The benefits of regular exercise for overall health cannot be overstated. Combined with a healthy diet and weight management, being physically fit can substantially lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
For women, regular exercise is tied to better reproductive health and a decreased risk of breast cancer. And physical activity does not have to include intense aerobics or weight-lifting, Monica Suarez Kobilis, M.D. , is a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care .
“Sometimes we need to be creative with what we call exercise — it does not have to mean lifting weights and doing pushups at the gym,” explains Dr. Suarez Kobilis. “Going for quick-paced walks, having a dance party in your living room, putting your baby in the stroller, and going to the park and doing squats and leg lifts while pushing her around — all of those count.”
Moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, is generally safe for most people and can be as beneficial as intensity-driven exercises.
The generally accepted exercise guidelines from the American Heart Association is: Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. Additionally, try moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least two days per week.
“My advice for women, especially those with underlying health issues such as heart disease, about lifestyle modifications including exercise — any amount of exercise is better than none,” said Dr. Suarez Kobilis. “I advise them to start slowly and work their way up to more vigorous activity, as long as it is approved by their cardiologist.”
But for women, regular exercise is not just about lower their risk of heart disease and diabetes — as with men. Women in their child-bearing years may have extra incentives if they plan to have children.
“Regular exercise is important for women’s reproductive health as pregnant women who exercise routinely are less likely to gain excessive weight, have gestational diabetes, and postpartum depression,” said Dr. Suarez Kobilis.
Being physically active lowers your risk for developing several commonly occurring cancers, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research finds that adults who participate in more physical activities have reduced risks of developing cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung and stomach, the CDC says.
“The correlation with decreased risk of breast cancer and exercising is not discussed enough, there is a decreased risk of various cancers with routine exercise,” said Dr. Suarez Kobilis. “Weight loss which can be achieved with exercise may decrease risk for breast cancer in postmenopausal women.”
Dr. Suarez Kobilis emphasizes that regular exercise for women — who normally oversee all of the needs of a family — is especially important.
“Exercise should make us feel good,” she said. “We should feel happy and accomplished after we have put in the effort to move our bodies and celebrate life. If we do not fill our own cups and take care of us — physically, emotionally, spiritually — how can we take care of others?”