Update: The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports has declared May as "National Physical Fitness and Sports Month." With better weather and this special month, I would like to encourage those of you who are inactive to begin a fitness program.
How do you start an exercise program? The first step is often the toughest. Pick an activity that sounds fun and that you can do without too much hassle. For instance, take a walk around the block with a friend or find some wide road and ride one of your kids' bikes for a few minutes. Or find your old tennis racquet, buy a few balls and go to a nearby park or school to hit a few with your spouse or kids. Whatever you decide to try first, develop a schedule and become consistent in your activity.Second, start out slowly. Don't try to do too much the first few times out. The old bones will creak a little when you first begin doing things and may need some time to toughen up. If you begin slowly and progress slowly, it is not only safer, but the chance of injury decreases dramatically. If you notice any abnormal responses from your body, check with your doctor. In fact, if you have a chronic physical problem, you might want to check it out before you begin the activity program.
Third, involve others in your program. Invite your spouse or kids or check with a neighbor. Fitness activities are often most fun when more people are involved. I know one family that jumps rope for exercise about three nights a week and really has a ball. Others ride bikes together as a family. Any physical activity is better than none.
Is exercise really all that important? Several weeks ago, I reported on a study that suggested that "fitness" in and of itself was a heart disease risk factor. The more fit you are, the less chance of heart disease you have. Many other studies have found a relationship between activity and heart disease.
Will you live longer if you are active? Some studies have shown that effect. The Harvard alumni study showed that physically active individuals lived approximately two years longer than their sedentary counterparts, which is a huge improvement in longevity. Some scientists doubt that exercise can really increase the overall life span of any individual and think that the longer life seen in the Harvard study is a result of prevention of early deaths in active individuals. In any case, exercise seems to be a helpful thing to do.
How much exercise do you need? The Harvard study found that people who burned 2,000 calories of energy a week received most of the protective effects of exercise. However, even small amounts of activity were associated with some protection. Interestingly, the less active you are, the less activity it takes to get a positive effect.
Is exercise dangerous? Studies show that the risk of dying during exercise is very low and should not deter anyone from exercising, especially when considering the long-term positive effects.
There is no time like the present to begin your exercise program.