As you get older, it may seem like your list of ailments grows with each birthday. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and even Type 2 diabetes are common when people reach middle age and beyond.
Many times, your doctor will prescribe medicine to help you keep these conditions under control. Of course it’s critical to take the medicine prescribed and follow all instructions. But there’s one other “prescription” you may want to ask your doctor about: exercise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise like walking. Just that small amount can have long-lasting and powerful health benefits.
The recommendation of 150 minutes per week yields many health benefits, including lowering the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. It also helps you:
- Control your weight
- Lower your risk of heart disease
- Lower your risk of colon and breast cancers
- Make bones and muscles stronger
- Improve your mental health and mood
Before you panic about 150 minutes being too much for you, remember that you don’t have to do it all at once. That’s spread out over a full week. You can even break it into 10-minute chunks of time a couple times a day, as long as you get your heart rate up.
“The guidelines are meant to be an approachable goal,” said Jennifer Brazen, a personal trainer certified by the American College of Exercise. “Many people will say ‘I can’t get an hour in, so I am just not going to work out.’ But if you say it’s OK to get 30 minutes a day a few times a week, that’s a starting point for people and hopefully they will enjoy it and want to do more.”
When you build your exercise routine, don’t forget to build in strength training, too. The CDC recommends that adults add exercises two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).
Exercise is also very important for those who have certain health problems. For example, exercise helps people with diabetes control their blood glucose. It also can reduce the risk of heart disease and nerve damage, which often are problems for people with diabetes.
It is very important that diabetic patients and other people with chronic health problems consult their doctor before starting an exercise program.
Even if you are in perfect health, don’t overlook the mental benefits of working out.
“The most frustrating piece of our work is that we can’t measure mental health,” Brazen said. “But we can see it when you come in the gym. You may have a smile on your face looking forward to working out, or you’re stressed coming in, and when you leave you’re happier.”
Need some inspiration to get more active? Do more of something you already enjoy, like walking, hiking, sports, dancing or swimming. Or take a class in something new. You can meet new people while you improve your health. There are lots of choices, like Pilates, cycling, barre, boxing, water aerobics, belly dancing, boot camp and Zumba. Check online for options in your area.
Sources: The Benefits of Physical Activity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2015; How much physical activity do adults need?, CDC, 2015; Be Active! Why is it important for people with diabetes to be physically active?, CDC, 2016