Benefits of exercise, beyond losing weight, are significant

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Approximately 80 million Americans do not get the recommended minimum amount of weekly exercise: 150 minutes of moderate strength and cardiovascular activity. More than half of baby boomers report that they do not exercise at all. The health consequences of being sedentary include loss of independence, increased risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and early death by any given cause.

Being inactive can worsen arthritis, increase lower back pain as well as increase risk of depression and anxiety. Over the last 100 years, we have gotten away from exercise as a means of improving length and quality of life. However, more and more physicians are reemphasizing the importance of physical activity and not just for losing weight.

Exercise is used by many as a way to burn calories in the hope of losing weight. Yet, exercise can quickly disappoint when the weight loss does not follow the effort. Exercise increases blood flow, bone density and muscle mass, all of which require more water, thus adding to your total weight. So instead of using it as a weight-loss tool, use exercise to keep your most important muscle strong, the heart. Additionally, exercise to improve mental, emotional, physical and physiological health.

Research links physical activity to lower depression rates, better cognitive memory and quicker learning. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, helping to repair and protect brain cells from degeneration, suggesting that exercise delays the onset of Alzheimer's. Muscle biopsies and blood samples showed that exercise increases levels of molecules that protect telomeres, slowing the aging process at the cellular level.

The type of exercise you do should be something that you enjoy and will look forward to doing over and over. Aerobic activity, strength training and stretching should be a part of a healthy exercise program. However, it doesn't have to be structured movement. Dancing, doing yard work, washing the car and walking are great activities. Not everyone wants to do high intensity, nor are they capable. And that's OK. You don't have to exercise like an athlete in order to reap the benefits.

Research shows that regular activity, no matter the intensity improves heart function and blood sugar control. It can help individuals prevent injury and recover more quickly from injury. Exercise does so much good for you even though it is not reflected on the scale. It is known as the only medicine to improve quality of life and length of life.

Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at mcorrigan@ymcasumter.org or (803) 773-1404.