and goals.

Whether you’re working towards specific fitness objectives or simply want to make sure your exercise plans align well with your current fitness level and goals, you may benefit from working with a certified fitness trainer and/or using a fitness app. The feedback and guidance you can get from either or both of these resources can help to ensure that you’re exercising in a manner that’s appropriate for you and making good progress toward any goals you may have.

If motivation or consistency are challenging for you, consider enlisting a friend to help keep you accountable. For example, if you often find yourself bailing on planned walks, having a walking buddy who expects to walk and talk with you at specific times each week can help ensure that your plans come to fruition.

How much exercise do I need?

The United States Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults 18 years of age and older perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (e.g., brisk walking or riding a bike) or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise (e.g., running or singles tennis) per week. A combination of moderate and vigorous activity is also acceptable. If older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week due to chronic conditions, they should remain as physically active as possible.

Adults should also engage in muscle-strengthening activities (e.g., weight-lifting or gardening activities such as digging and shoveling) that activate all the major muscles at least twice a week. These activities help strengthen bones and promote muscular fitness.

Just as studying for an exam is better to spread out over a few days, physical activity should be spread out over several days of the week.

Overexercise

While regular exercise is essential, it is also important to beware of overexercising. Symptoms of overexercising include a decline in performance, tiredness, depression, overuse injuries, and getting more colds. There is no one-size-fits-all rule that determines how much exercise is too much, but giving your body time to rest is an important part of exercising.

“There are many long-term benefits of regular physical activity, including lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer. Any amount of physical activity on most days is better than none at all. For those individuals who have chronic health conditions, I recommend speaking with your primary care provider prior to beginning an exercise regimen,” concludes VaRonda.