Why we should exercise, and why not, Harvard Health (2023)

Why we should exercise, and why not, Harvard Health (1)

If the benefits of physical activity are numerous, so are the reasons to avoid it. We have suggestions on how to add something to your day.

You already know that exercise is good for you. What you might not know is just how good - or what exactly counts as training. That's what this edition of thehealth lettereverything is about. The idea that physical activity helps us stay healthy is very old. Hippocrates wrote about the dangers of too little activity (and too much food). Tai Chi, a Chinese exercise system of graceful movement, dates back to the 12th century BC. The roots of yoga in India go back much further.

But old ideas aren't necessarily good or have a lot of evidence to back them up. That's not a problem for exercise—or physical activity, the term many researchers prefer because it's more of an umbrella term. A number of studies have documented its health benefits. Many are observational, whatever the problem, showing associations (people who exercise are healthy), not evidence of cause and effect (it's exercise that makes these people healthy). But after statistical adjustments, these studies suggest that the link between exercise and health is more than just an association. Furthermore, results from randomized controlled trials, which are generally considered to support causality, also suggest that exercise makes people healthier.

In addition to the sheer volume of this research, what is impressive about it is the number of diseases that exercise appears to prevent, alleviate or delay.

We are used to hearing about heart attack prevention exercises. The American Heart Association published the nation's first exercise guidelines in 1972. And it's not hard to imagine why exercise helps the heart. When you are physically active, your heart is trained to beat slower and harder, so it needs less oxygen to function well. Your arteries become more bouncy, making them better at pumping blood; and your levels of "good" HDL cholesterol increase.

It's also not a big surprise that physical activity helps prevent diabetes. Muscles used to work remain more receptive to insulin, the hormone that drives sugar from the blood into cells, so blood sugar levels don't spike as easily in people who are in good shape.

But training as a soldier to fight cancer? It seems so, and on several fronts: breast, colon, endometrium, perhaps ovary. The effect of physical activity on preventing breast cancer may be greater after menopause than before, although some research suggests that it takes a little time to make a difference: four to seven hours of moderate to vigorous activity per week. Three studies found that if you've had colon cancer or breast cancer, being physically active reduces your chances of it coming back.

(Video) How to keep your brain healthy through exercise

On top of that, moving the body seems to help the brain. Several studies have found that exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and change the brain in a similar way to antidepressants. As we age, physical activity can delay the transition from cognitive decline to dementia, and even after this process begins, exercise can improve certain aspects of thinking.

easy to avoid

We need to eat, so following nutritional guidance is a matter of choice. Swap saturated fats for healthy oils. Eat whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates.

But these days, many (perhaps most) people don't need to be physically active unless they choose to be. And most evidence suggests that choosing the type of activity is far less important than whether someone is active. About half of American adults don't meet one of the most commonly cited guidelines, which calls for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (fast walking pace) most days of the week—and you can roll that total into 10 to 10 sessions. 15 minutes. About a quarter of American adults report that they don't spend their free time doing active activities.

Obviously, some of us are less athletic than others - and some unsportsmanlike individuals are just born that way. Twin studies suggest that about half of the difference in physical activity between people is likely to be inherited. And researchers are making progress in identifying certain genes that may affect how we respond to physical exertion. For example, they identified some of the genes responsible for variation in beta-agonist receptors in the lungs. How your lungs and heart respond to strenuous exercise depends in part on these receptors.

But genetic explanations for behaviors like exercise go so far. Many other influences play a role: family, neighborhood, cultural attitudes, historical circumstances. Research has shown that it's not surprising that active kids are more likely to have parents who encouraged them to be that way. The perception of how active parents are also seems to be important. Neighborhood safety and design is an important factor, especially for children. In a dangerous place, it might be healthier for children to stay home and watch TV instead of going to the park to play, simply because it's safer.

The journey of a thousand miles begins...

In addition to at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, you should also do resistance training twice a week to build muscle strength. But some exercise, even if it's minimal, is better than none at all, especially for very sedentary people.

With that in mind, we've come up with 27 suggestions on how to become more physically active.

1. Take the far point.If you leave the farthest corner of the parking lot, you'll burn some calories. If it's a parking lot, go to the roof and use the stairs.

(Video) Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved To Do Is Healthy and Rewarding | Talks at Google

2. Walk to the next stop.If you take a bus or train, don't wait at the next stop. Go to the next one. Or, at the end of your journey, get off one stop earlier and continue on foot.

3. Hang loosely.While traveling by bus or train, stand upright and don't hold on too tightly. You'll improve your sense of balance and strengthen your back and abdominal muscles.

4. Go for it.Swinging your arms as you walk will help you achieve the healthier 3-4 mph brisk pace.

5. Walk and talk.If you are a member of a reading group, have a 15-20 minute discussion of the book before sitting down and talking.

6. Walk while watching.Soccer moms, dads and grandparents can circle the field multiple times during a game and never miss a single game.

7. Walk upright.Good posture - chest out, shoulders straight but relaxed, stomach tucked in - will help keep your back and abdomen in shape. Plus, you look a lot healthier when you're not hunched over (Mom was right).

8. Adopt someone to be your hiking, running, or cycling buddy.Adding a social element to training helps many people stick with it.

9. This guy might have four legs.Several studies have shown that dog owners get more exercise than dog owners.

(Video) Harvard Professor Reveals How Exercise Affects Our Immunity and How We Age: Dr Daniel Lieberman

10. Be part of the fun.Adults should not shy away from joining the fray when children play on a playground or splash in the water. Climbing the jungle gym (careful!) and swinging on the swing strengthens muscles and bones and sets a good example.

11. Dine outdoors.Tired of eating out at home? Skip the restaurant food, which tends to be high in calories. Have a picnic. You'll burn calories finding the best spot and carrying the picnic basket.

12. Put on your dancing shoes.The exercise doesn't have to be done in a straight line. Dancing stimulates the heart and helps with balance. Dance classes tend to have lower dropout rates than gyms. Or at home, just turn up the volume and go.

13. Wash and dry dishes by hand.Just drying it off is a mini arm workout.

14. Do not use an electric can opener.It is good for hand, wrist and arm muscles to use a traditional opener. For the same reason, peel and cut your own vegetables and avoid pre-cut versions.

15. Clean house.Even if you have a cleaning service, you can vacuum some rooms yourself. 15 minutes burns about 80 calories. Wash some windows and dust off and you've got yourself a pretty decent workout — and a clean house.

16. Hide that remote.Browsing channels can add hours to your screen time. If you have to get up to change channels, you're more likely to switch off and maybe do something else less sedentary.

17. Go swimming somewhere.Swimming is great exercise if you have arthritis because the water supports your weight and soothes your joints. Moist air around a swimming pool can sometimes make breathing easier for people with lung problems.

(Video) HARVARD PROFESSOR Reveals How To NEVER BE LAZY AGAIN With Exercise! | Daniel Lieberman

18. Take a walk on the water.Even people who can't swim or don't want to swim can get a good workout by running in the water. Try walking fast and you'll get cardiovascular benefits. Walking on water is a great form of rehabilitation when recovering from injury and certain types of surgery, as the water acts as an illuminator and helps you.

19. Do not send emails.Get up in the office, walk down the hall and talk to the person. Write an old-fashioned letter at home and go to one mailbox - not another - to post it.

20. Get up when you're on the phone.Interrupting long periods of sitting has metabolic benefits. Standing for a minute or two can also help.

21. Grow a garden.No matter how green your thumb is, digging, planting, weeding and harvesting will increase your activity level and work different muscles.

22. Use a lawnmower.Even if you have a large lawn, select a small section of it to mow the old-fashioned way. You get a good workout, you don't burn gas, and you tend to be more relaxed. The same reasoning favors the rake over the leaf blower.

23. Think small.Small bouts of activity are better than blowing your mind with a workout that will be hard to repeat.

24. Be a stair master.Whenever possible, use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. It's good for your legs and knees, and your cardiovascular health will benefit from the little huff. Do not exaggerate. One flight after another.

25. Ladder No. 2.You get a good glute workout when you can climb two steps at the same time.

(Video) 1 Minute Exercise That Predicts Your Risk of Heart Disease- Harvard Study of 1,000 Men

26. Stairway number 3.You can stretch your calf muscles a little by placing your toe on the step and lowering your heel.


1. Harvard Professor Reveals The Surprising Truth About Exercise | Daniel Lieberman
(Dr Rangan Chatterjee)
2. Exercise and Brain Health 101 w/ Christiane Wrann
(Harvard Brain Science Initiative)
3. Harvard Professor Daniel Lieberman: "Exercise is weird... and we should do it anyway"
(How To Academy Mindset)
4. Harvard professor debunks the biggest exercise myths | Daniel Lieberman
(Big Think)
5. 10 Benefits Of Exercise On The Brain And Body - Why You Need Exercise
(Practical Wisdom - Interesting Ideas)
6. 99 Year Old Physician Reveals the Secret to Health and Longevity with Dr. John Scharffenberg
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