Kids Love Dr. Barton

The Importance of Physical Fitness

by Dr. Douglas Barton, M.D., Pediatrician 04/24/2009

I can hear you now. “I can’t believe he’s talking about it again!”  Ok, ok, I get it.  Some people might think that I talk about fitness too much.  Having said that, in reviewing the evidence that I have concerning health and longevity, there are only three controllable factors that strongly affect your lifetime health: what you eat, whether or not you smoke, and whether or not you get regular exercise.

So how does one to find time to add exercise to the balancing act we all do on a daily basis?  I have to admit, I’m spoiled.  While I do work long hours, I don’t put in near the hours that I know some others have to work.  I also have a wife that is very accommodating and understands the need for exercise.  She also mostly stays home to take care of the kids, and I’m able to do the same for her when she needs to get her exercise in. Having admitted to all this, it is not unusual for me to leave the house between 4:30 and 5:00 am to get in my morning run.

To have a truly healthy balance in our lives, we must figure out a way to get in some form of exercise regularly.  Exercise helps us in countless ways.  It pushes HDL (good) cholesterol up and LDL (bad) cholesterol down.  It keeps our weight down and our mood up.  It improves sleep quality and keeps our minds alert while we’re awake.  Arguably, one of the most important things is that it sets a good example for our children. 

So what qualifies as exercise?  In short, anything that gets your heart rate elevated above 130-140 beats per minute! Weight lifting, running, brisk walks, swimming, and organized sports all count.  The big trick is getting in 45-60 minutes of exercise four or five days a week.  As I mentioned, I usually have to get up very early to get my exercise in.  I often get to see the sun rise as I’m on my early morning run.  My wife catches her exercise any time I can distract the kids long enough for her to get out the door.  Some people break their exercise into small segments throughout the day.  The bottom line is to get your heart rate up for a total of 45-60 minutes.

Since this is hopefully going to be a lifelong project, start slowly.  Don’t try to do it all at once.  Make gradual lifestyle changes that allow you to get into it. The worst thing you can do is to start too fast and then injure yourself.  Start with five to ten minutes of a slightly challenging activity, just enough to start to sweat.  Then gradually challenge yourself to longer periods and more intense levels of activity.  Hopefully, you’ll gradually move to periods of exercise that are very intense with heart rates up to even the 170’s.  For most people, starting with brisk walks works best.  It’s easy on the knees, doesn’t leave you too tired after you’re finished, and can be done without resorting to expensive clubs or having to travel to a specific site to get your exercise in.

In short…get up, get moving and break into a bit of a sweat. It is one of the most important things you can do for your own health and that of your family.




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