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Other views: Make it a moving experience

This is the time of year many of us make at least a half-hearted stab at setting goals aimed at self-improvement after we’ve gorged on self-indulgence over the holidays. All too often, while the New Year is still in swaddling clothes, we drift back to complacent, slothful ways. So it’s with some trepidation that we dole out this advice: Do yourself and those you love a favor by becoming more physically active.

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Getting more exercise, something the majority of us should do, is common fodder for resolutions. It’s no news flash that regular physical activity goes a long way toward staying healthy. But the evidence that exercise is a form of medicine keeps growing. Recently, researchers found that a structured exercise program might be as good or better than routinely prescribed drugs for heart attacks or strokes. At the same time, research keeps piling up that taking vitamins and nutritional supplements seems to offer few if any measureable health benefits.

It’s seductive to think we can sit on the sofa channel surfing while popping a handful of vitamins, and pretend we’re taking good care of ourselves. The obesity epidemic and related problems of high blood pressure and diabetes are evidence to the contrary. There’s a growing recognition that unhealthy lifestyles are a huge factor in preventable chronic diseases — and a major reason why we pay far more for health care than any other advanced nation, yet have less to show for it.

Getting people to adopt better lifestyle choices, especially eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, is therefore an important part of restraining unsustainable, runaway medical costs that are crushing budgets of families, employers and taxpayers. But, more importantly, it’s the path to a healthier, happier life.

Most of us know this. The hard part is transforming good intentions into good habits. It helps to remind ourselves of a body of research showing the benefits of being active. One study found a sizable drop in colon cancer in people who exercise more than five times a week. Regular exercise might also decrease the risk of other cancers; it appears to reduce the risk of many inflammatory diseases, in part because active muscles produce anti-inflammatory hormones. Exercise can help prevent everything from diabetes to dementia.

You don’t need a gym membership to build exercise into your routines. Walk more. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Experts stress that no matter one’s age or ability, some kind of exercise regimen is possible. Consistency is important: Some experts say the benefits of exercise really kick in after about 150 minutes, or 2½ hours, per week. Not so bad, really. Now get up and go for a walk, OK?

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.

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