I don't have an exercise routine. Do I really need one to stay healthy?

Q. I watch what I eat and lead an active life, but I'm a busy mom of two, so I don't have a lot of time to sit still. I'm definitely not sedentary, but I don't have an exercise routine, either. Do I really need one to stay healthy?

A. You don't have to train like an Olympic athlete to have a positive influence on your health. How much - or whether - you exercise depends on what you're hoping to gain. If you're after buff arms, toting around a toddler or doing housework may help, but it's not going to get you Jennifer Aniston arms. Any amount of activity can positively affect your health and well being, and it's up to you how much activity you incorporate into your daily, weekly or monthly schedule. You should also take into account your limitations - such as weak joints, fragile bones, a previous injury or how much you weigh - before you embark on a routine. Exercising the wrong way can be hazardous to your health. But in case you think eating a healthy diet alone will keep you fit and feeling good, consider just a few of the benefits that exercise can bring into your life. A regular exercise routine can:

  1. Add years to your life. One researcher found that incorporating 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity three to five times per week into your schedule can add six years to your life.
  2. Boost your energy. Life can be hard, and our days tend to be long and jam-packed with responsibility. Why, then, add exercise to the mix? It will boost your energy and help you feel less stressed as you wend your way through the day.
  3. Improve your mood. Exercising releases endorphins that help elevate your mood. If you have a history of depression, exercising can have similar effects to taking antidepressants in the fight against your symptoms. If you currently take prescription medication for depression, consult your health care provider before substituting exercise as treatment.
  4. Strengthen your mind. The more you work out, the more you stimulate proteins in your brain that may help form new cells. Your brain is a muscle that, like any other, can weaken over time if you don't exercise.
  5. Ward off viruses. After each workout, your body's level of immunoglobulin increases. This protein can temporarily strengthen your immunity to infections, such as the common cold and influenza, for approximately 24 hours after exercising.
  6. Combat chronic disease. Researchers across the board agree that exercise can prevent or help manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer. Roughly one third of all cancer deaths in the United States each year can be linked to obesity, poor diet and inactivity, according to the American Cancer Society.
  7. Improve blood pressure. A workout can help lower your blood pressure for as many as 16 hours afterward. And with regular exercise, you may begin to shed pounds, which can help lower your risk for developing high blood pressure.

These are just some of the many worthwhile reasons to work exercise - whether it's dancing, swimming or jumping rope - into your daily or weekly routine. We encourage you to contact us for more support with your chronic condition, or for general help in working toward improved wellness in 2012.