Exercise is critical for a long, healthy life. Exercise not only increases longevity, but it also helps us feel better now. In a large survey of 252,925 men and women aged 50 to 71 years, researchers did just that. They examined reported physical activity levels (compared those to current recommendations) and looked at health outcomes. Over the course of the study, 7,900 participants died. Researchers compared those that died to the rest to determine the impact of exercise. Here is what they found:

  • People who exercised moderately at least 30 minutes most days of the week were 27% less likely to die over the course of the study.

  • People who exercised vigorously at least 20 minutes, three times a week were 32% less likely to die.
    This benefit existed even in sub-groups like smokers, the overweight, the obese, and people who watched more than 2 hours a day of television.

  • People who engaged in less than the two levels of recommended activity also showed a reduction in mortality compared to those that did no exercise. As 60% of American adults are overweight, it seems that exercise is difficult for most of us. However, there are people out there, lots of them, who actually love exercise.

  • Begin a Time Habit

    The single hardest thing about exercise is scheduling. Everything else seems to take priority. Exercise is viewed as a free time activity, and who has free time anymore? Before getting wrapped up in buying the right shoes and finding the right exercise routine, practice setting time aside.

    Consistently reserve 30 minutes, at least 3 times a week, to get moving. Don't allow yourself to use that time for anything else. Now that you are used to thinking about exercise at least three times a week, begin substituting thinking with actual physical activity. Choose what feels right:

  • walking

  • going to the gym

  • stretching

  • another activity that gets your heart rate up and body moving

  • You've overcome the biggest obstacle -- time. Now have fun experimenting with your style. Do you like classes? Do you like to work out at home?

    Don't worry about intensity or results. Just continue to establish the habit of exercising three times a week. Continue for another three weeks, or until you are ready for the next step.

    Set a Minimum

    Set a minimum number of times each week that you will exercise. Commit to yourself that you will NEVER drop below that minimum.

    If you are traveling or just incredibly busy, you can still honor your commitment through gentle stretching or quick walks sprinkled throughout the week.

    If you do this every week for the rest of your life, you will have more health and energy. Adhering to your minimum is the single most important action you can take. Sometimes you will exceed the minimum, sometimes you will have bad days when you just walk on the treadmill. All the is fine, just NEVER drop below the minimum.

    Change Your Goals

    Those "perfect" bodies in magazines are hard to obtain and harder to maintain. They take years to get and may not depict the healthy weight you should achieve. Exercise for health, energy and vitality. You will feel those benefits immediately.

    Make feeling good your goal, not weight loss or gaining muscle tone. Those benefits will come, but let them be a bonus to the increased energy and health you get. Tell yourself each time you exercise that your goal is health and energy. You will accomplish that goal, even on light workout days, just by reinforcing your minimum amount of exercise.

    Source : Michael F. Leitzmann, MD, DrPH; Yikyung Park, ScD; Aaron Blair, PhD; Rachel Ballard-Barbash, MD; Traci Mouw, MPH; Albert R. Hollenbeck, PhD; Arthur Schatzkin, MD, DrPH. Physical Activity Recommendations and Decreased Risk of Mortality. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(22):2453-2460.