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Do We Get Enough Physical Activity? - Benefits of Daily Activity - Effects of Exercising on Aging - How to Begin Exercising - Calories - Maintaining an Exercise Program - More Information


Do We Get Enough Activity?

Most Americans don't get enough exercise in their day to day lives. They work primarily at sedentary jobs and don't get enough activity during the work day or during their leisure time. People prefer to watch TV or play on computers during their leisure time rather than be physically active. Surveys have shown some surprising results:

  • 25% of Americans over the age of 18 are not active at all

  • 38% of Americans over 55 are not active at all

  • 50% of children don't engage in physical activity that promotes long term health

  • 54% of adults get some exercise, but they don't do it regularly or intensely enough to gain cardiovascular benefits

  • Only 22% of Americans get enough exercise to achieve cardiovascular fitness

Any activity that gets you up and moving around is better than no exercise at all. Even low to moderate intensity activities can have long term benefits. Physical inactivity:

  • is a major risk factor for the development of coronary artery disease

  • makes you twice as likely to develop heart disease as an active person

  • is a contributor to other risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity

  • can lead to obesity which increases the risk of developing diabetes as well as other problems

It is estimated that:

  • Up to a quarter of a million deaths per year (12% of all deaths) are due to lack of regular physical activity

  • The risk of heart disease in people who don't exercise regularly is increased by up to 2.4 times that of people who exercise regularly

  • This is the same as for people who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or who smoke

  • Less active, less fit people have a 30 to 50 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure

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The Benefits of Daily Activity Are Enormous

Most healthy people can get benefits to heart and lungs by performing exercise for at least 30 minutes, 3-4 days each week at a moderate intensity level. The exercise does not have to be strenuous to provide health benefits as long as it is part of a regular routine. Some of the many benefits of regular physical activity are:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease and heart attack

  • Helps heart and lungs work more efficiently

  • Keeps weight under control by controlling appetite

  • Improves cholesterol levels

  • Prevents bone loss (osteoporosis)

  • Prevents and manages high blood pressure

  • Helps manage stress and releases tension

  • Boosts energy levels; counters anxiety and depression

  • Improves the ability to fall asleep quickly and sleep well

  • Increases muscle strength, giving greater ability for other activities

  • In older people, helps delay or prevent chronic illnesses and diseases associated with aging and maintains quality of life and independence longer

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The Effects of Exercising on Aging

According to the American College on Sports Medicine, exercise can have a profound effect on the aging process.

Effects of Aging and Exercise on the Body and Its Functions

Variable Effect of Aging Effect of Exercise
Aerobic fitness Negative Positive
Heart function Negative Positive
Blood pressure Negative Positive
Strength Negative Positive
Resting metabolism Negative Positive
Insulin activity Negative Positive
Blood fats Negative Positive
Bone density Negative Positive
Temperature regulation Negative Positive
Joint mobility Negative Positive
Psychological well-being Negative Positive
Senses(hearing, sight, taste, smell) Negative ?
Memory Negative ?

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How to Begin Exercising

If you are not exercising now, where should you start? Although most healthy people do not need to see a doctor before beginning a sensible, moderate exercise program, some people should see a doctor before beginning any exercise program. If you answer "Yes" to any of the following questions (PAR-Q), consult a doctor before you start exercising.

  • Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only do physical activity recommended by a doctor?

  • Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?

  • In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?

  • Do you lose your balance because of dizziness or do you ever lose consciousness?

  • Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?

  • Is your doctor currently prescribing drugs (for example water pills) for your blood pressure or heart condition?

  • Do you know of any other reason why you should not do physical activity?

After being sure that you are physically ready to begin exercise:

  • Choose a starting date that fits your schedule in the next day or two

  • Pick a physical activity that you find interesting or enjoyable

  • Wear comfortable clothes and good exercise shoes

  • Start very slowly and don't overdo it

  • Try exercising at the same time every day so that it becomes part of your life style

  • Drink water before, during and after you exercise

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When you exercise, you will burn extra calories. You need to burn off 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound. Below is a list of common activities and the number of calories a 150 pound person will burn. Heavier people will burn more calories, lighter people will burn fewer calories.


Calories burned

Bicycling 6 mph

240 cal/hr

Bicycling 12 mph

410 cal/hr

Cross-country skiing

700 cal/hr

Jogging 5 1/2 mph

740 cal/hr

Jogging 7 mph

920 cal/hr

Jumping rope

750 cal/hr

Running in place

650 cal/hr

Running 10 mph

1280 cal/hr

Swimming 25 yds/min

275 cal/hr

Swimming 50 yds/min

500 cal/hr

Tennis - singles

400 cal/hr

Walking 2 mph

240 cal/hr

Walking 3 mph

320 cal/hr

Walking 4 1/2 mph

440 cal/hr

In addition to burning calories during exercise, regular exercise also increases your metabolism and helps you burn calories between exercising as well.

All of this exercise is good for your heart. In one minute, the heart of a healthy, well conditioned person pumps the same amount of blood with 45 to 50 beats as an inactive person's heart pumps with 70 to 75 beats. This means that an inactive person's heart beats up to 36,000 more times per day. That is 13 million times more per year and that is a lot of work for your heart!

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Starting and Maintaining an Exercise Program

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The key to starting and maintaining an exercise program is persistence.

If you slip and miss a few days of exercise, don't assume that all your hard work up to this point was for nothing. Just start exercising again. It's what you do over the long term that really matters. Try not to become frustrated if you don't see results fast enough.

You didn't get out of shape over night, and you won't get back into shape overnight either. Try to identify yourself with the activity. Call yourself a "runner" or a "strength trainer" or a "skier". Make it a part of your life and feel good about it. To maintain your motivation to exercise, try these simple ideas:

  • Learn all you can about the benefits of exercise
  • Minimize your chance of injury by choosing mild to moderate exercises
  • Set short and long term realistic goals - and be specific
  • Join an exercise group or work out with a friend
  • Strike up a friendly competition with someone
  • Do activities you enjoy and that are convenient
  • Establish an exercise schedule and plan time to exercise
  • If time is an issue, try to do many short bouts of exercise throughout the day (do three 10-minute bouts of activity instead of one 30 minute workout)
  • Keep a written record of your exercise
  • Reward yourself for being physically active
  • Use cues for exercise (leave your car keys with your gym bag)
  • Encourage others to exercise and be physically active
  • Say positive things to yourself about your exercise
  • After a great workout, make some notes on how great you feel and read over them the next time you don’t want to go exercise.

If you can stay with an exercise program for six continuous months, you have hurdled your biggest obstacle to continuing your exercise program for the long term.

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For more information


Further Reading:

  • ACSM Fitness Book, 2nd edition, by the American College of Sports Medicine
  • Stretching, by Bob and Jean Anderson
  • Fitness for Dummies, 2nd edition, by Suzanne Scholsberg


  • Baumin, A. and N. Owen. 1991. Habitual physical activity and cardiovascular risk factors. Med J Aust, Jan 7; 154(1):22-8.

  • Epstein, L.H., C.K. Kilanowski, A.R. Consalvi and R.A. Paluch. 1999.   Reinforcing value of physical activity as a determinant of child activity level. Health Psychol, Nov. 18(6):599-603.

  • McAuley, E., B. Blissmer, J. Katula, T. Duncan and S. Mihalki. 2000. Physical activity, self-esteem, and self efficacy relationships in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Behav Med, Spring 2(2): 131-9.

  • Twisk, J.W., H.C. Kemper and W. van Mechelen. 2000. Tracking of activity and fitness and the relationship with cardiovascular disease risk factors. Med Sci Sports Exerc, Aug 32(8):1455-61.

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Page last modified Mar. 29, 2010