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Regular exercise improves your health. Regular physical activity improves sleep, mood, eating habits, energy levels, and reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, anxiety, and depression.

It’s never too late to start. Despite age, health issues, disability, and—the most common excuse—time, just about everyone’s health benefits from physical activity.

What should your exercise look like? A good physical fitness program includes heart-pumping cardio, strength-building moves, and flexibility training.

MOVE beyond scheduled workouts: In addition to scheduled exercise, it’s important to move your body regularly throughout the day. Get up and do something for 10 minutes once an hour.

Exercise is just as crucial to your health as getting enough sleep and proper nutrition. Unfortunately, most Americans fall short when it comes to meeting the recommended exercise quota. Are you getting the exercise you need? When it comes to the general public, the blanket recommendation for exercise is 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week, and recent research suggests that this may leave you short. The average adult sits for about eight hours every day. The physical demands you place on your body (within reason) tell your body what you need from it. Your body responds to exer- cise by building muscle, cardiorespiratory endurance, coordination, flexibility, and strength. Regular physical activity improves sleep, eating habits, energy levels, and exercise reduces the risk of heart and lung disease, diabetes, cancer, anxiety, depression, and improves your overall chances of living longer.

Regular exercise improves physical, emotional, and mental health. 

Sedentary behavior increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, anxiety, depres- sion, high blood pressure, brain function, as well as overall mortality.

Physical: There are many bodily benefits to frequent and regular exercise. Your heart and lungs grow stronger, your arteries become more flexible (important in delivering blood and nutrients effectively), you reduce body fat, and you reduce your risk of injury and accidents. Your body is more effective at regulating blood sugar, it strengthens your bones, improves your sleep, and helps you to live longer.

Emotional: While it may feel like the last thing you want to do when you feel stressed or sad, exer- cise does improve mood and reduces tension. And, according to research, it might work as well as medication. The links between exercise and these emotional benefits aren’t entirely clear, but sci- entists believe that mood-improving, anxiety-reducing endorphins released during physical activity are a likely cause. There may be other factors as well, including taking your mind off worries, gain- ing confidence, or getting some social interaction.

Mental: Several studies show that exercise increases brain functions from reaction time to recall. Exercise helps the mind by reducing inflammation in the brain, stimulating chemicals that improve the health of brain cells, increasing blood flow to the brain, and even helps the birth of new cells in your gray matter.

It’s never too late to start.

Often, starting your exercise program is the hardest part. The following tips can help you get started:

What do you like to do? Do you enjoy the solitude of walking by yourself, or do you prefer social ac- tivities such as aerobics or spin class? Do you like learning something new? If so, you could join a yoga or dance class. Do you like functional exercise? Maybe gardening, yard work, or walking to and from errands is more your style. Would you like to get your family involved? Talk to your children or partner about activities they’d enjoy as well.

Identify challenges. Look at your schedule, but also consider your feelings. Are you self-conscious about exercising in public? Start with some fitness videos at home. Do you go to work early and stay late? Do you work at night? You don’t have to change your clothes to take a walk, and maybe lacing up your fitness shoes during lunch is where you’ll start. Do you have trouble with your joints, or are you concerned about your size? Water aerobics or swimming can be a great way to start for you.

Start gradually. If you haven’t been active for a while, it’s especially important to start to incorporate exercise gradually. Too much, too fast, and you might end up right back on the couch. Just a 10-minute stroll around the block is a great way to start.

Get support. It helps both to have cheerleaders and to be accountable to others. Choose people who are positive and encouraging. Start a text check-in with one of your friends each day.

Schedule it. The most critical time to plan your daily exercise is the one you won’t skip. If you have a set work schedule, plan your exercise before or after work. If you are an early bird, it may make more sense for you to get your workouts in during the morning. However, if you tend to stay up later, you might find that exercise in the evenings works better for you. That said, there’s some research to indicate that afternoon or evening strength training improves muscle building compared to earlier daytime strength training.

What should your exercise look like?

To achieve peak physical fitness, you’ll want to include four essential categories of physical activity you’ll want to address. When taking the following recommendations into considerations, keep in mind that the exercise you do should add up to 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. It’s fine to do more exercise as long as you listen to your body and make sure you aren’t overdoing it.

Aerobic Activity: Here, you are striving to participate in continuous physical activity that gets your heart beating faster, and you breathing harder. Think: Running, biking, swimming, fast walking, dancing, golf (sans the cart), dancing, raking leaves, mopping, sweeping—or anything else that increases your heart and breathing rate for an extended amount of time, usually 30 to 45 minutes.

Strength Training: The general recommendation is two to three times a week on nonconsecutive days for about 30 to 45-minute sessions. You don’t need fancy equipment or a gym membership. You can target all your major muscle groups with basic moves such as pull-ups, pushups, squats, lunges, and sit-ups. If these moves sound too advanced, don’t fear. The Mayo Clinic’s website offers numerous strength-building how-to videos for all levels of fitness.

Functional Fitness: This type of exercise focuses on moves that mimic the actions necessary for daily life, and will vary depending on your occupation and the demands of your schedule. For some, this might include jumping, carrying heavy bags (groceries), getting up and down from the floor, standing or hopping on one leg, climbing stairs, even opening tight-lidded jars. Functional fitness is often designed with a combination of traditional strength moves (think pushups or squats), weaved with high-intensity vigorous cardio activity such as jumping rope, running fast, or sprinting on a bike.

Flexibility: Stretching your body helps it stay limber and protects you from injury and accidents. Tag stretches onto the end of a workout when your body is warmed up.

Finally, MOVE beyond scheduled workouts:

Recent research about physical activity finds a hefty relationship between sitting too much during your day and increased risk of overweight and obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and shorter lifespans. Strive to move more frequently throughout your day. If you don’t have a physically active day, or during the parts of your day where you sit for hours on end, set a timer to go off once every 60-minutes and get up and move (walk, stretch, climb stairs) for about 10-minutes. Here is your goal: Try to move for at least 10 minutes each hour of the day. This doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as getting up and walking around your work building or doing some stretching. At home, you can fold laundry, mow the lawn, rake leaves, do yard work, wash your car, and so on. Also, if your days off don’t include workouts of some sort, they should. It’s also important to include recre- ational training and exercise—think hiking, biking, or jogging with family and friends for at least an hour.

Now that you’ve got all the pieces for designing a perfect exercise program—it’s time to take action!

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