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Exercise: Why It's Worth Your Time

If you walk briskly for two and a half hours each week, you’ll live an average of three to four years longer than someone who doesn’t exercise.

That’s what a 2013 study found. But only 20 percent of us are working out long enough to earn those extra years.

Even if you weren’t familiar with that particular study, we all know that exercising has significant health benefits. But how can we get motivated and start taking advantage of them? To get advice, we talked with Dr. Al Puerini, a family health and sports medicine doctor who is part of an advanced primary care practice in Rhode Island.

Do you recommend exercise to your patients?

"Absolutely. Most people exercise because they want to look better, but the big issue is heart health. I always talk about nutrition along with exercise, because the two go hand in hand."

How do you motivate patients?

"In an advanced primary care practice, a whole team works together to help the patient. I talk to the patient about exercising. For patients who need extra assistance with their health, our nurse care manager and/or dietitian will work with them as well. If that all fails, our psychologist will help the patient figure out what’s preventing this important change. We’ve had really good success by working together."

What’s the biggest mistake people make when exercising?

"It’s doing too much, too soon. Many people go out and run three miles the first day and end up getting injured—and discouraged."

What’s your exercise prescription for people just starting out?

"I recommend walking a mile at the beginning. It should take 20 minutes or less. Time yourself, and gradually increase your speed, working up to a 15-minute mile. At that point, you can increase the distance or you can walk and jog. If you’re jogging outside, try jogging to a specific land­mark, such as a telephone pole. Eventually you can work up to jogging the whole distance. For people over 50, I also recommend the elliptical machine because it’s easy on the joints."

How do you encourage patients who haven’t started exercising after several visits to your practice?

"I have a patient who was 52 and overweight—and who had no idea he was diabetic. The dietitian, the nurse care manager, and I all talked with him about exercise and a more plant-based diet. Within three months, he lost 30 pounds, was jogging three miles twice a week, and was off medication. He said he’d never felt better. He thought diabetes wasn’t curable, but it can be. He proved that."

Exercise protects more than your heart

Exercise has tremendous benefits in helping prevent heart disease and stroke. But it also helps protect you from diseases affecting other parts of your body.

  • Depression.
    Exercise prevents or reduces your risk, and may relieve symptoms as much as an antidepressant.
  • Dementia.
    Being active reduces your risk or delays it, especially for those with genetic risk factors.
  • Breast cancer.
    Your risk can be lowered by up to 40%.
  • Heart attack.
    People who don’t exercise are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active.
  • Diabetes.
    People at risk for type 2 diabetes can reduce their risk by over 50% with 30 minutes of daily exercise and a low-fat diet.
  • Colon cancer.
    Your risk can be lowered by 30%.
  • Obesity.
    Prevent weight gain and maintain a healthy weight with regular exercise.
  • Osteoporosis.
    Strengthen your bones with exercises where your legs carry your weight, such as walking and dancing.