Recent reports in the media question the effectiveness of exercise for weight loss and weight management. However, physical activity and exercise do provide many benefits for individuals including lower disease risks, mental health improvements and weight control.

Numerous studies show exercise and physical activity help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity and diabetes. Also, people who exercise generally feel better mentally. This is because during exercise your brain releases endorphins, hormone-like substances that are the body’s own natural pain-killers. This release can help prevent and treat mild cases of anxiety and depression. In fact, research shows regular moderate exercise to be as effective in treating moderate depression as antidepressant medication.

The problem is most of us do not get enough exercise and physical activity every day. In 1973, Americans could eat around 2,000 calories per day and still maintain their weight. However, from 1973 to 2003, Americans decreased their daily amount of physical activity by 25 percent, which would mean it takes 500 calories less to maintain weight. During the same time, the amount of calories we consumed rose by 300 calories a day. Those two numbers combined show many Americans consume an excess of 800 calories a day. Consuming this many excess calories can cause weight gain of at least one pound per week.

It’s easy to incorporate more physical activity in your day. Here are some ways you can become more physically active:

1. Incorporate more physical activity while at home and work. Household duties such as climbing stairs, carrying laundry, running the vacuum, cleaning closets and moving boxes can help you stay in shape. When at work, take the stairs instead of the elevator or park farther away and walk to your building. Get up and move from your desk at least once every 30 minutes, even if it’s only to make a copy or go to the restroom.

2. Find ways to incorporate more walking into your day. Walking can provide you with physical activity, as well as help you clear your head, listen to music or spend time with friends and family.

3. Build and maintain strong muscles. You can do this without purchasing expensive exercise equipment or weights. Utilize your available resources. For example, canned goods make good hand weights. Stretches and muscle toning are also things you can do while watching television.

While physical activity and exercise do have benefits, it may not lead to weight loss on its own for everyone. If you want to lose weight, it’s important for you to make healthy changes to your diet in addition to more physical activity. Once you reach your weight loss goal, physical activity and exercise can help you keep the weight off.

Don’t miss a great opportunity to try out many kinds of physical activity this Sunday at the 2nd Sunday Event at Battlefield Park from 2 to 4 p.m. You can run, walk or bike the trails, try out several different group exercises or play games. Don’t miss the fun. The event is free; bring your friends.

(Source: Janet Tietyen, University of Kentucky foods and nutrition extension specialist)

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