Of all the things that someone can concentrate on or emphasize for healthy lifestyle, physical activity has the broadest positive influence and benefit. Physival activity builds stronger bones and inactivity leads to mineral loss from bones regardless of calcium intake. An inactive joint becomes less and less useable. Physical activity builds stronger muscles, improves cardiac and pulmonary function and increases endurance. Physival activity raises "good" cholesterol and prevents and reverses cardiovascular disease. Physical activity increases sensitivity to insulin that prevents and reverses Type-2 diabetes mellitus. Physical activity is linked with the prevention of breast cancer. Physical activity reduces stress hormones and relieves stress. Physical activity helps sleep and relieves constipation. Physical activity improves fat metabolism and assists with weight management.
There is more, but need I say more? Yet, with all these benefits people do not comprehend prevention. Not having a problem tends to place it out of mind. Also, people are oriented to short time cycles and do not respond well to long time cycles. People are more likely to respond to physical activity on the basis of "feeling good" and "looking good". The challenge is to present physical activity so as to make it "doable". Additional goals would be to make physical activity enjoyable (groups or a game) or make it accomplish an immediate purpose (walking to work or a nature tour) or create a challenge (competition or personal best).
With all due respect to those who believe humans sprang from the dust 10,000 years ago, all the evidence indicates the presence of humans on earth for over one million years. For hundreds of thousands of years our ancestors ate whole food and drank water as found in nature, and they walked. Frequently, the walking was carrying a load. There were bursts of strenuous activity that might involve catching something or getting away from something. Metabolism is geared to this pattern of physical activity.
Walking is the best place to start physical activity. A comfortable pair of shoes and a little time is all that is needed. Do not underrate walking. Start slow and build up. But, in the final analysis most people underrate the amount of walking they need to do. It has been demonstrated that walking 10,000 steps daily accomplishes the benefits listed in the first paragraph. If someone takes a long stride, 10,000 steps might represent five miles while a short stride would be closer to four miles. Both are 10,000 steps and both achieve the benefits. Also, the 10,000 steps do not have to be in a single session of sustained walking but can be accumulated throughout the day.
People who wear a pedometer walk more than those without a pedometer. The basic Sportline pedometer counts only steps and it is reliable and inexpensive. The price is $9.99. At the end of each day take a reading and place the pedometer with things that wil be picked up beginning the next day (a belt, watch or keys). Beginning each day zero the pedometer and attach it to a belt at the waist on either hip.
After a while the number of daily steps will become like the song by John Hartford (recorded by Glenn Campbell) entitled "Gentle On My Mind". It will make more sense to walk to the mailbox and to leave the car at the other side of the parking lot. It becomes less of a chore by making a game out of it.
Most people will walk between 2,000 and 4,000 steps during a routine day. With some thought this can be increased to 5,000 or 6,000 steps. Reaching 10,000 steps requires some dedicated walking. Interestingly, people who live in large cities are more likely to use public transportation and walk more than people who live in the suburbs or smaller communities. Walk with friends, walk the baby in a stroller, walk the dog, walk to the bank. When the weather is bad, use a treadmill or walk in the mall. THINK WALKING.
After developing some consistency with the walking, consider doing something more strenuous for twenty to thirty minutes once, twice or three times weekly. This could be walking rapidly uphill, hiking in the mountains, a treadmill elevated to an incline, a stairmaster, running or lifting weights.
This routine can be developed over time by almost everyone. And, it is a routime that can last as the years pass. In fact, physical activity is the closest thing to a Fountain of Youth. Motion is lotion for both the joints and the skin. Will it make you happier? I think so.