Top five reasons why exercise enhances health

Make fitness your No. 1 resolution for 2006.
The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays, and represents a fresh new start where resolutions are made to improve various aspects of our lives.

According to a University of Washington online survey, 37 percent of subjects, mostly female, listed increasing the amount of daily exercise as their primary resolution. Two months later, a follow-up survey indicated that the majority of these same subjects were still following a consistent exercise program, which is good news considering the health benefits associated with being fit.

If improving your fitness is your No. 1 resolution for the new year, cheers to you! Here are five reasons why your fitness resolution will help improve your overall health in 2006.

1. You'll lower your risk for the nation's top three killers: heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The good news is that deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke all dropped by approximately two to five percent in the past few years. Currently, the life expectancy for women is 80.1 years. Those best off are those who avoid obesity, which is a known risk factor for the three top killers, by engaging in a regular fitness program.

In fact, an hour a day of brisk walking has been shown to cut the risk of obesity by 24 percent, stroke by 25 percent, colon cancer by 30 to 40 percent, and heart disease by 50 percent. In addition, walking will significantly reduce the susceptibility to metabolic syndrome (combination of hypertension, high blood cholesterol, elevated blood lipids, atherosclerosis and insulin resistant diabetes).

2. You'll smile more

Research has shown active women to be less likely to develop depression. In fact, in a study of nearly 2,000 residents of Alameda County, California, there was a 20-percent decline in the diagnosis of depression over a five-year time span when activity levels were kept high.

Regular activity also seems to help those who already suffer from depression. Some researchers believe that a mere 30 minutes of daily activity yields the same results as anti-depressant drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy. Now that's something to smile about!

3. You'll get sick less often

There's a direct relationship between muscle mass and immune function. Resistance training, specifically 40 to 60 minutes, three times a week, will help build your muscle mass and will ultimately enhance your ability to fight infection by increasing the reservoir of proteins the immune system uses to fight infection.

Studies on the influence of moderate exercise training on immune function have shown that daily brisk walking compared with inactivity reduced the number of sick days by half over a 12- to 15-week period. Be careful not to over train though, especially with vigorous cardiovascular exercise, since the protein used to help boost immune system is used for muscle recuperation and repair, making you more vulnerable to upper respiratory infection.

4. You'll notice a marked improvement in sexual performance and overall pleasure.

There's strong evidence showing that physical endurance, muscle tone and body composition improve with a consistent exercise program, resulting in enhanced sexual functioning.

Furthermore, exercise frequency and physical fitness are correlated with improved body confidence and increased energy levels, both of which make women feel more attractive. In fact, a University of Arkansas study found that physical activity significantly improves desirability and is associated with a higher reported frequency of sexual behavior.

5. You'll be mentally sharp

Cardiovascular exercise helps nourish the brain by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain cells. As a result, physically active woman tend to have more nerves, more connections between nerves, fewer clogged arteries, more oxygen flow, and better ability to utilize glucose compared to their non-active counterparts.

In fact, there's solid evidence that women who are physically active are at lower risk for cognitive decline and dementia, which means a better quality of life as we age.

2006 Fitness Resolutions
  • To lower my risk for the nation's three top killers -- heart disease, cancer, and stroke -- I will engage in 30-60 minute of moderately-intense activity (e.g., brisk walking, cycling, jogging or swimming) on most days of the week.
  • To sharpen my mind and improve my mood, I will engage in 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity (e.g., rollerblading, hiking, elliptical machine) on most days of the week.
  • To help improve my sexual performance and pleasure, I'll engage in vigorous exercise (e.g., a spin class, intervals) two or three times a week.
  • To improve my immune function, I will engage in at least 60 minutes of resistance training (e.g., weights, Pilates) a week.

Kim Mueller, M.S., R.D., is an avid fitness enthusiast who enjoys swimming, biking, running and triathlons. She helps active women achieve their nutrition and fitness goals by creating customized meal plans as well as goal-specific nutrition coaching. More information on Kim's services can be found at

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