Helpguide.org collaborates with Harvard Health Publications, the consumer health publishing division of Harvard Medical School. The following information has been adapted from a Harvard Health Publication – Harvard Health Letter: December 2013 – a newsletter published by Harvard Health Publications and added to the Helpguide.org site as a free educational supplement. The collaboration between the two organizations takes place without an exchange of funds.
Adding just a little physical activity to your weekly routine can have a profound effect on your mental and emotional health.
How much exercise do you need?
Exercising moderately for 30 minutes, five times a week is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minute workouts can be just as effective. Even just a little physical activity is better than none at all.
How hard do I need to exercise?
Research has shown that mild to moderate activity is enough to change your life for the better. Moderate activity means that you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not out of breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song. Your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.
Do I need different types of exercise?
While any kind of exercise offers tremendous health benefits, different types of exercise focus more on certain aspects of your health. Mixing up the different types of exercise can add variety to your workouts and broaden the health benefits.
Aerobic activities like running, cycling, and swimming strengthen your heart and increase your endurance.
Strength training like weight lifting or resistance training builds muscle and bone mass, improves balance and prevents falls. It’s one of the best counters to frailty in old age.
Flexibility exercises like stretching and yoga help prevent injury, enhance range of motion, reduce stiffness, and limit aches and pains.
Exercise is as Good for Your Mind as it is Your Body
Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body. It can help you to control your appetite, lose weight, shed inches, and lower your risk for a variety of serious diseases. But the benefits don’t stop there. Exercise is as effective as antidepressant medication at relieving depression and boosting your mood. It can also help you to relieve stress and anxiety, improve your self-esteem, sleep better, and cope with life’s challenges in a healthy, positive way. Even very small activities can add up over the course of a day.
Easy exercises for “couch potatoes”
Sit to stand
Go from sitting to standing to sitting again, 10 times in a row. Rest for a minute, then repeat.
Works the quadriceps in the front of the thigh and gluteal muscles in the buttocks, which helps protect your ability to get up from a chair, out of a car, or off a bathroom seat.
Sit on the edge of a couch with your feet flat on the floor. With one leg, keeping your heel on the floor, lift and point the toes toward the ceiling, so that you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Hold for 30 seconds, then do the same with the other leg, three times per leg.Keeping your calves optimally flexible can keep your walking stride longer, reduce your risk of tripping over your toes, and reduce your risk for common foot injuries.
Stand on one leg
Holding on to the back of a chair for stability, lift one heel toward your buttocks. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds, three times per leg. To improve your balance on unsteady surfaces, try this with shoes off on a balled-up beach towel.Balance gets better if you practice it, which can decrease the risk of falling.
Shoulder blade squeeze
Pinch your shoulder blades together, but not up (don’t shrug). Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat 10 times.Helps prevent a rounded, shoulders-forward posture that can develop from many years of sitting, especially at a computer.
While seated upright, hold a ball (the size of a basketball) over your lap with both hands, then squeeze the ball as if you’re trying to deflate it. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times, rest, then do another set of 10 repetitions. You can also improve your grip strength by squeezing a small rubber ball in one hand.
Keeping your grip strong makes it possible to turn a door knob, open a jar, and grasp a gallon of milk.