Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Health: Taking the first step toward establishing a healthy habit

In an effort to get more people active, we may be guilty of exercising excessive mindfulness.

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If your resolve to keep moving never reaches the action phase, here’s a reminder that it doesn’t take a lot of sweat to reap the benefits of regular exercise. And if you’re in need of a hefty dose of motivation, the benefits of regular exercise are enormous.

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Anyone who chooses a good sweatshirt instead of a couch has a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity as well as the chances of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression and anxiety.

It can be hard to get started, but according to a team of exercise scientists from the University of Ferrara in Italy, once it becomes a habit it’s hard to break—even for those who were off exercise. Researchers followed up with 110 formerly sedentary individuals seven years after they took part in a one-year instructor-led walking group sponsored by Public Health. The goal was not only to see how many of the groups were still active, but also to confirm any health benefits accrued since they started exercising.

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The original 12-month program included 650 participants, 326 of whom were still ongoing at the end of the year-long study. Four months after that, 258 were exercising regularly, despite the lack of scheduled instructor-led sessions. Seven years after the intervention, researchers were able to connect with 63 women and 47 men from the original running group, all of whom underwent the same physical tests they had seven years before, including measuring their weight, body mass index, blood pressure. had agreed. and walking speed.

The average age of the walkers in the follow-up study was 61. Of those, 99 percent still met the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (the group averaged 286 minutes of exercise per week). Eleven individuals were sedentary and the rest exercised less than 150 minutes per week. Yet despite the difference in weekly exercise amounts, the average weight of the active and less active groups was lower than before starting the walking program. The sedentary/low activity group had a higher BMI than the more active group. Ten walkers who were obese lost enough weight to be classified as overweight.

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“This may indicate that even low levels of physical activity keep weight under control,” the researchers said.

Another enduring effect of the exercise program is that walking speed, a marker of health and longevity, increased in both the active and less active groups, although those who did more regular exercise were faster walkers. This is a significant victory, as age and overweight can negatively affect walking and running speed. But beyond the physical victories, Walker established a healthy habit, with little evidence of falling.

Another take-home from the study is a reminder that anything as simple as an instructor-led walking program can have a lasting impact.

Getting people off the couch isn’t easy. They often lack confidence in their ability to sustain any type of sustained physical activity, not to mention the presence of other common barriers to exercise such as lack of time, accessibility, and affordability. Success often means finding an activity that provides a gentle introduction to exercise without demanding a significant financial or time investment. Scheduled, instructor-led walks add a level of accountability and structure for novices trying to establish an exercise habit. The results of the original intervention led the researchers to champion other running programs, which are easier to set up.

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“Since walking groups are effective and safe, with good adherence and widespread health benefits, they should be adopted as part of public health policy,” the researchers said.

In an effort to get more people active, we may be guilty of exercising excessive mindfulness. Something as simple as a daily brisk walk has a myriad of mental and physical health benefits. There can be a social component to the workout, as it’s easier to walk with a friend or group of friends. Walking is a gateway to other, more active activities. As endurance and confidence grow, activities that once seemed out of reach become possible. Walking can extend to bike riding, yoga and swimming.

It all starts with the first step.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to impress someone with your step count. The 15- or 20-minute route is perfect for the first few weeks. Once you’ve mastered that, add an extra five minutes each week. Walk as many days of the week as possible, finding a window of time you can schedule consistently without fear of too many disruptions. Ask a friend to join you or plug in your favorite audiobook or podcast. And remember: Stability is more important than distance or speed, so pull on a pair of comfortable shoes and go for a walk.

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