July 7, 2022
By Dr. Tiffany Hannigan, OB-GYN with Clark Just for Women Health Solutions
Regular physical activity has many health benefits. It can help you prevent or control disease, lose weight, and feel better. You can stay active by doing certain everyday tasks, such as brisk walking or gardening, or through planned exercise. Getting enough physical activity and exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle.
Benefits of Physical Activity
Physical activity benefits your body in many ways. Being active
- strengthens your muscles
- increases your flexibility
- gives you more energy
- helps control your weight
Regular physical activity also can help prevent major diseases such as cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. It helps build strong bones, slows the bone loss that occurs as women age and can help prevent osteoporosis. Being active also reduces the risk of diabetes and certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer and breast cancer. Women who are not active have an increased risk of these health problems.
Physical activity is good for your mind as well as your body. It relieves stress, improves sleep quality, and can help ease depression and anxiety.
Types of Physical Activity
There are two types of physical activity: aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activity. A mix of both is best. For both types, you can build up your level of activity over time.
Aerobic activities (“cardio”) are ones in which you move large muscles of the body (like those in the legs and arms) in a rhythmic way. This strengthens your heart and blood vessels. Aerobic activity also burns calories, which helps you lose weight or maintain your weight.
Muscle-strengthening activities, also called strength training or resistance training, build muscle and slow bone loss. The more muscle you have, the better your body is able to burn calories.
Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:
- lifting weights and using weight machines
- yoga or Pilates
- using resistance bands
- push-ups, leg lifts, squats, and sit-ups
- heavy gardening (digging or shoveling)
In addition to these types of activity, working on flexibility also is important. This means careful stretching of the muscles and joints. Some exercise programs, such as Pilates and yoga, are designed to improve flexibility. A water-based program, such as water aerobics, also is a popular way to promote flexibility with reduced risk of injury.
Physical Activity Guidelines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on 2 days or more a week.
You can divide that time into shorter workout sessions. For example, you can do a 30-minute workout 5 days per week. You even can split each of those 30-minute workouts into smaller 10-minute periods throughout each day.
Choices you make in your daily life can help you meet these guidelines. For example, walking or biking to work can count toward your weekly aerobic activity. Just remember that the activity has to be at least moderately intense and sustained for at least 10 minutes in order to count as exercise. For example, taking a short stroll around the parking lot is not enough.
If it has been some time since you exercised regularly, start slowly and gradually. Begin with as little as 5 minutes a day. Add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for longer periods. Trying to do too much too soon can increase the risk of injury. Women with obesity also should start gradually.
Pregnancy and Exercise
If you and your pregnancy are healthy, it is safe to continue or start regular physical activity. Physical activity does not increase your chance of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery. For most women, exercise during pregnancy is encouraged. It keeps you limber, helps with back pain, improves mental well-being and may even decrease the risk of problems such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
Because of normal changes in your body during pregnancy, you may need to make changes to your routine. It is a good idea to go over your exercise routine with your OB-GYN during your early prenatal visits.
While pregnant, avoid activity that puts you at increased risk of injury, such as the
- Contact sports and sports that put you at risk of getting hit in the abdomen, including ice
hockey, boxing, soccer, and basketball
- Activities that may result in a fall, such as downhill snow skiing, snowboarding, water skiing, surfing, off-road cycling, gymnastics, and horseback riding
- “Hot yoga” or “hot Pilates,” which may cause you to become overheated
- Scuba diving
- Activities performed above 6,000 feet (if you do not already live at a high altitude)
Walking is one of the most flexible forms of physical activity. It can be done almost anywhere at any time. For example, you could take 20 to 30 minutes to go on a brisk walk during your lunch break. You do not need any special skills or equipment. Use these tips to stay safe and avoid injury:
- Choose a safe place to walk.
- Start gradually.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Wear walking shoes with thick flexible soles.
- Wear clothes that will keep you dry, comfortable, and visible to traffic.
- Avoid intense walking in extremely hot or cold weather.
Walking can help you meet your weekly goals for aerobic activity. During a moderately paced session, you will walk about 1,000 steps in 10 minutes.
You may find tracking your steps to be a fun way to see your progress and stay motivated.
You can buy a simple pedometer or use a smartphone app to track your steps. Aim for
10,000 steps a day if you are trying to manage your weight.
Find physical activities that you enjoy, and take time to be active every day. No matter your age, making physical activity and exercise a part of your lifestyle will have long-term benefits.
Our all-female team of OB-GYNs at Clark Just for Women Health Solutions can help you on your way to wellness. Give us a call at 812.280.7063 to schedule an appointment.