Why & How to Start an Exercise Program: Part I

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What Can Exercise Do For You?
By Olivia Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM

I’m here to tell you three things.  The first one you already know, that exercise is good for you.  The second is why it’s good for you, and the third is how to get started.

That exercise is good for you is a given.  We grew up knowing it.  We grew up doing it.  It was an integral part of our day.  It isn’t anymore. We have taken activity out of our lives.  Inactivity is now the norm and has become one of the major risk factors for heart disease, along with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, stress and high cholesterol.  As a risk factor, it stands alone but inactivity itself can also contribute to the development of other risk factors.  Think of each as a link in a chain, a chain of risk.  Inactivity can lead to obesity which can lead to diabetes.

Obesity can lead to high blood pressure and can also be associated with high cholesterol.  Stress can add to high blood pressure, adding another link to the chain . . .  Exercise and an increase in your overall physical activity can begin to break that chain with the first step no matter where in the cycle it intervenes.

Let’s pick a link in the chain to start.  How does exercise help to break the cycle of high blood pressure?   The normal response to exercise is an increase in blood pressure.  Brisk walking, swimming, cycling or other aerobic exercise causes the heart to beat faster and stronger in order for the blood to be transported to the working muscles.  Blood pressure increases during exercise in order for this to occur.  After exercise, blood vessels open up and relax, resulting in a lower blood pressure. One of the long term effects of aerobic exercise is lower blood pressure which makes it easier for your heart to do its job.  That is only one link in the chain of risk factors that can be broken to help modify and reduce others.

Exercise can also help to break the cycle of diabetes and high cholesterol.  Exercise “uses up your blood sugar” more quickly so that often diabetic medications can be reduced, especially if weight is reduced as a benefit of exercising.  Exercise can also increase the level of HDL, the good cholesterol that helps to carry off and reduce LDL cholesterol, those “Low Down Louts” that would rather lie around your artery walls adding to the build-up of plaque and the narrowing of arteries that increases high blood pressure . . . wait, isn’t this where I came in . . . ?

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It’s official: exercise is good for you.  These are just a few of the incredible benefits that you can begin to experience when you decide to break the chain of inactivity.  Remember my primary point in my first article back in September of 2008?  The heart is the most important muscle of the body.  Its function is to beat, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, delivering oxygen to every cell of your body for as long as you live.  How well it does that has a lot to do with how you choose to live.  Your heart is one unique muscle supported by the rest of you and all the other muscles of your body that move you around from day to day, hopefully for many days to come.  When you keep those muscles in good shape, it makes the job that your heart has to do a lot easier.  That is just one more of the many reasons that exercise is good for you.

Now that you know why to start, next time I’ll talk about how to start and some ways to help you begin to make exercise a lifetime habit.

Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM