These statistics are appalling. Only three out of 10 adults are active enough to stay healthy and fit. Almost four out of 10 admit they are not active at all, despite reams of research proving that exercise is a powerful defense, and sometimes an antidote, for disability and illness.
Regular physical activity makes an enormous difference to the quality and length of your life, a fact underscored by hundreds of concrete studies. Briefly, exercise does the following:
1. It lessens the likelihood of getting heart disease. Exercising regularly may increase the number of blood vessels feeding the heart, help prevent plaque buildup by striking a healthier balance of blood lipids, and help arteries retain resilience despite the effects of aging. Even if you already have heart disease, exercise lowers your chances of dying from it.
2. It lowers blood pressure, a benefit for many body systems. Long-term high blood pressure doubles or triples the odds of developing heart failure and helps pave the path to other kinds of heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, and kidney disease or failure.
3. It helps prevent diabetes by getting rid of excess weight, modestly lowering blood sugar levels, and boosting sensitivity to insulin so that your body needs less of it. If you have diabetes, exercise helps control blood sugar.
4. It reduces the risk for developing cancers of the colon, breast, uterus, and prostate. By helping you attain a healthy weight, exercise also lessens your risk for other cancers in which obesity is a factor.
5. It helps support bones, which reach peak density and strength during the first three decades of life. Over time, bones become lacier and weaker as density slips away. When combined with calcium, vitamin D, and bone-saving medications if necessary, weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, and strength training helps ward off bone loss. Balance-enhancing activities, like tai chi and yoga, help prevent falls that may end in fractures.
6. It helps protect joints by easing swelling, pain, and fatigue, and by keeping the cartilage healthy. Strong muscles support joints and lighten the load upon them. Activities that boost flexibility, including stretching, yoga, and tai chi, extend range of motion.
7. It may limit and even reverse knee problems by helping you control your weight, which is a big deal because for every step taken, each additional pound of body weight translates to four additional pounds of load on the knee.
8. It lifts spirits by releasing mood-elevating hormones, relieving stress, and promoting a sense of well-being. It also helps ease mild to moderate depression as effectively as medications. Combining exercise with medications, therapy, and social engagement is even better.
9. It may boost your ability to ward off infection since it prompts a modest, short-term upswing in natural killer cells and white blood cells, which help kill infection.
10. It adds years to your life. Studies show that moderate activity can add 1.3 years of life to men and 1.5 years of life to women. Raising the bar to high activity added 3.7 years for men and 3.5 years for women. Even current couch potatoes cannot wiggle out of this. A separate long-term study of 10,000 men ages 20 to 82, who were examined and given two fitness tests at five-year intervals, found those who made the attempt to shift status from unfit to fit cut their likelihood of dying by 44% compared with those who stayed inactive.