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If your vow to move doesn’t make it to the move stage, here’s a reminder that it doesn’t take a lot of sweat to reap the benefits of regular exercise. And just in case you need a big dose of motivation, the benefits of regular exercise are enormous.
Anyone who chooses a good sweat instead of the couch cuts the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity in half, as well as reduces the likelihood of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression and anxiety.
Getting started can be tough, but according to a team of exercise scientists from the University of Ferrara in Italy, once you form a habit, it’s hard to break — even for those who hate exercise. The researchers followed up with 110 former sedentary individuals seven years after they participated in a one-year walking group led by a public health coach. The goal was not only to find out how many members of the group were still active, but also to confirm any health benefits they had accrued since starting the exercise.
The original 12-month program included 650 participants, 326 of whom were still walking at the end of the year-long study. After four months, 258 were exercising regularly even though there were no scheduled coach-led sessions. After seven years of the intervention, the researchers were able to connect with 63 women and 47 men from the original walking group, and they all agreed to undergo the same physiological tests they had undergone seven years earlier, including measurements of weight, body mass index and blood pressure. and walking speed.
The average age of walkers in the follow-up study was 61. 59% of them still adhered to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (group average 286 minutes of exercise per week). 11 individuals did not exercise and the rest did less than 150 minutes of exercise per week. But despite the difference in weekly exercise volume, the average weight of the active and least active groups was lower than before the start of the walking program. The BMI of the low/sedentary activity group was higher than the most active group. Ten of those who were obese lost enough weight and were classified as overweight.
“This could indicate that even a low level of physical activity tends to keep weight under control,” the researchers said.
Another lasting effect of the exercise program was that walking speed, a marker of health and longevity, increased in both the active and the least active group, although the more regular exercisers walked faster. This is a big plus, as age and extra weight can negatively affect walking and walking speed. But beyond physiological gains, walkers have established a healthy habit that has shown little evidence of regression.
Another thing taken from the study is a reminder that something as simple as a coach-led walking program can have a lasting impact.
Getting people off the couch isn’t easy. They often lack confidence in their ability to maintain any type of constant physical activity, not to mention other common barriers to exercise such as lack of time, accessibility and affordability. Success often means finding an activity that offers a nice introduction to exercise without requiring a significant financial or time investment. Scheduled teacher-led walking tours add a level of accountability and structure for beginners trying to establish an exercise habit. The results of the original intervention led the researchers to support other walking programs, which are easy to establish.
“Because walking groups are effective and safe, with good adherence and broad health benefits, they should be adopted as part of public health policy,” the researchers said.
In an effort to activate more people, we can be guilty of overthinking exercise. Something as simple as a daily brisk walk has a myriad of mental and physical health benefits. There can be a social component to exercise, because it’s easy to walk with a friend or group of friends. Walking is a gateway to other, more active activities. With building stamina and confidence, activities that once seemed out of reach become possible. Walking can extend your walking range to cycling, yoga, and swimming.
It all starts with the first step.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to impress anyone with your move. A 15 or 20 minute route is ideal for the first few weeks. Once you’ve mastered it, add an extra five minutes each week. Walk as many days of the week as possible, and find a time window that you can schedule consistently without fear of too much disruption. Ask a friend to accompany you or to deliver your favorite audiobook or podcast. And remember: consistency is more important than distance or speed, so wear a pair of comfortable shoes and walk.
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