"It's fun," said Chris Tuma, a runner, cyclist and fitness instructor. "A healthy body is a fun body."
Not that you'll be laughing while doing laps. But many non-exercisers and even some exercisers forget that you're supposed to enjoy your workout.
Because many people don't realize that and all the other benefits of exercise most of us don't work out three times a week. That's too bad because some benefits can be realized almost immediately, no matter how old you are.
And spring is a good time to start or resume an outdoor or indoor exercise program.
Many exercisers have a sense of joy after they finish each workout, said Tuma.
"They can take that with them to their job, their home environment and to share with their kids and family," Tuma said.
Part of that is because of the sense of accomplishment and self- esteem boost that you get from completing a work out.
In addition, when you exercise, your body releases a chemical that elevates mood. That may help you be more positive and put your daily problems in perspective in the short term, Tuma said. In the long term, that can reduce anxiety, help prevent depression and improve your relationships with others. When you feel good about yourself, you deal more positively with others.
Exercise gets more oxygenated blood moving through your brain, which helps you mentally and emotionally. That's one reason why some people think more clearly after a good workout.
Exercise also increases your energy and decreases fatigue. It brings you more in control of your body.
"When you wake up to exercise, you feel better about yourself and the body that you're carrying through life," Tuma said. That self confidence helps with everything from your relationship with your significant other, to play time with your children or grandchildren, to gardening and housework, said Mitch Smith, a personal trainer and fitness club.
"It will improve your overall quality of life," Smith said. "Everything will get easier to do."
Social and mental health benefits of exercise happen just by getting out of the house. The benefits multiply if you run, walk, bike, swim or weight lift with a partner or partners. And you can make new friends in your running or cycling group, in the weight room or in the pool.
"It sure beats sitting around the house watching television," Tuma said. "When you exercise, you're seldom lonely."
Physical benefits of exercise are more obvious and long-term.
They include reduced risk of heart disease. The more overweight you are, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood. Running, walking, swimming, biking and other aerobic exercise forces the cardiopulmonary system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissues of exercising muscles.
Exercise also can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, control your weight, increase the body's level of HDL (good) cholesterol, increase your lung capacity, boost your immune system, and reduce your risk of osteoporosis, bone fractures, cancer and diabetes.
A fit person also can recover quicker from illness or trauma, Tuma said. An older person who works out is less likely to fall because their balance is improved, he said. And if they fall, they are less likely to break a bone because their bones and muscles are stronger and they are more flexible.
Exercise that includes weight lifting can reverse the trend of muscle loss that happens in people who don't exercise, fitness instructor Eileen Kilborn said. Beginning at age 30, the average person loses a half-pound of muscle each year.
The more muscle you have, the more calories you can burn even at rest, she said.
To get started with an exercise program, consider your short, intermediate and long term goals.
Your short-term goal may be exercise three times a week for the first month and to improve your flexibility. Your intermediate goal may be to lift 10 more pounds on each machine next month. Your long-range goal may be reduce your risk of heart disease or diabetes, or to have more energy to play with your children or grandchildren.
In setting goals, don't get hung up on your weight and appearance. "Don't worry about your waistline, worry about your life," Smith said.
Don't consider your weight, but consider how you feel, Kilborn said.
After determining your goals, share them with an exercise professional or a friend who works out to help you develop a safe, efficient workout that will help you to achieve your goals. If you are over 40 or have health complications, get a doctor's clearance before beginning your exercise. Then work with your friend or trainer to develop a workout "that will give you the biggest bang for the buck," Smith said.
A good workout should include cardiovascular exercise, weight lifting and flexibility (stretching), Kilborn said.
But in developing your program, consider also what movement you enjoy. You will be more likely to maintain a workout that you like.
If you haven't exercised much in the past, you won't know whether you can get into an exercise until you try it. If you did exercise before, think about what you liked doing and consider including that activity. But remember that you're not 18 anymore.
You can start your program at any time, Tuma said. But start slowly. "If you have been inactive, don't run four miles on the first day, because you will burn out."
If you start with just a few minutes of walking twice a week, that's OK. Gradually build up to 45 minutes to 60 minutes of cardio, strength and flexibility training at least three times a week, Smith said.
Listen to your body. Challenge yourself but don't push too hard, Tuma said.
If you don't like exercising on your own, find a buddy who will exercise with you. That person will make the workout more fun and will motivate you on days when you don't want to go out.
Keep a journal of your progress. That will help you keep track of your workout and will motivate you when you forget your progress.
The best time to work out is whenever you can fit it into your schedule. Exercising in the morning is good because it gives you energy and a sense of euphoria that can help you all day and can reduce the risk of road rage and blowups at work, Tuma said. Exercise in the afternoon is good because your body is functioning at its peak. Exercise in the evening is good because it can help you sleep well at night.
If you can't get out of the house because you are caring for children or an elderly or disabled parent, you can do exercise videos, walk stairs, and do incline presses off your couch in your home or off park benches; use exercise tubing (which is like large rubber bands) to work your arms and legs inside or while your children are playing outside; or put your child in a baby jogger so you can run or walk.
When you work out plateaus or if you get bored, shake it up. This can be as minor as changing the order of your exercises, your amount of time exercising or your number of repetitions or weight on each lift. Or it can be as significant as doing a different workout.
"Cross train," Tuma said. Consider yoga, tai-chi or water aerobics, for example.
If you shift to a sport, such as tennis or golf, just remember that you should maintain or resume your stretching, cardiovascular and strength training because playing sports may not provide all three benefits, Smith and Kilborn said.
When your workout falls by the wayside because of overtime at work or family matters, don't feel guilty. Just resume your workout whenever you can.
But if you've missed more than a few workouts, don't expect to pick up where you left off. You may have to ease back into it over several workouts before you'll be at the same level as before your interruption.
And don't forget to reward yourself when you reach exercise goals. A reward could be new workout gear or a new outfit, Kilborn said.
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