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Exercise For Longevity
Francine Manuel RPT and Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD

There's good news and bad news for couch potatoes, and folks who loathe exercise. First, the bad news: Studies have conclusively shown that a sedentary lifestyle leads to an appreciably shorter life. The good news, however, is that recent studies have demonstrated that vigorous workout programs aren't necessary. Just moderate increases in your exercise activity will add to your longevity. Not only can exercise save lives from heart disease, but it can also help prevent deaths from any cause, including illnesses such as cancer.

Yet according to the Federal Centers for Disease Control(CDC), approximately 60 percent of Americans over age 18 are physically inactive. Only 22 percent of Americans pursue the levels of exercise recommended for a healthy existence. In fact, Dr. Tom McMillen, the co-chairman of the President's Council On Physical Fitness and Sports, says that around 250,000 deaths each year are attributed to a sedentary lifestyle. A new national effort is now needed to combat the high levels of inactivity in this country.

The Fitness Revolution
When John F. Kennedy took office, one of the first programs of his presidency was aimed at motivating Americans to exercise more to improve their health. So plans to promote physical fitness were developed targeting the schools and the general population. In the fitness culture that then evolved, vigorous exercise, jogging, and running were considered the ultimate ways of getting into shape. Experts recommended at least 20 minutes of energetic, continuous aerobic activity-- enough to get the heart pumping harder -- three to five times a week. However, the discipline and logistics of this prescription put off many people or were just impossible to handle. The general working public had a difficult time getting to the swimming pool, racquetball court, or jogging paths.

It's recently become clear, however, that you don't need to be an athlete to reap the health benefits of physical fitness. New evidence has shown that moderate exercise may be all that's needed to achieve better health. Today, the Federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American College of Sports Medicine, and other groups give the following advice: On at least five days out of the week, every American should engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity. You don't even need to go to a gym: A brisk walk of three to four miles an hour can do it, or even simple activities of daily life such as climbing stairs, raking leaves, or dancing.

It is exactly these kinds of activities that can promote longevity, according to new research by Dr. Ralph Paffenbartber, Jr. at Stanford University. After comparing people on moderate exercise programs to those who jogged as much as 40 miles per week, Paffenbartber found no significant differences in the longevity rates of the two groups.

Other studies have shown that you can benefit from exercise even when you don't do it all in a single session; that is, you may spread out your 30 minutes of walking or gardening over the course of your day. Experts also believe that short bouts of exercise throughout the day-such as walking a little farther to the grocery store-can produce significant and important physiological changes.

Choosing The Right Exercise Program For You
How do you decide which activities or sports to pursue if you want a well-planned fitness program? To answer that, first you must understand that there are three different types of exercise:

- Activities that increase your flexibility. The older you get, the more important stretching is, especially if you tend to be inactive. Simple stretches, such as reaching to touch your toes, will keep you limber. Many books have been written on stretching, some of them specifically for bicyclists, soccer players, or other athletes. Other activities that can improve your joint mobility include yoga, Tai Chi, and square dancing. Skiing, surfing, and soccer are also good movement sports.

- Activities that build up your muscle strength and endurance. Strength building requires resistance training on weight machines or other workout equipment at a gym, and true dedication. When applied to specific parts of your body, these kinds of activities increase the size of your muscle fibers and give your muscles definition. To increase strength, you must lift a maximum load -- as much as you can bear -- for only six to eight repetitions at a time. To build up muscle endurance, you can decrease the load and increase the number of repetitions to 20 to 30 times. Or, you can boost your endurance by going through your general exercise routine with five-pound velcro weights strapped onto the legs or arms.

- Activities that improve heart and aerobic endurance. Any exercise in this category must involve the large muscles of the body, such as those in the arms and legs. Walking, swimming, jumping rope, running, jogging, bicycling, aerobic dance, and sports all pump up the ability of your heart and lungs to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your body, as well as to remove waste products via the blood.

Although you can choose to concentrate on any one of these three exercise types, you might want to try a workout program that draws from each category. If you're ill, you should check with your physician before beginning. The biggest consideration in any new fitness routine is your baseline level of fitness. You should start carefully and follow these safety guidelines:

- Always warm up a little before starting, and cool down when you finish.

- Monitor your pulse when first beginning. Depending on your age, you shouldn't significantly exceed the following heart rates:

20-29         140/min
30-39         132/min
39-49         125/min
50-59         115/min

- If your pulse is slow, and you become short of breath, don't keep pushing, even if pulse is within limits.

- If your heart beat becomes irregular or you develop chest pain, stop and consult your doctor soon.

With all this in mind, you can start yourself on a standard workout routine, or be creative. You can choose something as simple as walking every day, for instance. And for days when the weather is inclement, you can get a treadmill, stationary bikes, skiing or rowing machine, or a stair climber for your home. Or, if you like aerobics, you could join a group, attend a class, or purchase one of the many professional aerobics tapes on the market.

Reaping The Benefits
Once you have your program, you can expect to harvest good results. The list of benefits is long. Regular exercise decreases stress, controls weight gain by burning calories, and generally promotes a greater sense of well-being, for example. Flexibility alleviates general aches and pains, including those from arthritis and strong abdominal muscles can also help relieve back pain.

Resistance training and other activities can maintain and increase your bone density, thus minimizing your chances of developing osteoporosis. Impact exercises such as jogging or strenuous aerobics are also believed to play a part in preventing this disease of gradual bone loss. However, in cases of severe osteoporosis, high impact exercise programs such as jogging can be detrimental. Then, gentler activities such as brisk walking can help maintain bone density.

The most important benefit of all, however, is that you can live longer if you exercise. The American public has been known to spend billions of dollars on potions and schemes that promise youth but really have no value.

Exercise has been shown to maintain youthfulness and promote longevity. The best part of this remedy is that its free.

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