Have you ever tried to push through an intense workout, only to find that you just couldn’t make it without stopping several times to rest?
It may certainly feel like defeat when you’re standing there out of breath with your hands on your knees, but new research suggests that starting off slow is the way to go. The benefits of gradually improving from low levels of cardiovascular fitness to intermediate levels over an extended period of time can add years to your life.
Out of more than 10,000 adults who participated in doctor-prescribed exercise stress tests between 1991 and 2009, the researchers specifically examined those who underwent two exercise stress tests within at least a one-year period. After a followup period of about nine years, almost 10 percent of men and just over 7 percent of women had passed away.
When the researchers analyzed data from the two stress tests taken a year apart, men who improved their fitness levels by starting at a low-level baseline and moving to intermediate or high levels showed a decreased mortality risk of about 44 percent. For women who went from low fitness levels to intermediate or high levels, mortality risk decreased by about 37 percent.
The findings suggest that while low fitness levels are an important risk factor for early death, initially low fitness levels are not the problem. They only pose a risk if there is no improvement over one’s lifetime.
Previous research has shown that lack of exercise is a major cause of disease. When people introduce physical activity into their lives, it essentially prevents or delays disease. This likely helps to explain why those who improve their fitness levels tend to live longer.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to sell your soul to the gym and become super fit to experience the longevity benefits. While “intermediate” fitness levels will vary from person to person, most people should be able to recognize when they’ve reached it after several weeks or months of maintaining a safe but challenging enough exercise regimen.
It can be helpful to record the steps you take, the time in which you complete a workout, the weight you lift, the number of reps you can do and even the number of breaks you take. As your body adapts to the physical stress of exercise, you should be able to see improvements in your cardiovascular and muscular strength.
If you’re currently at a low fitness level but want to start exercising to improve your overall health, there are a few important things you need to consider to make sure it’s effective and sustainable:
- Focus on doing something you actually like. There’s no point in trying to become a runner if you know you already hate running, because chances are you won’t stick with it. Build off of activities you already know you enjoy.
- Keep it safe. Always put your safety before results. Talk to your doctor first — especially if you have health conditions — set manageable goals and don’t push yourself to the point where you risk doing more damage than good.
- Get the right training, assistance, and equipment. Speaking of keeping it safe, effective exercise goes hand in hand with educating yourself. Don’t attempt to do any exercises on your own without consulting a professional or completing the necessary research and training first so that you can maximize your efforts and prevent injury.
Taking it slow and steady isn’t very exciting, but it’s the right way to build serious habits. Once exercise becomes ingrained into your lifestyle, you can bet that you’ll reap the benefits later on in life.
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