why to exercise today


Why To Exercise Today: Don’t Fall, Or If You Do, Get Less Hurt

(Stougard/Wikimedia Commons)

(Stougard/Wikimedia Commons)

Falls are no fun for anyone, as I can attest after limping for the last three months, legacy of a slippery grass hill on the fourth of July. But when you’re elderly, falls can kill you. Usually not right away, but the death rate in the aftermath of a broken hip is terrifying: you become two to five times more likely to die in the months afterward.

So even if you’re not old, it’s never too early to start preparing, and an overview of studies just out in the medical journal BMJ offers persuasive evidence that exercise can help you avoid falls or get less hurt if you do go down. From the press release:

Well-designed exercise programmes can prevent falls in older adults living at home. However, evidence to date that these programmes can prevent injuries caused by falls is poor.

Researchers from France therefore looked to see whether fall-prevention exercise programmes are associated with a significantly lower risk of fractures and other injuries due to falls. The main aim of the paper was to review the current evidence about the effect of exercise interventions on different outcomes of injurious falls. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: To The Woman Who Was So Nasty At The Gym

Some nice U.S. Navy weight room camaraderie (Wikimedia Commons)

Some nice U.S. Navy weight room camaraderie (Wikimedia Commons)

Dear fellow gym member:

I’m trying hard not to let you ruin my morning. I’m telling myself you were surely stressed, irritable, hurried.

Still, it was simply shocking to get your blast of negativity during my workout — and over what? That I somehow wasn’t using the weight machines in the right order — as if there is an order? Finally, hurt and nonplussed, I said, “You know, we’re all just here fighting the good fight…”

What I should have added was, “…and when you’re nasty at the gym, you’re violating a social contract that the rest of us understand. It’s worse than just being nasty on the street or in a line. The people here really are engaged in a fight to do the right thing, to work out despite fatigue or depression or indolence. When you spew your ugliness onto your fellow soldiers instead of offering support, you’re helping the wrong side.”

“You’re upsetting a delicate balance; if you turn the gym into a more negative experience for me, beyond the healthy discomfort of stressing my body, you make me that much less likely to come tomorrow. You’re striking a blow for the sedentary lifestyle and chronic disease. Is that the side you want to be on?”

The thought of reporting you to the gym managers crossed my mind — but what would I say? “Just FYI, this woman could be bad for morale.”

But I’ve decided instead to focus on the positive: the fact that your behavior was so shocking because the vast, vast majority of my time at the gym is so positive and uplifting: powerful music, honest sweat, friends who praise each other, creative inspirations that tend to hit only during or after strenuous work. The list goes on and on.

If I were a bigger person, I’d wish you all of those things. But at the moment, I’m just wishing you a newfound passion for marathon running — or any other sport that requires you to train outside.

Readers, has something like this happened to you? How did you respond? 

Why To Exercise Today: Someone Will Give You A Whole $5

(Wikimeedia Commons)

(Wikimeedia Commons)

The paradox never fails to amaze me: Even though we know that exercise is one of the very best things we can do for ourselves, our more primitive brains often put up a stunningly stubborn wall of resistance. So here’s a new study suggesting that even a surprisingly small sum of money could help tip the balance in the right direction. (How to use it? There are Websites that can help — stickk.com comes to mind — or maybe just get a friend to be your tight-fisted banker, willing to release your money to you only if you earn it with sweat.)

From the press release:

A review study published today finds that financial incentives –- as modest as $5 per week –- can increase the amount of exercise people do.

Lead author Marc Mitchell, University of Toronto PhD candidate and Cardiac Rehabilitation Supervisor at Toronto Rehab, worked under the leadership of University of Toronto exercise psychologist Guy Faulkner and exercise physiologist Jack Goodman to publish these findings in the September online publication of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The review study looked at 1,500 patients.

“The time commitment and discomfort of exercise prevents many adults from starting regular exercise,” said Mitchell. “For those who do start, most drop out within six months.”

Financial incentive-based public health strategies have gained popularity in North America in recent years, with smoking and weight loss being the more popular targets.

“People’s actions tend to serve their immediate self-interest at the expense of long-term wellbeing,” said Mitchell. “This is often the case for exercise, where the costs are experienced in the present and the benefits are delayed. Because of this, many adults postpone exercise.” Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Study Says You Can Trust Yourself On Intervals


Men tend to go faster but women tend to try harder. That’s one takeaway from a new study on high-intensity interval training, the efficient practice — backed by ever more research — of shifting back and forth during a workout between pushing hard and easing up.

Does it matter how gender tends to break down on interval training? Well,  being aware of these findings might suggest ways to adjust your workout. But the study also offers some valuable general reassurance for interval trainers: Chances are, you’re reading your own signals well as you ramp your effort up and down.

The press release on the upcoming paper, which is titled “Sex-specific Responses to Interval Training” and slated to be published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning:

New research shows that when it comes to running, women may get more out of high intensity interval training (HIIT) than their male counterparts.

Researchers put eight men and eight women between the ages of 19 and 30 through self-paced, high intensity interval training using different recovery periods. All of them reported at least a moderate fitness level and participation in at least one session of interval training a week.

Participants hit the treadmill for six, four-minute intervals performed at the highest intensity they felt they could maintain. Recovery between intervals consisted of one minute, two minutes or four minutes.

Throughout the intervals, their maximum oxygen consumption and heart rates were measured. Results revealed a significant effect of gender on both percentages. Across the trials, men self-selected a faster relative pace, but the women worked at a higher percentage of their maximum heart rate than the men and a higher percentage of their maximum oxygen consumption. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: ‘Strong Is The New Skinny’?


That’s what I’m feeling about “Strong is the new skinny,” a meme that this CBC news report tells me is “blowing up” on social media this summer. Indeed, a quick check of the Twitter hashtag #strongisthenewskinny yields a bounty of tweets, including:

I ain’t got time for these Victoria Secret tweets! Someone feed the models some carbs and teach em how to squat.

You all want junk in your trunk nobody wants skinny fat flat arses

Train like the beast and you’ll look like beauty!

Skinny girls worry about their weight on the scale—Fit girls worry about the weight lifted in the gym.

(Roberto Berlim/Wikimedia Commons)

(Roberto Berlim/Wikimedia Commons)

The source of my ambivalence: Yes, a shift away from the Twiggy ideal and toward a fit, healthier ideal could turn out to be less anorexogenic. And much of the messaging is wonderful: Try hard. Eat healthy. Work out. But why does any form of body have to be bad? Do you really have to derogate flat bottoms and pressure girls to lift heavier weights? Will young women now end up obsessing about lacking a sixpack instead of about extra pounds?

It’s also worth noting that quite a bit of the impetus for this new slogan — though by no means all — seems to come from personal trainers, who have a vested interest in persuading women that they need to build muscle, and commercial exercise programs. My vote goes with the CBC reporter in the clip above, who ends suggesting “Maybe we shouldn’t say ‘Strong is the new skinny; maybe we should say, ‘healthy is the new skinny.’” Readers, thoughts? Have you heard this slogan and how did you react? Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: It’s Like A Little Prayer

Madonna in the video of "Like A Prayer." (YouTube)

Madonna in the video of “Like A Prayer.” (YouTube)

You may sometimes wonder whether we bloggers have any filter at all between our streams of consciousness and our WordPress dashboards, but I assure you that I do often deem certain feelings and thoughts of mine too idiosyncratic to be worth your reading time. Unless they also appear in The New York Times, that is.

So really, I was maintaining a discreet silence about the occasional sense I have that there is a — well, a prayerful aspect to certain moments during exercise. For me, it’s when I’m in the midst of a hard aerobic step workout and a move involves raising my hands to the ceiling or opening my arms out to the sides. The best I can verbalize it is: I’m embracing the world. I’m opening myself out to the universe. I’m reaching toward heaven. I feel silly now, but there you have it. And here you have The New York Times piece that emboldened me, one of the brief essays in an opinion-page debate on exercise addiction. Written by author Jamie Quatro, it’s titled “Like A Prayer” and includes this lovely passage:

I’ve heard other runners who are religious say that they do their best praying while in motion. But what is prayer? When St. Paul exhorted the Thessalonian church to “pray without ceasing,” surely he didn’t mean they should go about their days verbally talking to God? Though prayer in one form is certainly verbal, it can’t only be that.

In my own case, the allure of distance running involves sinking through the first two layers and emerging into a third, a state of prayerlike consciousness. Past the feel-good vibes, past the delusions, my attention moves outward: I’m intensely aware of the cadence of a bird’s song, cherry blossoms weighted-down after a rain. Things light up and I experience an interior stillness that somehow syncs me more profoundly with the exterior world. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: For Medicine — As Libido Boost, Anxiety Fix

exercisehappinessMaybe you’re one of those people compelled to run the Boston Marathon next year, but that’s a long way off. How about a mini-”Boston Strong” jog right now? It’s beautiful outside and here, in a report by ABC News, are seven health problems eased by exercise, including decreased sex drive, back pain, anxiety, insomnia, food cravings and hot flashes.

Here’s some of the report on exercise as medicine:

“When it comes to preventing health problems, exercise is one of the best medicines we have,” says David Katz, MD, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. But some workouts are better than others for healing what ails you…

Low Sex Drive
Look no further than your local gym: In a Journal of Sexual Medicine study, women who hit the treadmill for 20 minutes were more physiologically aroused while viewing an erotic video than the group that didn’t work out.

“Exercise increases circulation to every area of your body,” explains ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, MD, co-author of V Is for Vagina, and that makes us more game for bedroom action.

Mentally, regular workouts may help us get over body hang-ups, she adds. And the feel-good endorphins released during exercise can bust through fatigue or stress that drags down sex drive. (Having increased stamina won’t hurt, either.)

Your fitness Rx: Add workouts that get your heart pumping and put you in touch with your body, like Latin dance or Zumba. Dr. Dweck also recommends yoga positions that increase blood flow to the pelvic area….

Back Pain
The supporting muscles around your spine become less resilient with age; sitting hunched over a computer all day weakens them further. But the new thinking is that rest isn’t usually the answer. “Research has shown that a better fix, in most patients, is strength training,” advises Wayne Westcott, PhD, an exercise scientist at Quincy College in Massachusetts. “It can lessen pain by 30 to 80 percent in 10 to 12 weeks.”

Developing your lower-back, abdominal and oblique muscles takes pressure off your spine and improves range of motion, both preventing and treating pain. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Because You’re So Lucky You Can

A friend just sent over the link to this video with a message about how it’s better to exercise now than to end up later unable to do more than the participants above.

But who ever knows, who ever knows? What might be the stories of misfortune that planted those participants in their seats? I only know that though I felt tired and achy during my bout with the stairclimber this morning, after watching this video I’m feeling overwhelmingly lucky that I can work out on my feet. Watch it and then go out for a run or a walk — because thank goodness you can.

Post-script: My desire to avoid confinement to a chair is not at all meant to derogate seated exercise. Another friend writes:

I used to work with low income elders who often did exercises in chairs. They did it that way to stay well rather than because they were so ill.

As people age they often become unsteady on their feet and falls are very common and very dangerous for older people. They can result in fractures, cause immobility, and even hasten death. For this reason, some elders are encouraged to exercise while seated–specifically to minimize the risk of falls. This way they build core strength and maintain muscle and bone health while safely exercising (and socializing), which is far safer than walking in the snow or ice or simply falling over while picking up a weight in an exercise class.

No, chair exercise does not provide the kind of work out you or I do, nor is it the kind of workout my very active 72 year old mother does. But for many, it is far better than being inactive.

Why To Exercise Today Contest: Simplify Your Rules To The Max


You know what we need to help us exercise? We need the fitness equivalent of the now-classic Michael Pollan mantra for how to feed ourselves: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

That was the lead on Pollan’s lengthy New York Times magazine article in early 2007, and I’d swear I’ve heard it echoed hundreds of times since then. He goes on to write:

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy…A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat ”food.”

So what should the maximal simplification of exercise recommendations be? The full CDC recommendations are here, but here’s a Mayo Clinic simplification: “As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.”

And here’s my stab at this based on my own experience: Aim for every morning, mix cardio and strength, have fun.

Readers, here’s your contest challenge: Distill your own personal wisdom into the best possible brief mantra, and share it in the Comments section below. Those lovely swagmasters in WBUR’s membership department say they can offer a fine Charles River Apparel jacket like the one pictured above to the three mantra-makers who get the most ‘Likes’ — whether on your comment below or on WBUR’s Facebook page — by our deadline, which I hereby declare to be April 10. Good luck and start your phrasemaking engines!

Every Minute Of Exercise Could Lengthen Your Life Seven Minutes


At a recent dinner party, a geeky friend of mine was cheerily justifying the piles of money he spends on a personal trainer. He’s feeling so great that it’s worth every cent, he exulted, “And the best part is the return on the time! Every minute you spend working out comes back to you, because you’ll live that much longer!”

“Really?” I wondered. I knew vaguely that being active lengthens life expectancy, but was the return on time spent really 1 to 1?

Certainly, I hoped it was. It’s a daily struggle to make the time to exercise, and the current federal health guidelines call for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise — a lot of time that somehow manages to seem like even more, magnified by the “should” it adds to so many days. There are hundreds of other reasons to exercise, and the one that works best for me is wanting to feel at my best on that very day. But it would be very comforting, I thought, if I knew that all of that time would come back to me.

Not only do you get the time back, it comes back to you multiplied — possibly by as much as seven or eight or nine.

Let me cut to the happy conclusion: It seems that it does. And then some. If you play with the data of a recent major paper on exercise and longevity, you can calculate that not only do you get the time back; it comes back to you multiplied — possibly by as much as seven or eight or nine.

To quote Tom Anthony, a regular CommonHealth reader with a Harvard physics degree who kindly helped me with the math, “I wish I could get these paybacks in the stock market.”

This is all a bit of a public health parlor game, of course, resting on averages and approximations. You, personally, could work out ten hours a week and still die flukishly young. But the math looked so striking that I asked for a reality check from Dr. I-Min Lee of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard professor and senior author of that recent paper, “Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity And Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis.”

Yes, she confirmed, she had not calculated out the question before, but according to her data, a middle-aged person who gets the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise — defined as the level of brisk walking — can expect a 1-to-7 return: seven extra minutes of life gained for each minute spent exercising.

Some background: Continue reading