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Exercise Overview

Exercise isn't a new idea. Records of people exercising go back to 1100 B.C., when the Greeks competed in the javelin throw, distance running, archery, and boxing. Hippocrates (460 B.C.-377 B.C.), the father of medicine, wrote that "eating alone will not keep a man well; he must also take exercise." Milo of Croton, in 6 B.C., discovered the Principle of Progressive Overload, in which he carried a calf every day on his shoulders and as it grew into a bull and got heavier, he got stronger (just like adding heavier dumbbells).

Skip ahead a thousand years to 1844, when the YMCA was founded and people started to do more formal exercise. Then, in 1896, the first modern Olympic games began, and by the early 1900s, gymnastics was mandatory for all American school children. In the late 1950s, things really picked up; Jack LaLanne had an exercise show on TV and the President's Council on Physical Fitness was created; the 1960s and '70s produced Jackie Sorensen and Jane Fonda exercise videos, Nautilus gyms, Ken Cooper coining the word "aerobics," and the running phenomenon started by George Sheehan, Jim Fixx, and others; and now today we have limitless types of exercise classes, technology built into every cardio machine, and all sorts of contraptions for building muscles. In this article, we'll take a more in-depth look at what exercise is all about.

The Benefits of Regular Exercise

  • Reduce the risk of premature death
  • Reduce the risk of developing and/or dying from heart disease
  • Reduce high blood pressure or the risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Reduce high cholesterol or the risk of developing high cholesterol
  • Reduce the risk of developing colon cancer and breast cancer
  • Reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce or maintain body weight or body fat
  • Build and maintain healthy muscles, bones, and joints
  • Reduce depression and anxiety
  • Improve psychological well-being
  • Enhanced work, recreation, and sport performance
  • Increased blood supply to muscles and ability to use oxygen
  • Lower resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with high blood pressure
  • Increased HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol)
  • Decreased blood triglycerides
  • Improved glucose tolerance and reduced insulin resistance
  • Increased muscular strength
  • Increased strength of tendons and ligaments
  • Potentially improves flexibility (range of motion of joints)
  • Improved strength, balance, and functional ability in older adults

Physical Fitness

Physical fitness is a measure of the condition of the body to perform during activities of daily living (light, moderate, and strenuous), formal exercise (like when you work out), and emergencies (as when you must escape from danger like a fire). The physical fitness of our nation is declining, proved by the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, some types of cardiovascular disease, and other medical conditions. To improve physical fitness, one must "practice," or work out. Emphasis should be on improving aerobic conditioning (stamina or endurance), muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. The types of exercise necessary to do this are described next.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/20/2014
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