A fitness expert shares the lifelong benefits of keeping our bodies moving and avoiding long periods of inactivity.

This year two new studies gave us even more reasons to stay active — and a better understanding of what happens if we don’t.

Science has long pointed to the pitfalls of being sedentary.

The studies found that as little as two weeks of sedentary behavior can alter metabolism for the worse. Even that short of a period of inactivity can lower insulin sensitivity, reduce cardiovascular fitness and increase body fat stores. For some individuals, returning to activity will not restore these values to pre-sedentary levels.

This news is bleak, but not exactly unexpected. Science has long pointed to the pitfalls of being sedentary. Although the study results are disheartening because they highlight what can be lost when life events bump us off our exercise routine, we could turn the bad news into something positive and use it as motivation.

We know very well that regular exercise and physical activity make us healthier both mentally and physically. Now, we have a warning for what can happen if we take breaks from exercise.

A chair squat is a good exercise to add to your strength routine.
A chair squat is a good exercise to add to your strength routine.

Best Reasons to Stay Active

Regular exercise:

  1. Helps to ameliorate cognitive decline and mild depression.
  2. Maintains physical capacity and preserves muscle, which makes everyday tasks easier.
  3. Lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers.
  4. Maintains metabolism and controls weight gain.
  5. Helps us to feel youthful and improves the quality of life.

That last one might be the best reason of all. The main reason I exercise is so I can get up every day feeling like I can do pretty much anything I want to do. I don’t feel limited by the way my body moves. I know I’ll quickly lose that ability if I stop moving.

Establishing an Exercise Routine

An example of a simple, effective activity to get these benefits is a daily 30-minute walk. Adding two days a week of resistance training exercises like a chair sit-to-stand and resistance band rows is even better. Throw in stretching and balance exercises a few days a week and you’ve got an excellent movement program!

Walking improves your heart and overall cardiovascular function, resistance training strengthens muscles so you can continue to do daily tasks with ease, and stretching and balance exercises help with flexibility and avoiding fall injuries.

Mike Bento is an advanced trainer at The Clubs at Charles River Park and Massachusetts General Hospital. He holds a master’s degree in human movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a corrective exercise specialist and performance enhancement specialist.