4 ways exercise is more beneficial than you think

It's widely acknowledged exercise is a good thing, both for one's mental and physical health. But what exactly are the long-term benefits of regular physical exercise?

"'It's really hard to find something that is not improved with exercise,'" said Michael Blaha, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Hospital, according to The Washington Post.

In a recent article in The Washington Post, David Brown, MD, capitalizes off this idea and outlines four reasons to actually make it to the gym today.

1. Exercise helps the cardiovascular system the most. Regular exercise has numerous benefits to the heart and blood vessels. According to Dr. Brown, it reduces blood pressure, "makes platelets ... less sticky" and "lowers the resting heart rate," to name a few. In addition, exercise slows the rate at which the heart loses muscle mass.

2. Regular exercise can result in a longer life. "[T]he more a person exercises, the more the risk of heart attack and premature death go down," according to Dr. Brown. He cited a study of 221,000 Australians aged 45 and older. The study found over the course of four years, those who simply stood for more than two hours per day had a death rate 10 percent lower than those who stood for less than two hours per day.

Additionally, Dr. Brown cited a study of 1,239 64-year-old Japanese men. For those who walked at least two hours a day, their chance of dying was 50 percent less than those who walked less than 30 minutes per day.

3. Exercise alone isn't enough. "You also have to stop sitting around when you're not exercising," according to Dr. Brown. Too much sedentary behavior amps up one's risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and the unfortunately, the average American citizen spends more than 50 percent of waking hours in sedentary behavior.

What defines sedentary behavior? According to Dr. Brown, it's any type of behavior that requires less than 1.5 METs of effort. An MET — or metabolic equivalent of task — is "the ratio of energy expended during an activity to energy expended while sitting motionless," according to the article.

4. Getting the right amount of exercise is important. The most recent recommendation for required exercise is a minimum 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, according to Dr. Brown. Unfortunately, only half of Americans achieve this recommendation each week.

Tracking your exercise is a perfect way to meet these recommendations. "'Tracking what's happening is half the battle in pretty much everything that involves changing behavior,'" said Haitham Ahmed, MD, a preventive cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

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