The Best Healthcare Benefit of All

With all of this talk about healthcare reform in the news, there is not enough coverage of a real benefit everyone can afford (it’s free) and everyone can gain from.

This marvelous phenomenon comes to us at our convenience, and the proven results it offers are pretty spectacular— lower risk of: early death, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, endometrial cancer, falls, and hip fracture—but that’s not all! This marvel also offers results such as reduced depression, better thinking ability, increased bone density, improved immune function and sleep quality and a better blood cholesterol profile.

“OK, Mary,” you may be thinking, “we didn’t think you pushed miracle supplements.” And it’s still true, I don’t. All of these benefits can be the results of regular moderate physical activity.

This is not referring to hours of sweaty gym routines or knee-crunching runs; these benefits result from just thirty minutes of moderate activities such as moving and grooving, walking the dog, or vacuuming while listening to your favorite rock band. And what’s more, you can get these benefits from breaking down that half hour into just ten minutes of activity three times a day. Sweet!

But only about half of us take advantage of this “magic pill” of exercise. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 48 percent of adults get enough aerobic physical activity to improve their health.

Are you one of the regular exercisers? If so, congratulations on your “steps” to better health and long term benefits. Simply taking a daily walk is very popular. Across the U.S., the number of adults who walk for transportation, fun, or exercise went up six percent to 62 percent between 2005 and 2010.

While the amount of physical activity found to be the sweet spot for health benefits is about a half hour at least five days a week (about 2½ hours per week), any exercise is better than none, and more is great, too. If you are not comfortable with daily exercise yet, start where you are at. Even a five-minute walk or bike ride is a better place to begin than being overly ambitious. Using your good sense and proceeding gradually will help to prevent injuries and will be more enjoyable.

Got only a few minutes at a time?  Try these: Use stairs instead of an elevator, get off a bus one or two stops before your regular one, return your shopping cart all the way to the store instead of leaving it in the parking lot, or park your car a little farther away when you are shopping.

Whether you are a seasoned daily exerciser or a newbie, here are some ideas for moderate exercise that you may not have realized were even exercise. Start slowly if you’re a beginner, and use the list to switch it up. Consider seeing your healthcare provider for a clean bill of health if you have concerns.

The following (mostly) fun activities each count as moderate exercise!

  • All kinds of dancing: Ballroom, Line, Square, Folk, Modern, Disco, Ballet
  • Coaching children’s or adults’ sports
  • Playing Frisbee
  • Juggling
  • Snowmobiling
  • Kayaking—on a lake, calm water
  • Fishing while walking along a riverbank or while wading in a stream—wearing waders
  • Playing guitar or drums in a rock band
  • Singing while actively moving about—as on stage or in church
  • Actively playing with children—walking, running, or climbing while playing with children
  • Child care: handling uncooperative young children (e.g., chasing, dressing, lifting into car seat), or handling several young children at one time
  • Bathing and dressing an adult
  • Animal care: shoveling grain, feeding farm animals, or grooming animals

The CDC website has lots more activity ideas to explore.

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Mary Saucier Choate

Mary Saucier Choate

Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., is a dietitian and long-time Co-op member. She is the manager for Outreach and Stakeholder Engagement at the Partnership for Food Safety Education.
Mary Saucier Choate

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