Walking and Sitting
Walking may be the single best — and easiest — exercise you can do to improve your health in 2012.
Not only will going for a daily walk help you feel better now, it will help you maintain your independence and ability to do daily tasks as you age.
Research also has shown that walking regularly can help protect the aging brain against memory loss and dementia, help cut the risk of heart disease, and reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes in high-risk adults by a whopping 60 percent.
And we're not talking marathon walking either. The peak benefits come from 30 minutes of exercise several times a week, say experts.
Most of us do need to move more: Only 30 percent of people ages 45 to 64 say they engage in regular leisure-time physical activity, and that drops to 25 percent for those 65 to 74, according to the National Institute on Aging, which has launched a "get off your duff" campaign called Go4Life.
So how do you get started? Slowly.
"Don't set a really large goal. Set a small one first, like walking one block, then gradually add on to that," suggests Sharon Brangman, M.D., chief of geriatric medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. Her patients are all over 65, many in their 80s and beyond.
Start with a short walk, even five to 10 minutes, and gradually increase to 30 minutes five days a week. "And it doesn't have to be 30 minutes continuously. You could even split it into three 10-minute walks during the day," says Bushman, who is also editor of the new American College of Sports Medicine's Complete Guide to Fitness and Health.
Just be sure to check with your doctor before you start any exercise program, especially if you recently have been inactive or are substantially increasing your activity level.
Here's another easy, no-sweat way to markedly improve your health in the new year — stop sitting so much. You'll live longer.
Mounting evidence suggests that sitting for long periods increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and early death, even for people who exercise daily. And yet Americans now sit more than they sleep, spending an average of 10 hours a day in a car, at work and in front of a television. Older adults are the worst offenders, according to federal government statistics: Almost three-quarters are sedentary, and more than four in 10 get no leisure-time physical activity at all.
To reduce your cancer risk, the American Institute of Cancer Research is urging Americans to add mini-breaks from sitting to a daily regimen of getting at least 30 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous exercise.
"If you reduce sitting by five minutes an hour, at the end of a long day, you've shaved an hour off your total sitting time," says Alpa Patel, M.D., senior epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society. That advice applies as well to "active couch potatoes," who hit the gym or take that daily brisk walk, because some research indicates daily exercise is not enough protection from the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
Women who reported sitting more than six hours a day outside of work had a 34 percent higher risk of death than those who sat fewer than three hours daily, according to a recent American Cancer Society study. This was true even for women who exercised regularly.
In a University of South Carolina study, even physically active men were 64 percent more likely to die of heart disease if they sat more than 23 hours a week in front of the TV, compared with those who sat 11 hours a week or less.
Prolonged sitting appears to have powerful metabolic consequences, disrupting processes that break down fats and sugars in the blood. In animal studies, inactive mice and rats quickly develop higher blood fats and lower levels of good cholesterol, which together increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. An Australian study suggests a link between a sedentary lifestyle and several key biological indicators of cancer risk, including insulin resistance, inflammation and body weight.
Older adults will remember pre-soccer-mom days of walking to school, biking to baseball practice, hanging up laundry and washing the dishes. Technology, experts say, has engineered physical activity out of daily life. With the advent of personal computers and cable TV, not to mention remotes and garage door openers, there is scarcely a reason to get out of your seat.
Physical activity in the workplace has fallen, too, according to a recent study. Fifty years ago, more than half of American jobs involved moderate physical activity, often in manufacturing or agriculture, reports Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. "Today it's less than 20 percent — we're tied to our desks," says Tim Church, M.D., a Pennington professor and the study's lead author.
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