Physical activity can do more than lead to weight loss. It's also proven to have a significant number of other health benefits
Keep your body moving to keep it fit
Try to keep your body moving to keep it fit. Regular physical exercise can be essential to losing weight and keeping it off. People who keep weight off tend to be very active. In a survey of people who lost weight and kept it off, good eating habits and physical activity were the only habits that almost everyone shared. Most kept up a high level of activity–about an hour a day or more of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking.
Any physical activity is probably better than none at all; but raising your activity level can help improve your weight loss. The US Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, recommends at least 2½ hours of moderate activity per week for most adults. To keep a stable weight, HHS recommends 2½ to 5 hours of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking at a pace of about 4 miles per hour. You may want to increase your activity to more than 5 hours per week to lose weight.
Healthy eating and physical activity go well together. The combination can do more to help you lose weight than either one alone. But physical activity can do more than just burn the calories you eat; some experts think it may help curb your appetite so you eat less.
Physical activity has benefits beyond weight loss alone. Here are some ways being active could make your life better:
- Daily living. Being active can make it easier to do the tasks of day-to-day living. If you’ve had a hard time walking, climbing stairs, or doing other daily activities, staying active may help.
- Feeling better. Physical activity can help your mood. Active adults have a lower risk of depression and being active during the day may also improve sleep at night.
- Quality of life. Physical activity may boost your quality of life by giving you more energy and improving your overall health. If you suffer from chronic pain, staying with the exercise program recommended by your healthcare provider may help.
- Healthy metabolism. Being active can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Aging well. As you grow older, being active can help you live independently. An active lifestyle can make it easier to keep doing your normal daily activities and may also slow down mental decline. Physical activity can also keep your bones strong and help prevent falls, lessening your risk of a broken hip or other broken bones.
- Living longer. Most of all, being active may help people live longer. Studies have shown that staying physically active reduces the risks of dying young.
- Heart disease. Being active may protect you from heart disease and stroke. Physical activity can keep your blood pressure low and improve your cholesterol profile. What’s more, being active can improve your overall fitness.
- Cancer. Being active can also help keep you safe from some forms of cancer. Physical activity lowers your risk of colon and possibly lung cancer. If you’re a woman, it also cuts your risk of breast cancer and possibly cancer of the uterus lining. Furthermore, being active improves fitness and quality of life in people who have survived cancer.
What can you do to stay active?
First, talk with your healthcare provider before you change your physical activity level. Staying active is great for your health, but trying to do too much or doing the wrong kind of activity can be risky. You don’t want to try too hard and get sidelined with an injury that could keep you from being active at all. Your healthcare provider will know what is healthy for you and what activities are best. Your healthcare provider will also direct you about the best time during the day to fit physical activity into your schedule and will help you pace yourself to slowly build up to your goal.
- Maintain your activity level. Increase it if your healthcare provider recommends. As we said before, people who lose weight and keep it off tend to be very active. On average, successful weight losers put in about 60 to 75 minutes of moderate activity (brisk walking) or 35 to 45 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging) per day. Most people could safely manage an hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, even if they are overweight or not used to exercise. Again, talk to your healthcare provider before you introduce any changes to your physical activity level.
Here are some ideas you could follow to keep yourself moving:
- Walk. The number one activity of long-term weight losers is walking. One survey looked at the physical activity of people who lost weight and kept it off: 4 out of 5 walked at least a little bit; more than half of the participants walked a mile a day or more.
Walking can be a great choice for physical activity. You can walk on your own or with friends, you can set your own pace, you don’t need any special equipment, and you can do it year-round. You can walk almost anywhere you are and, if you’re careful, you have a low risk of getting hurt. Walking also burns almost as many calories as running the same distance.
Many people enjoy walking. And of course, the more you like it, the more you’re likely to walk. Some people like to walk with a friend or a pet; others walk alone. Choosing a scenic new place can make walking an adventure. This and other tactics can make a daily walk a daily pleasure.
Don’t forget to dress for comfort when you walk.
Of course, there are other ways to stay active, besides walking. In the survey discussed earlier, 2 out of 3 people engaged in other activities in addition to or separate from walking.
Resistance training was the next most popular choice: about 1 out of 3 people in the survey did some resistance training.
Aerobic exercise was also very popular in the survey: 1 person in 5 rode a bicycle, 1 in 6 did aerobics, 1 in 7 ran, and 1 in 7 also used cardio machines.
The survey found a few other choices: 1 person in 10 did floor conditioning, such as yoga and pilates, and 1 in 20 swam.
Whether it’s jogging, cycling, swimming, or yoga, remember, what works best is what your healthcare provider recommends. Don’t worry what other people think and don’t let it stop you from keeping up with your program.
Another option is vigorous exercise. If you were hesitant to start vigorous exercise when you were less in shape, you may be ready now. Talk to your healthcare provider.
An exercise tracker can help you select appropriate activities. You can usually get some new ideas and learn about the calories you could burn. The more physical activity you do, the more likely you are to enjoy it—and the more you enjoy it, the more active you can be. Get additional tips on choosing and getting started on a new activity. As always, talk with your healthcare provider first.
Turn off your TV and computer
One more thing you can do is cut back on inactive behaviors, such as watching TV, surfing the Web, and playing videogames. People who watch more TV are likely to eat more, weigh more, and move their bodies less. Similarly, those who spend more hours using their computer or the Internet outside of work are more likely to be overweight.
One study looked at the TV-watching habits of people who lost weight and kept it off. The study found that long-term weight losers watch much less TV than most people. Almost 2 out of 3 weight losers watched 10 hours a week or less and more than 1 out of 3 watched less than 5 hours a week. Compare these numbers with those of the average American adult who watches 28 hours of TV per week. Among long-term weight losers, only 1 in 8 watched more than 20 hours of TV a week. What’s more, those who watched more TV were more likely to gain the weight back.
Besides watching TV, extensive use of the Internet and computer outside of work may cause you to gain weight. One recent Japanese study found that high levels of TV and computer screen time (>21 hours/week) combined with less than 150 minutes per week of exercise time placed people at risk of being overweight. Another study conducted in Australia found that people who spend 3 or more hours of their daily free time in front of a computer screen are nearly 1.5 times more likely to be overweight than those who don’t spend any. Interestingly, those who reported high levels of Internet and computer use were more likely to be overweight even when they engaged in high levels of physical activity. Internet use is increasingly popular worldwide, and it can be your weight-loss friend if used appropriately; it can help you find healthy recipes, new ideas for physical activities, and motivational support. However, please beware of aimless Web-browsing, clicking through videos, etc; these can steal time when you could be physically active.
- You may want to add some new physical activity to your routine:
- Always talk with your healthcare provider about any risks
- You could try something active you haven’t done
- You don’t have to love everything you try. If you try something and don’t like it, you could try something else instead the next week
- Discuss a sustainable physical activity routine with your healthcare provider.
- Try to find a new physical activity that fits with your new routine and that you haven’t tried yet.
Again, always talk with your healthcare provider before you start a new activity.