Health conscious for the new year? Exercise is a crucial way to improve wellness

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



Did you know?

• About 63 percent of Clark County adults reported engaging in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five days per week, vigorous physical activity for at least 20 minutes three or more days per week, or physically demanding labor while at work.

• Only about 50 percent of local high-schoolers meet recommendations for 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

Sources: Washington State Department of Health and Healthy Youth Survey

Exercise recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer these exercise recommendations for adults:

• 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week. OR

• 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week. OR

• An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week.

The CDC offers these recommendations for children age 6 to 17:

• 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.

• Aerobic activity should make up most of the child’s 60 minutes per day. Include vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on at least three days per week.

• Include muscle-strengthening activities, such as gymnastics or push-ups, at least three days per week.

• Include bone-strengthening activities, such as jumping rope or running, at least three days per week.

Those resolving to get healthy in 2014 may be relieved to know they need only one resolution for the new year.

And that resolution is an oldie but a goodie: exercise.

"If you're looking at the general population, exercise would be one of the most useful things," said Dr. Tony Daniels, a family practitioner at the Kaiser Permanente Cascade Park office. "Exercise has clinically proven benefits."

In fact, only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your overall health as physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who are physically active for about seven hours per week have a 40 percent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes per week, according to the CDC.

Exercise has been proven to help improve blood pressure, manage arthritis, control appetite, improve mood and reduce the risk of diabetes, Daniels said. Exercise can also be therapeutic for people with chronic pain; exercise increases endorphins, which have natural pain-killing properties, he said.

"We encourage all of our patients, even very fit ones, to exercise for these benefits," Daniels said.

Daniels urges patients to get in at least 30 minutes of comfortable aerobic exercise four to five times a week. He recommends finding an enjoyable activity -- walking, hiking, bicycling, ballroom dancing -- and starting simple.

"Keep it comfortable and work into it gradually to maintain its comfort level and enjoyment," Daniels said.

A measured start

If your current fitness level means you can walk only 5 minutes at time, start there and increase the duration week by week. Or break your workout up; go for three 10-minute walks each day, he said.

"We don't want people to become weekend warriors and hurt themselves," Daniels said.

When that happens, people usually give up on their exercise routines and return to more sedentary lifestyles, he said.

Resolving to exercise is a good goal for people of all ages — from the elderly to young children. Exercise can improve movement among the geriatric population and can create good habits for young people, Daniels said.

"It can go really far in stemming the tide of childhood obesity," he said.

Exercise doesn't have to be costly, Daniels said. Seniors who are eligible for Medicare may also be eligible for insurance company programs that cover the cost of gym memberships, he said. And those who aren't eligible can do other free or minimal-cost exercise, such as going for a walk or riding a bicycle, Daniels said.

Exercise doesn't have to be boring, either, he said. Finding a workout partner or group can make sticking to a exercise routine easier and more fun, Daniels said.

The more fun the workout, the more likely people are to continue, he said.

"Keep it comfortable. Keep it enjoyable. And make it a habit," Daniels said.