Your Weekly Checkup: My New Year’s Resolution — Exercise!

Dr. Zipes explains why – and how! – to get started on your most important New Year’s resolution.

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We are pleased to bring you “Your Weekly Checkup,” a regular online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive.

“Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes.” This quote, repeated often, is attributed to Paul Terry, founder of the Terrytoons animation studio. The precise source is less important than the thrust of the message: although said in jest, its impact is harmful to your health!

Despite the fact that study after study has validated the benefits of exercise, many Americans still sit all day at work, watch TV at night, and drive short distances instead of biking or walking. They do not realize that even mild exercise such as walking slowly or performing household chores like vacuuming, washing windows, or folding laundry can be beneficial. Two recent studies, one from Harvard investigators and the other from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, examined the exercise patterns of a large number of people, and found that the most active folks reduced their mortality by 50 to 70 percent compared with the least active, sedentary participants.

One of the most exciting recent discoveries about the benefits of exercise comes from the Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom. They found that a single exercise session can offer immediate protection to the heart through a mechanism called “ischemic preconditioning.” Exposing the heart repeatedly to short episodes of inadequate blood supply (ischemia), such as might occur during strenuous exercise, protects the heart to resist a longer, more serious episode of ischemia. The investigators found that a single vigorous workout provided cardioprotection lasting 2-3 hours, while repeated exercise sessions weekly yielded even greater and longer protection. The benefits of exercise can help mitigate the negative impact of other risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

What should you do for 2018?

  1. Pick an activity you enjoy and are likely to continue: dancing, bowling, golf, walking the dog, or playing with your children or grandchildren.
  2. Start small: maybe 10 minutes initially, and gradually increase the duration and intensity over time.
  3. Exercise with friends: If you need motivation, plan to exercise with friends at a fixed time, four or five days a week. Knowing your colleagues are waiting is more likely to keep you in the game.
  4. Write it down: maintain a diary that details what you do, and your response to it. Finding that you can exercise longer with greater ease is a superb incentive to continue to even greater heights.

Exercising enables you to take control of your own health and well-being, reduce stress, maintain mental acuity and productivity, and decrease the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer. Make it your number one New Year’s resolution!

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