Regular exercise is always beneficial

Last week we looked at the myths about exercising and some of the best types of exercise, including walking and swimming. Today we will look at aerobic exercise. This is an exercise where you get a little out of breath, and can include walking, gentle jogging, a fairly vigorous bike ride, an aerobics class or running.

They are all classed as aerobic. The issue with the last two examples is that because the key to getting benefits from exercise is little and often, you would have to be prepared to attend classes or run five days a week to achieve any real health benefits.

It is important to assess how much exercise we need. This really depends on what you want to achieve. In last week’s article and also today I am looking at achieving health, and a reasonable level of fitness, rather than losing massive amounts of weight, quickly, by exercise alone. You would have to spend many hours working at it, if you wanted to shed the pounds while continuing to eat the foods that put weight on in the first place.

Whether you are well or unwell, young or old, get off the sofa now and do what you can
- Kathryn Borg

On average, it is reckoned that you would need to exercise 90 minutes every day before you even begin to see your weight start to fall. One pound of body fat is equivalent to around 3,500 calories, and the typical strenuous aerobics class burns around 150 calories per hour more than you burn doing anything else.

However, when carrying out regular exercise, sometimes the difference is in our shape, which is apparent long before the scales tell you that you are losing weight. Sometimes you can lose a dress size and still weigh the same, but you feel different.

However, to enjoy good health, it is surprising how little you need to exercise. Guidance on this subject can be muddled and confusing.

The current view is that 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week is sufficient, while others have argued that this is not enough, and other opinions state that reasonable health can be achieved with between just 30 and 60 minutes per week.

Now we are hearing that high-intensity exercise for just a few minutes, followed by a rest, can have an effect. How confusing!

While this may seem too little to do any good, there is some evidence to support it. In one study, people who exercised for just 10 minutes per day, or 72 minutes per week, improved their overall fitness by 4.2 per cent. Double that time to closer to the 20-minute recommended time period and you don’t double the benefit; your fitness level increases by six per cent.

Raise that again to 27 minutes per day and your fitness levels will improve by eight per cent. Interestingly, though, everyone who exercised reduced their weight measurement by an average of two centimetres irrespective of the amount they did. So, the good news is that any exercise, even just 10 minutes per day, is going to do you some good (JAMA, 2007).

In relation to particular illnesses, while there are no guarantees, and even fit people can have heart problems or develop cancer, exercise will certainly reduce your risk of chronic disease.

Diabetes: you halve your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (the lifestyle disease) if you carry out moderate exercise.

Fractures: an increased risk and osteoporosis become a worry for the elderly, and especially for women after the menopause, but the risk can be dramatically reduced if you keep fit and engage in regular, low-impact exercise. Weight-bearing exercise is the key to stronger bones.

Stroke: do exercise and you reduce your risk of stroke by 27 per cent.

Muscle strength: we need muscle strength especially as we get older. Just lifting the shopping, opening a bottle or reaching to a high cupboard can be difficult.

A few simple exercises like resistance training can build muscles, even if they are done just once a week for 16 weeks.

The great news is that it is never too late to start exercising. Even if you are in your 60s, 70s or 80s, it is worth having a go. Scientists have made it a point to measure the impact that exercise has on the elderly probably because they are likely to benefit the most.

One study encouraged women around 78 years of age into the gym for the first time. While another study recruited people aged over 85. Even at that age, exercise helped to improve their bone health, posture and general stability, so they were less likely to fall.

The benefits can be just as great for younger people (dependent on your health, of course). Aerobic exercise is the key, but resistance exercise is also important for the elderly as it can help them improve both muscle strength and bone health.

So, whether you are well or unwell, young or old, get off the sofa now and do what you can.

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