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Physical Activity and Weight Control
Regular physical activity is an important part of effective
weight loss and weight maintenance. It also can help prevent
several diseases and improve your overall health. It does not
matter what type of physical activity you perform--sports,
planned exercise, household chores, yard work, or work-related
tasks--all are beneficial. Studies show that even the most
inactive people can gain significant health benefits if they
accumulate 30 minutes or more of physical activity per day.
Based on these findings, the U.S. Public Health Service has
identified increased physical activity as a priority in Healthy
People 2000, our national objectives to improve the health of
Americans by the year 2000.
Research consistently shows that regular physical activity,
combined with healthy eating habits, is the most efficient and
healthful way to control your weight. Whether you are trying to
lose weight or maintain it, you should understand the important
role of physical activity and include it in your lifestyle.
How Can Physical Activity
Help Control My Weight?
Physical activity helps to control your weight by using excess
calories that otherwise would be stored as fat. Your body
weight is regulated by the number of calories you eat and use
each day. Everything you eat contains calories, and everything
you do uses calories, including sleeping, breathing, and
digesting food. Any physical activity in addition to what you
normally do will use extra calories.
Balancing the calories you use through physical activity with
the calories you eat will help you achieve your desired weight.
When you eat more calories than you need to perform your day's
activities, your body stores the extra calories and you gain
When you eat fewer calories than you use, your body uses the
stored calories and you lose weight. When you eat the same
amount of calories as your body uses, your weight stays the same.
Any type of physical activity you choose to do--strenuous
activities such as running or aerobic dancing or
moderate-intensity activities such as walking or household
work--will increase the number of calories your body uses. The
key to successful weight control and improved overall health is
making physical activity a part of your daily routine.
What Are the Health Benefits of Physical Activity?
In addition to helping to control your weight, research shows
that regular physical activity can reduce your risk for several
diseases and conditions and improve your overall quality of
life. Regular physical activity can help protect you from the
following health problems.
Studies on the psychological effects of exercise have found
that regular physical activity can improve your mood and the way
you feel about yourself. Researchers also have found that
exercise is likely to reduce depression and anxiety and help you
to better manage stress.
- Heart Disease and Stroke. Daily physical activity can help
prevent heart disease and stroke by strengthening your heart
muscle, lowering your blood pressure, raising your high-density
lipoprotein (HDL) levels (good cholesterol) and lowering
low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels (bad cholesterol),
improving blood flow, and increasing your heart's working
- High Blood Pressure. Regular physical activity can reduce
blood pressure in those with high blood pressure levels.
Physical activity also reduces body fatness, which is associated
with high blood pressure.
- Noninsulin-Dependent Diabetes. By reducing body fatness,
physical activity can help to prevent and control this type of
- Obesity. Physical activity helps to reduce body fat by
building or preserving muscle mass and improving the body's
ability to use calories. When physical activity is combined
with proper nutrition, it can help control weight and prevent
obesity, a major risk factor for many diseases.
- Back Pain. By increasing muscle strength and endurance
and improving flexibility and posture, regular exercise helps to
prevent back pain.
- Osteoporosis. Regular weight-bearing exercise promotes
bone formation and may prevent many forms of bone loss
associated with aging.
Keep these health benefits in mind when deciding whether or not
to exercise. And remember, any amount of physical activity you
do is better than none at all.
How Much Should I Exercise?
For the greatest overall health benefits, experts recommend that
you do 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three or more times
a week and some type of muscle strengthening activity and
stretching at least twice a week. However, if you are unable to
do this level of activity, you can gain substantial health
benefits by accumulating 30 minutes or more of
moderate-intensity physical activity a day, at least five times
If you have been inactive for a while, you may want to start
with less strenuous activities such as walking or swimming at a
comfortable pace. Beginning at a slow pace will allow you to
become physically fit without straining your body. Once you are
in better shape, you can gradually do more strenuous activity.
Moderate-intensity activities include some of the things you may
already be doing during a day or week, such as gardening and
housework. These activities can be done in short spurts--10
minutes here, 8 minutes there. Alone, each action does not have
a great effect on your health, but regularly accumulating 30
minutes of activity over the course of the day can result in
substantial health benefits.
To become more active throughout your day, take advantage of
any chance to get up and move around. Here are some examples:
The point is not to make physical activity an unwelcome chore,
but to make the most of the opportunities you have to be active.
- Take a short walk around the block
- Rake leaves
- Play actively with the kids
- Walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator
- Mow the lawn
- Take an activity break--get up and stretch or walk around
- Park your car a little farther away from your destination
and walk the extra distance
Aerobic activity is an important addition to moderate-intensity
exercise. Aerobic exercise is any extended activity that makes
you breathe hard while using the large muscle groups at a
regular, even pace. Aerobic activities help make your heart
stronger and more efficient. They also use more calories than
other activities. Some examples of aerobic activities
To get the most health benefits from aerobic activity, you
should exercise at a level strenuous enough to raise your heart
rate to your target zone. Your target heart rate zone is 50 to
75 percent of your maximum heart rate (the fastest your heart
can beat). To find your target zone, look for the category
closest to your age in the chart below and read across the line.
For example, if you are 35 years old, your target heart rate
zone is 93-138 beats per minute.
- Brisk walking
- Aerobic dancing
- Racket sports
- Ice or roller skating
- Cross-country or downhill skiing
- Using aerobic equipment (i.e., treadmill, stationary bike)
|Age ||Target Heart Rate Zone 50-75%
||Average Maximum Heart Rate 100%
|20-30 years ||98-146
beats per min. ||195
|31-40 years ||93-138 beats per min. ||185
|41-50 years ||88-131
beats per min. ||175
|51-60 years ||83-123
beats per min. ||165
|61+ years ||78-116
beats per min ||155
To see if you are exercising within your target heart rate
zone, count the number of pulse beats at your wrist or neck for
15 seconds, then multiply by four to get the beats per minute.
Your heart should be beating within your target heart rate zone.
If your heart is beating faster than your target heart rate,
you are exercising too hard and should slow down. If your heart
is beating slower than your target heart rate, you should
exercise a little harder.
When you begin your exercise program, aim for the lower part of
your target zone (50 percent). As you get into better shape,
slowly build up to the higher part of your target zone (75
percent). If exercising within your target zone seems too hard,
exercise at a pace that is comfortable for you. You will find
that, with time, you will feel more comfortable exercising and
can slowly increase to your target zone.
Stretching and Muscle Strengthening Exercises
Stretching and strengthening exercises such as weight training
should also be a part of your physical activity program. In
addition to using calories, these exercises strengthen your
muscles and bones and help prevent injury.
Tips to a Safe and Successful Physical Activity Program
Make sure you are in good health. Answer the following
questions* before you begin exercising.
*Source: British Columbia Department of Health
- Has a doctor ever said you have heart problems?
- Do you frequently suffer from chest pains?
- Do you often feel faint or have dizzy spells?
- Has a doctor ever said you have high blood pressure?
- Has a doctor ever told you that you have a bone or joint
problem, such as arthritis, that has been or could be aggravated
- Are you over the age of 65 and not accustomed to exercise?
- Are you taking prescription medications, such as those for
high blood pressure?
- Is there a good medical reason, not mentioned here, why you
should not exercise?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you should see
your doctor before you begin an exercise program.
- Follow a gradual approach to exercise to get the most
benefits with the fewest risks. If you have not been
exercising, start at a slow pace and as you become more fit,
gradually increase the amount of time and the pace of your
- Choose activities that you enjoy and that fit your
personality. For example, if you like team sports or group
activities, choose things such as soccer or aerobics. If you
prefer individual activities, choose things such as swimming or
walking. Also, plan your activities for a time of day that
suits your personality. If you are a morning person, exercise
before you begin the rest of your day's activities. If you have
more energy in the evening, plan activities that can be done at
the end of the day. You will be more likely to stick to a
physical activity program if it is convenient and enjoyable.
- Exercise regularly. To gain the most health benefits it is
important to exercise as regularly as possible. Make sure you
choose activities that will fit into your schedule.
- Exercise at a comfortable pace. For example, while jogging
or walking briskly you should be able to hold a conversation.
If you do not feel normal again within 10 minutes following
exercise, you are exercising too hard. Also, if you have
difficulty breathing or feel faint or weak during or after
exercise, you are exercising too hard.
- Maximize your safety and comfort. Wear shoes that fit and
clothes that move with you, and always exercise in a safe
location. Many people walk in indoor shopping malls for
exercise. Malls are climate controlled and offer protection
from bad weather.
- Vary your activities. Choose a variety of activities so
you don't get bored with any one thing.
- Encourage your family or friends to support you and join
you in your activity. If you have children, it is best to build
healthy habits when they are young. When parents are active,
children are more likely to be active and stay active for the
rest of their lives.
- Challenge yourself. Set short-term as well as long-term
goals and celebrate every success, no matter how small.
Whether your goal is to control your weight or just to feel
healthier, becoming physically active is a step in the right
direction. Take advantage of the health benefits that regular
exercise can offer and make physical activity a part of your
Information provdided by the (NIDDK) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases