It’s true. You can receive all these benefits by simply taking that 30-minute daily walk. Studies have suggested that walking at a brisk pace for three or more hours a week can reduce the risk for coronary heart disease by 65 percent. And, if walking isn’t your cup of tea, there are endless options, all with the same results.
What’s missing in this age of modern conveniences and desk jobs are ways to get our bodies up and moving on a regular basis.
It’s no wonder, then, that in several studies, about 25 percent of American adults — and an even greater percentage of women — report they are sedentary and engage in no physical activity during leisure time. After age 44, upwards of 30 percent of women are sedentary, and by age 65, the proportion increases to almost 35 percent. By the time they reach age 75, about 50 percent of all women are sedentary. Only about 22 percent of American adults engage in regular, sustained physical activity for at least 30 minutes five times a week, and only 15 percent exercise both regularly and vigorously.
Being sedentary has several negative health consequences. Your muscles, including your heart and lungs, become weak; your joints become stiff and easily injured; you can develop high blood pressure, fatigue, obesity, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression. Being physically fit, on the other hand, actually reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases. Exercise may also reduce bone loss after menopause.
The good news is that it’s never too late! At any age, at any level of health, even if you already suffer from a chronic disease, you can improve your level of fitness. In fact, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health , women with heart disease or arthritis actually experienced improved daily function from involvement in various modes of physical activity.
What, exactly, is fitness? Physical fitness has four components:
- Cardiovascular fitness. Your heart, lungs and blood all need oxygen to work. Your level of cardiovascular fitness will determine your body’s ability to use oxygen as a source of energy. It gives you the stamina or endurance to be active without gasping for breath.
- Muscular strength and endurance. This is the force your muscles can exert and their ability to keep moving without becoming exhausted.
- Flexibility. Keeping the optimal range of motion in the joint areas, making bending and stretching easy, is a measure of flexibility.
- Body composition. There should be a healthy ratio of lean muscle tissue to fat.
Copyright 2003 National Women’s Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC)