Are you skipping this important health habit?

Are you skipping this important health habit?

Skipping the gym on a regular basis might lead to more than decreased muscle tone and poorer cardiovascular endurance.

A new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that not exercising could be one of the most detrimental things you can do for your health.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, looked at data of 12,007 patients from 1991 to 2014 who performed exercise treadmill tests and recorded participants’ mortality rates. Results showed that high aerobic fitness was connected to a longer and healthier life, with no observed upper limit of benefit. Extremely high aerobic fitness was associated with the greatest survival rates. The results don’t surprise Adriana Guerrero, a health navigator and phase 3 cardiac & pulmonary rehab coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital Fitness Center in Park Ridge, Ill.

“The benefits of healthy levels of cardiorespiratory fitness have been well documented for decades. These benefits, which not only include decreased risk of mortality, but also enhanced physical function, improved cognition and decreased anxiety and depression, span across healthy and clinical populations,” says Guerrero.

A person’s cardiorespiratory fitness is determined by how well the heart, lungs and muscles work together during a prolonged period of exercise. The better they work together, the higher someone’s cardiovascular endurance is. The study found that cardiorespiratory fitness is a modifiable indicator of long-term mortality and, as such, recommends that health care providers encourage patients to obtain and maintain high levels of fitness. Developing good cardiorespiratory fitness is important because it improves resting blood pressure and heart rate, which decreases the stress placed on the heart.

“Just as skeletal muscle requires resistance training, commonly known as weight training, to preserve muscular health and slow down age-related muscle loss, the heart is a muscle that needs regular conditioning in the form of aerobic activity to maintain optimal function and minimize the adverse effects of aging,” says Guerrero.

Everyone has a different baseline for cardiovascular endurance, but with a consistent exercise routine, almost anyone can improve their cardiorespiratory fitness. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that despite all the information available regarding the benefits of exercise, only 21 percent of Americans meet the national physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise per week.

Guerrero says she’s found that often, people simply don’t know where to start when it comes to developing an exercise routine, and that sometimes, the fitness center and gym environment can be intimidating.

“I encourage individuals with these types of challenges to join a group exercise class, find a workout buddy or invest in a personal trainer,” says Guerrero. “Social support in any of these forms have been shown to help people adopt and maintain regular exercise.”

Want to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness? Check out these tips:

  • Walk for 30 minutes every day. For individuals with low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, Guerrero suggests walking 30 minutes a day at a moderate effort to help decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Get your recommended 10,000 steps. If you’re just beginning to look for ways to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness, Guerrero suggests striving to reach a goal of walking 10,000 steps a day to jumpstart your activity level. Consistently achieving a minimum of 10,000 steps/day has been shown to stabilize blood sugars, improve blood pressure and improve mood.
  • Double the minimum physical activity recommendations. For regularly active individuals, consider upping the time you spend engaging in physical activity from the recommended 150 minutes per week to 300 minutes per week.
  • Incorporate resistance training into your routine to compliment your aerobic exercise program. Healthier, stronger muscles will lead to improved physical function which will allow you to perform aerobic activities with greater ease.

Take our Healthy Weight Assessment to learn whether you’re within an ideal range and how the number may be affecting your life and future.

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About the Author

Colette Harris
Colette Harris

Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.