Nutrition Column – Get Moving in the New Year

The scientific evidence is mounting and more clear than ever – regular physical activity works hand-in-hand with good nutrition to promote good health and weight management.

Research studies have repeatedly demonstrated that regular physical activity substantially reduces the risk of dying from heart disease and decreases the risk for obesity, colon cancer, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure. It also appears to help slow bone loss associated with advancing age, relieve pain associated with arthritis and reduce anxiety and depression.   

In addition to reducing the risk for obesity and several chronic diseases, engaging in regular physical activity offers several other benefits. For example, regular, weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging or weight lifting help make your bones stronger, which may lower the risk for fractures later in life. Strength training activities like weight lifting also help develop stronger muscles, which can make it easier to move, carry and lift things. Further, leading an active life increases endurance, which means you won’t tire as easily during physical activities and you may have more stamina during the rest of the day. Staying physically active also can improve coordination and flexibility, which allows your body to move with greater ease, and may help protect you from injuring yourself if you fall or trip. Last but not least, active people report an overall better mental outlook, better quality sleep and lower stress levels. In a recent study, in fact, regular exercise was found to be as effective as light therapy in reducing depression associated with seasonal affective disorder.

Despite these proven benefits, about 60 percent of American adults do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits – and it is not just adults. Nearly 60 percent of young people ages nine to 13 do not routinely participate in any organized physical activity during non-school hours.  

There are 1,440 minutes in every day, and all it takes are 30 minutes a day most days of the week of walking, bicycling, jogging, gardening, dancing or any other physical activity you enjoy to get moving toward better health.  

For people ready to get moving who have been inactive for a while, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion offers the following tips.

– Begin by choosing moderate-intensity activities you enjoy the most. By choosing activities you enjoy, you’ll be more likely to stick with them.

– Gradually build up the time spent doing the activity by adding a few minutes every few days until you can comfortably perform the minimum recommended amount of activity (30 minutes).

– As the minimum amount becomes easier, gradually increase either the length of time performing an activity or the intensity of the activity, or both.

– Vary your activities, both for interest and to broaden the range of benefits.

– Explore new physical activities.

– Reward and acknowledge your efforts.

As a precautionary step, anyone considering engaging in physical activity after a period of inactivity or anyone trying a new type of activity is advised to consult with their health care provider before they begin.

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension