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Staying in Shape Does Great Things for Your Health

by Karin A. Bilich, EatingWell.com, Premium Health News Service

When many people decide to “get fit,” they assume it involves rigorous activity. But you don’t have to spend hours in a gym to be physically active. Playing outdoors with your child, swimming a lap, climbing a flight of stairs, walking to the store, carrying packages – all of these activities can help improve your fitness level.

When you are physically fit, you may feel and look better – and you’ll certainly be doing lots of good things for your health. Here are some of the benefits that physical activity offers:

1. It strengthens the heart.

The heart is a muscle and, like other muscles, it responds to exercise by becoming stronger and more efficient. Strengthening the heart muscle can help ward off heart disease – the leading cause of death in the United States.

2. It strengthens the lungs.

Working hard increases lung capacity and the lungs’ efficiency in moving air in and out of the body. As a result, more oxygen is drawn into the body and more carbon dioxide and other waste gases are expelled.

3. It helps keep arteries and veins healthy.

Exercise may help reduce the amount of harmful cholesterol and fats in your blood. It also helps increase the flexibility of blood-vessel walls and may help lower blood pressure. This can reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke.

4. It can help reduce blood sugar levels.

Exercise prevents sugar from accumulating in the blood by triggering muscles to take up more glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy. This can reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

5. It helps controls weight.

If you’re sedentary, you may be taking in more calories than your body needs. These unused calories can accumulate as fat. When you’re physically active you burn more calories, which can lead to weight loss. Losing weight, if you’re overweight, is good for the heart and can help prevent or manage diabetes.

6. It strengthens bones.

Just as muscles grow stronger when physically stressed, bones also respond by getting stronger. Weight-bearing exercise increases bone density, which helps prevent osteoporosis, a condition in which bones lose density, weaken and become porous and fragile.

7. It may help prevent cancer.

People who exercise regularly have lower incidences of cancer. The cancers most affected include colon, prostate, uterine and breast cancers.

8. It improves energy levels.

Regular exercise can make you feel more energetic, which, in turn, helps you continue to stay active. It’s a victorious cycle!

9. It enhances emotional well-being.

Many people report that they feel calmer and less stressed after exercising. Exercise, according to one theory, releases beta-endorphin, a natural feel-good substance in the body. And don’t you just feel better when you’re doing something good for yourself?

EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life.

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