Not looking to win a powerlifting competition? Good news: Just about any physical activity benefits the body and mind, recent research shows, and it’s never too late to start. Anyone starting a new exercise program should consult their physician first, experts say, but increasingly, physical activity is being viewed in the medical profession as one of the most important preventive strategies for a range of ills.
“Exercise benefits physically but also mentally, by combating anxiety and depression,” said Christina Peregrym, owner of Jabz Boxing Happy Valley.
Hitting the gym can be a great strategy. But just walking works, too. People who walk 10 to 59 minutes a week have an 18-percent lower risk of death from any cause, compared to inactive people, according to a study earlier this year.
The research, detailed in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined data on 88,140 U.S. residents age 40 to 85, across 14 years. People who did 2.5 hours or more of moderate physical activity—which can include brisk walking, dancing, gardening or even housework—cut their risk of premature death by 31 percent.
The reasons are well understood. Brisk walking improves mood, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, sleep and cognitive abilities, according to the American Heart Association.
Brisk walking, or any moderate physical activity, is defined as somewhere between “conversation is easy” and “you can hear your breathing but you’re not out of breath.”
Another study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that even people who began exercising late in life see their mortality risk drop 30 percent or more, compared to people who stay sedentary. “If you’re between ages 40 to 60 and you have not been active for a long time, it’s not too late to start exercising now,” said study leader Pedro Saint-Maurice at the National Cancer Institute.
Not sure where to begin? Start with a daily walk, no matter how far it takes you. Then find a way to stay motivated. “Make a list of weekly or daily goals, or ask a friend to join you to create accountability,” Peregrym suggests.