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Six major benefits of exercise.

by Ani Dumas

November 23, 2000 | 7:00 pm

As adults, we probably know the steps to take toward better health. Parents, teachers and health professionals have reminded us of the essentials: eat a balanced diet, don't smoke, exercise, get plenty of sleep and have regular check-ups. What they never explained is why? Centuries ago, the philosopher Philo Judaeus knew the importance of keeping our bodies fit and healthy: "The body is the soul's house. Shouldn't we therefore take care of our house so that it doesn't fall into ruin?" The following are six ways we turn our houses into castles.

1. Less Stress
According to the American Psychological Association, more than four out of 10 adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. Dozens of studies have shown that a single exercise session can relieve simple anxiety, "the kind of stress you feel after a hectic day at the office," says Scott Paulska, a sports medicine specialist at the Rex Sports Medicine Institute in Raleigh, N.C.

2. More Energy
"Exercise is a great quick antidote to fatigue," says Audrea Dunn, an exercise psychologist at the Cooper Institute in Texas. By adding exercise to our daily routine, we are adding additional energy to our day. Along with increasing our energy level, exercise can lift a mood of depression and help you sleep better.

3. Stronger Immune System
Regular exercise boosts oxygen intake and helps build cardiovascular and immune-system health. If your immune system is weak, the body is subject to illness and fatigue, making even the simplest cold or flu harder to fight. David Nieman, professor of exercise science at Appalachian State University, states that increased immune surveillance after a tough workout could also give immune cells a better chance of getting rid of cancer cells before they become a problem.

4. Increased Muscular Strength and Endurance
"Muscular development is an essential component of healthy exercise," says fitness guru Joe Weider. Increased muscular strength helps to change your metabolism, which means you burn fat even after your workout is finished. Strength training also reduces age-related bone loss and increases levels of calcium in the bones.

5. Cardiovascular Benefits
Aerobic exercise can be anything from walking on the treadmill to taking a step class. This type of exercise increases your cardiovascular capacity and uses fat as fuel so you burn calories and lose weight. Aerobic exercise can improve functioning of the heart and decrease your risk of heart disease. As a result of aerobic conditioning, the heart, lungs, and circulatory system become more efficient.

6. Improved Overall Health
Regular exercise helps to control or reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that three hours of brisk walking a week reduced heart attack by 30 to 40 percent. Five hours cuts the risk in half. Exercise may help lessen the pain caused by chronic problems, like arthritis or a bad back. It is also a major component in loosing weight and weight control, which greatly reduces the risk factors associated with obesity. It has also been found that people who run three days a week, pay 14 percent less annual healthcare costs than non-runners.

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