A long with eating a balanced diet of minimally processed whole foods, being active on most days of the week is critical to creating healthy cholesterol levels. Getting active for health does not mean spending hours at the gym. In fact, you never even have to go to the gym to get the amount of exercise that is proven to improve your health. This chapter will give you the knowledge of why physical activity is beneficial and how you can get moving to enjoy those results.
Physical Activity Benefits Heart Health
People are designed to be active creatures. Not so long ago, we had to perform physical work to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves. Modem living has changed all of that, but it cannot change the fundamental need of people to move and use their bodies in order to maintain optimum functioning. As average levels of physical activity have declined, medical professionals have observed an accompanying decline in the body’s physical functioning. Researchers are also studying the relationship of physical inactivity with decline in mental functioning. Numerous studies now substantiate the fact that a minimal amount of physical movement is not only beneficial, but essential. Many aspects of aging, such as the loss of strength, balance, and the ability to move and care for oneself, were formerly thought to be the natural result of the aging process. Research today tells us that many of these consequences are not actually the result of aging. Rather, they are the result of disuse of the body and a failure to take advantage of its physical capabilities. To retain our vitality and energy, we need to keep ourselves physically active.
How Much Activity Is Necessary?
According to guidelines issued by the U.S. Surgeon General, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the minimum amount of activity for health includes the following factors:
Should continue for at least 30 minutes total
Can be accumulated in bouts as short as 8 to 10 minutes
Should be of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking
Should occur on most, preferably all, days of the week
Should include some resistance exercise and stretching during the week
The guidelines also note that more activity and a higher intensity will provide greater health and fitness benefits. The general guidelines listed above set forth minimum amounts of activity necessary to enjoy health benefits. Clearly, this level of exercise will not prepare you to run a marathon or to climb Mount Everest, but such events may not be among your immediate goals. You may simply want to feel better and know you are doing something good for your health. The message for you is loud and clear-with moderate amounts of physical activity on a regular basis, you can achieve this goal.
What Is Moderate Activity?
Research shows that activity can come in a variety of ways and still provide health benefits. The good news is that with so many activities to choose from, you are likely to find something that you enjoy and are able to incorporate into your life on a regular basis. You can also perform some activities that are performed at a higher intensity, such as bicycling, jumping rope, running, shoveling snow, or climbing stairs for a shorter amount of time (fifteen minutes or so) to get similar results. However, it is not necessary to do high-intensity exercises to achieve health benefits, particularly those associated with improvements in cholesterol levels. Moderate intensity exercise can improve heart health. The most important thing is that you find something that you can and will do regularly, and that you do it for at least thirty minutes on most days of the week. Remember that you can break up those thirty minutes. For example, you can take a ten-minute morning walk, run a quick errand on a bicycle at noon for ten minutes, and then take another ten-minute walk at the end of the day. That adds up to a total of thirty minutes in one day.
Walk Your Way to a Healthy Heart
One of the best forms of exercise that provides a healthful challenge for the human body is walking. It is economical, easy to fit into your day, bears a low risk of injury, and it is effective in improving health. Numerous studies show that people who walk regularly have less risk of death or disability from disease. Studies have shown that people who participate in regular walking programs have higher levels of HDL cholesterol, lower levels of total and LDL cholesterol, and lower levels of triglycerides or blood fats. In addition to reducing these risks of heart disease, walking helps you to enjoy many other benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight, improving the condition of bones and muscles, and reducing stress and tension.