The Benefits of Exercise

If you're searching for the fountain of youth, look no further than your closest park, gym, or exercise class.  Not only does regular activity strengthen your muscles and improve heart and lung function, it can also reduce your risk of major diseases, stimulate the growth of new brain cells, and even add years to your life.  Studies show just 30 minutes of physical activity every other day is all that's required to reap big benefits. Many health organizations suggest that regular physical activity may provide the following benefits:

LONGEVITY - Workouts such as brisk walking or cycling boost the amount of oxygen consumed during exercise.  Improving your aerobic capacity by just 15 to 25 percent would be like shaving 10 to 20 years off your age.  Aerobic exercise may also stimulate the growth of new brain cells in older adults.  Studies have consistently shown that being active cuts the risk of premature death by about 50 percent for men and women.

REDUCE INFECTIONS - Moderate workouts temporarily rev up the immune system by increasing the aggressiveness of immune cells.  That may explain why people who exercise catch fewer colds.

PREVENT HEART PROBLEMS - Not only does exercise raise "good HDL cholesterol and lower blood pressure, but research suggests it may help reduce arterial inflammation, a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.

EASE ASTHMA - Upper body and breathing exercises can reduce the need to use an inhaler in mild cases of asthma.

CONTROL BLOOD SUGAR - Exercise helps maintain a healthy blood sugar level by increasing the cells' sensitivity to insulin and by controlling weight.  Regular brisk walking can also significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

PROTECT AGAINST CANCER - Exercise may reduce the risk of colon cancer by speeding waste through the gut and lowering the insulin level.  It may also protect against breast and prostate cancer by regulating hormone levels.

COMBAT STRESS - Regular aerobic exercise lowers levels of stress hormones.  For many people, exercise helps relieve depression as effectively as antidepressant medication.

WOMEN'S HEALTH - Increasing fitness by walking or practicing yoga enhances mood and reduces some menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats.

MEN'S HEALTH - Pelvic exercises help prevent erectile dysfunction and possibly benign prostate enlargement, a common cause of urinary problems.