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Just a Little Activity Counts

Surprised that you don't need a strenuous gym workout to get fit and lose weight? It's true: Regular low-intensity exercise confers important health benefits, both physical and emotional. On the physical side, exercise physiologists say a little activity: Helps control weight In addition to burning extra calories while you're exercising, physical activity boosts the basal metabolic rate, the rate the body burns calories while at rest. When you're physically active, you continue to burn extra calories even after you stop exercising.

"You may not lose 20 pounds taking leisurely strolls," says John Duncan, Ph.D., former associate director of the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, "but you'll be better able to maintain your current weight. With low-intensity exercise and a low-fat diet, you'll probably lose a few pounds. And if you take long brisk walks and eat a low-fat diet, you'll lose more." Improves your love life James White, Ph.D., a professor emeritus in the department of physical education at the University of California at San Diego and director of the human performance laboratory there, recruited 95 healthy but sedentary men, average age 47, into one of two exercise programs four days a week. One group engaged in low-intensity 60-minute walks. The other participated in an hour of aerobics. After nine months, both groups reported increased sexual desire and pleasure. The aerobics group registered greater gains, but the low-intensity exercisers also reported increased sexual desire and more orgasms. Reduces risk of heart disease Heart disease is the nation's leading cause of death. Low-intensity exercise helps prevent it by strengthening the heart, reducing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and combating obesity and diabetes. Reduces risk of stroke Stroke is the nation's third leading cause of death (cancer is number two). High blood pressure is a key risk factor, and low-intensity exercise helps reduce it. Helps preserve bone Regular moderate weight-bearing exercise (walking, gardening, dancing, and similar activities) helps prevent bone-thinning osteoporosis, a major health problem for women age 50 and up. Builds strength, flexibility, and stamina As you exercise, your muscles become stronger, your joints become more supple, and you can remain active longer without tiring. In other words, the more you exercise, the more you can exercise, the less taxing it feels, and the more likely you are to enjoy it and stick with it. Improves recall Do you ever have trouble remembering names? Kathleen Beckman Blomquist, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, tested fitness and name-recall in 66 adults ages 18 to 48. Those in the best shape had the best memories. Then she encouraged all the participants to increase their physical activity. After 12 weeks, those whose fitness improved showed enhanced ability to recall names. Improves resistance to the common cold Low- to moderate-intensity exercise boosts the immune system, according to David Nieman, D.H.Sc., chair of the department of health science at Loma Linda University in Southern California. Nieman assigned 50 non-exercising women to one of two groups. Half continued their sedentary ways. Half took brisk walks for 45 minutes a day. After 15 weeks, the exercisers reported only half as many days with cold symptoms. Helps people quit smoking Exercise helps replace the nicotine high of smoking. Exercise also helps ex-smokers stay that way. Improves sleep and minimizes insomnia Exercise feels invigorating, but several hours later, it helps the body wind down to sleep. Many sleep disorders experts recommend low- to moderate-intensity exercise to improve sleep and treat insomnia. Just don't exercise too close to bedtime, or you may wind up feeling more invigorated than sleepy. Helps manage arthritis Exercise moves the major joints through their full range of motion, which helps keep them pain-free. Exercise also releases endorphins, the body's own pain-relieving chemical.

Modest exercise also delivers emotional benefits

Being physical, especially doing activities you like, significantly improves your mental well-being. Experts say a little exercise: Elevates mood The endorphins released by exercise have an antidepressant effect. Many mental health professionals encourage exercise as a natural complement to other treatments for depression. Builds self-confidence Exercise provides feelings of accomplishment, which boost self-esteem. Means less stress and anxiety People who exercise regularly say they feel better able to cope with stress and tension.


Getting fit is easier than you think. Don't let torture-chamber images of complicated weight machines and uncomfortable sweaty people fool you — fitness is simple and fun. And contrary to what popular magazines might tell you, it doesn't take a gym membership (though you may want one at some point) or winning the genetic lottery to get into healthy condition.

The articles in this section explain how just a little extra movement can tip the scales in favor of weight loss. You'll also learn how to deflate old excuses, start a walking program, prevent injuries, and find inspiration with a chart of the calorie-burning power of everyday activities.


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