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High Price Tag
Photo: Susan H.
There is a high price tag to pay for being a couch potato. The lack of exercise not only increases the risk of a person becoming overweight, but inactivity can also adversely affect the function of the brain, the heart, and the bones. An inactive person is also more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.

Those who don’t exercise soon get out of condition and find the bathroom scales reading higher and higher numbers. The increased weight is mostly abdominal fat, which increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. On the other hand, those who engage in brisk walking for at least one hour every day can lower their risk of obesity by 25 percent.

Muscles will atrophy when not used. For every decade after age 50, you lose about six percent of muscle mass with a 10-15% loss of strength. To build muscle, it is important to do strength training exercises at least twice a week using weights that you lift 10 to 12 times per session. By gently overloading a muscle, one can make muscle fibers thicker and stronger. Very importantly, strength training also helps prevent bone loss and lower the risk of osteoporosis.

Inactivity also diminishes insulin sensitivity, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. Regular exercise can reverse these trends. Exercise can make the cells of the body more responsive to insulin. In one study, every hour per day of brisk walking decreased the risk of diabetes 34 percent. Because of the sedentary lifestyle of American children we are seeing diabetes increase at an alarming rate among young people.

Raises Risk of Colon Cancer

Exercise will improve the function of the immune system and reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections. Inactivity also raises the risk of cancer. Men and women who are physically active can reduce their risk of colon cancer by 30 to 40 percent. Regular exercise also appears to lower the risk of breast cancer by about 20 percent.

Older people who are not physically active are at a greater risk for cognitive decline and dementia. Elderly people who exercised three or more times a week were 32 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia over the next six years than those who exercised fewer than three times a week. Research has shown that the brains of physically active experimental animals have more nerve connections than those inactive.

Inactivity also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Exercise improves heart function and increases flexibility of blood vessels and decreases blood pressure. Exercise also decreases the risk of blood clots. Active persons are 25 percent less likely to have a stroke, and 50 percent less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than their sedentary counterparts. Exercise also helps a person manage their stress more effectively.

To achieve these optimal health benefits a minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking and cycling, is recommended.

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By Winston J. Craig, R.D. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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