Making Sense Of Modifiable Personal Lifestyle Factors


Hippocrates said that “all parts of the body which have a function, if used in moderation, and exercised in labors to which each is accustomed, become healthy and well developed and age slowly; but if unused and left idle, they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age.”  Even without this ancient knowledge, we instinctively know that exercise is good for us and can improve overall health.  So how do we make exercise a daily part of our routine if we know that it is good for us?  Whether you are too busy and have a sedentary job or you’re an exercise fanatic and never miss a day… we all can improve our exercise habits in order to reap the full benefits of exercise.

Probably some of the best news relating to exercise is that it’s never too late to start.  Equally powerful, you really don’t need to do much in order to see a large impact on your health.  Even modest increments of exercise are associated with lower mortality.  An increase of 1 MET (the measurement of activity that occurs while just sitting) increase lowers mortality risk by 20%.  The reverse, sadly, is also true.  Physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle have been shown to increase the risk of all-cause mortality by 50%.  Just going for daily walk can have a huge impact on your health and longevity.  So, what kinds of health benefits are awaiting us if we have exercise as a habit?

What are the Benefits of Exercise?

  • Helps you control your weight. Along with nutrition, exercise plays a role in losing weight, controlling your weight and preventing obesity.  Despite what we want to believe, in order to maintain your weight, the calories you consume must equal the calories that you burn. Therefore, to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume.  You can’t break the laws of physics.  Exercise helps burn more calories to create a larger caloric deficit to help with weight loss.  Equally, exercise helps build muscle tissue which assists with resting metabolism.
  • Reduces your risk for heart disease. Exercise strengthens the strength of the heart and improves circulation. This increased blood flow delivers vital nutrients, raises the oxygen levels and assists in removing toxins and waste in your body. Overall of this helps lower your risk of heart diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterolcoronary artery disease, and heart attack.
  • Improves your blood sugar and insulin levels.  Exercise can lower your blood sugar levels and helps your insulin become more sensitive to its cellular surroundings. This can significantly decrease your risk for cardiometabolic disease and type 2 diabetes. Moreover, if you already have one of these diseases, exercise can help you to manage it better.
  • Helps you quit smoking. Exercise makes it easier to quit smoking by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.  Exercise produces many of the endorphins and pleasure chemicals that are linked to addictive behaviors.  In this way, exercise can help break addictions and addictive behaviors.  What’s more, it can also help limit the weight you might gain when you stop smoking.
  • Improves your mental health and mood. During exercise, your body releases chemicals that can improve your mood and make you feel more relaxed. Regular exercise can help you deal with stress and reduce your risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Helps keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. Exercise stimulates your body to release proteins and other chemicals that improve the structure and function of your brain.  Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is one of the major factors related to brain health and function.  Exercise is one of the best ways of increasing this factor.
  • Strengthens your bones and muscles. Regular exercise, especially resistance training and weight bearing exercise, can help build strong bones.  Exercise can also slow the loss of bone density that comes with aging. In addition, doing muscle-strengthening activities can help you increase or maintain your muscle mass and strength.
  • Reduces your risk of some cancers.  Exercise assists in weight maintenance, hormone balance as well as digestion.  These factors help with the prevention and even treatment of some cancers, especially colonbreastuterine, and lung cancer.
  • Reduces your risk of falls. Performing balance and muscle-strengthening activities in addition to moderate-intensity aerobic activity can help reduce your risk of falling.  Balance and recovery are critical parts of preventing falls.  Exercise helps a great deal with that.
  • Improves your sleep. Exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.  Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase.
  • Improves your sexual health. Regular exercise may lower the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men by improving hormones and circulation. For those who already have ED, exercise may help improve their sexual function. In women, exercise may increase sexual arousal also through hormonal and circulation pathways.
  • Increases your chances of living longer. Research has shown that physical activity can reduce your risk of dying earlier from the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer and diabetes related complications.

It’s clear that there are several benefits from exercise.  Adding it into your daily, or even weekly, routine can have a big impact on your overall health.  However, there are several types of exercise and each of them is important in its own way.


Man working outExercise, according to the American College of Sports Medicine and the Department of Health and Human Services, can be divided into 4 general categories.  All categories are essential for optimal health and each category provides it own benefits to health.

Aerobic (Cardiorespiratory Endurance) Exercise.  The Department of Health and Human Services suggests we all get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefit. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to provide health benefit.  Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, slowly paced swimming and climbing stairs. Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities such as running, cycling and aerobic dancing

Strength and Resistance Exercise.  The Department of Health and Human Services also suggests we perform strength and resistance training exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice a week.  Start by aiming to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.  As you improve your strength, work up to 3 sets of each exercise.  You can find greater details in setting up a resistance training program can be found in our website article “Simplifying How I Should Exercise”:

Flexibility Exercise. Guidelines for flexibility are less formal in the literature.  Greater range of motion in our joints is the desired goal of flexibility.  It can be improved acutely and chronically following flexibility exercises. Flexibility exercises are most effective when the muscles are warm and may result in injury if done when muscles are cold.  These exercises have also been shown to acutely reduce power and strength.  For this reason, it is recommended that flexibility exercises be performed after exercise and sports where strength and power are important for performance.  Flexibility exercise should target the major muscle tendon units of the neck, shoulders, chest, torso, lower back, hips, posterior and anterior legs, and ankles

Neuromotor Exercise.  Neuromotor exercise training involves complex skills such as balance, coordination and proprioceptive training.  It is related to the recent trend in functional fitness training. Neuromotor exercise involve several combinations of neuromotor exercise, resistance exercise, and flexibility exercise and include physical activities such as tai chi, qigong, and yoga. These exercises are recommended 3 days a week, especially for older individuals with a higher risk of potential falls.  The optimal duration or number of repetitions of these exercises is not known, but neuromotor exercise routines of 20–30 min in duration for a total of 60 min of neuromotor exercise per week are very effective.


Like many other priorities, ultimately, we have to decide to make exercise a priority.  We all make time for things that are important to us.  In a sense, exercise will have to become important in order to fit into our busy routine.  However, once it has become a priority, the health benefits that we receive from exercise will make it easier to continue doing it.

Several of the following suggestions may help you start committing to an exercise routine until it becomes a regular part of your life:

Make it simple:  An exercise routine doesn’t have to be complicated or even taxing.  It really should start out with a realistic and enjoyable plan.  These two things will be critical in making exercise a habit.  Incorporate things that you like to do.  Decide if you want to be inside or outside.  Take is slowly at the beginning but stay consistent with what you do.  And if you need help, the get help from a trainer of coach.

Start slowly, but with the end in mind:  As stated earlier, one of the critical parts of any exercise plan is that it be realistic.  Starting slowly in the beginning phases will build confidence and enjoyment into exercise.  It will also decrease pain and prevent injury.  All of this will be important for the consistency of any exercise routine.  However, if you are already injured or in pain, we often recommend starting an exercise routine with a physical therapist so as to learn how to get the most out your routine while minimizing pain and future injuries.

Make an appointment with yourself:   Schedule a time during your day in advance.  It is best to be realistic about your scheduling, but equally you need to make it happen.  Whether you exercise first thing in the morning, fit it in at lunch or do it at the end of your day, make sure you do something.   Stay flexible in your routine, but don’t compromise your appointment with yourself.

Make it social:  Schedule a walk with a friend or meet a buddy at the gym.  The external commitment to another person will help you (and them) with your consistency.  We are more likely to bail on ourselves than to break a commitment to another person.  Having someone to exercise with will also make it more enjoyable and may make it seem less like a chore and more like a pleasure.

Boost activity throughout the day:  Park farther away, take the stairs and go for a short walk at work.   Little opportunities to be active can add up and make an impact on our health.  Take advantage of opportunities to move wherever and whenever you can find them.

Work out efficiently:  If you are pressed for time, choose a type and intensity of exercise to get the most benefit from the time you have.  Changing how you perform your exercises can often get more out of the routine.  Interval training and shorter rest periods are an easy way to get a great work out in a short amount of time.  Also, if commitments keep you at home, invest in something you can do at your house or apartment.  Home gyms, TRX suspension systems and aerobic equipment can bring your routine to you so you can still get your workout done.

Set a goal, track your progress and reward yourself:  Objective and written goals are powerful.  Take advantage of them by keeping a journal of your goals and accomplishments.  This way you will be able to see how your exercise routine is benefiting you.  What’s more, you will be able to change a routine if you are not getting the results that you want.  And in the end, you will reap the benefits of better health… but equally, do something to reward yourself for the time and effort you put into getting there.

Hopefully, this article has given you the facts and information to start and stay consistent with your exercise routine.  In the end, exercise becomes what you make of it… but making it part of your life is important.  Keep in mind, the long-term and short-term benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks.  You will be happy that you made the commitment to exercise.  In fact, the only exercise routine you will regret is the one you didn’t do.

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