Just how important is exercise, really? It’s “life or death” important, according to experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
Adults who don’t exercise carry a higher risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers. For women, increasing research is showing exercise may help reduce breast cancer risk, says Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., director of the UAB Center for Exercise Medicine.
“Exercise as a means of preventing or reducing the risk of various cancers, particularly breast cancer, is important for two reasons: both the direct physical effects and the indirect effect, which is preventing or contributing to mechanisms that help prevent weight gain,” Bamman says. He adds that when people gain weight, their cancer risk rises, too.
Women especially benefit from exercise as they age.
“The body shape of post-menopausal women is more likely to change due to the removal of hormone-specific profiles like estrogen,” Bamman explains. “Unless they exercise regularly and watch what they eat, they will have a tendency to gain more abdominal fat, which is the most dangerous, and their body composition will become more apple-shaped — like a man’s — instead of pear-shaped.”
Another factor women need to consider is loss of bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis, says Retta Evans, Ph.D., UAB associate professor of health education.
“Starting at around 30 years of age, women begin to lose bone mass,” Evans says. “Unless you are doing something to oppose that, such as weight-bearing exercise, it will continue. Resistance and weight training are the best, but things like walking or jogging in combination with weights are good enough.” Dance, Zumba and kickboxing also help with maintaining bone mass, Evans says.
“Yoga helps to maintain your muscularity and that helps with maintaining your posture,” she explains. “It also helps in stretching all of the muscle groups, front and back. Yoga is another great weight-bearing activity as well.
“The bottom line is people have to find something they enjoy doing and once they find something they enjoy they are more likely to continue,” Evans says. “It doesn’t take anything except a pair of good walking shoes to start something as simple as walking around; anything that keeps the body moving as opposed to being sedentary can help contribute to a path toward better health.”