You’re sweating, your heart is thumping, you’re breathing just hard enough to make chatting with your pal on the neighboring treadmill somewhat difficult. That’s good. You’re engaged in exercise that will change your body and, if you keep it up, your life.

The benefits of regular exercise are well documented in both scientific and consumer literature: lower blood pressure, greater resistance to disease including cancer, greater ability to maintain healthy weight, increased bone density, lower risk of diabetes, reduced anxiety, depression and anger, greater mental acuity, reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Linda Peterson, MD, a Washington University cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, is one of the region’s top experts on cardiovascular disease and exercise. Her research focuses on the causes of obesity-related cardiac dysfunction. She says, “Obesity contributes to 11 to 14 percent of all cases of heart failure.”

Naturally, Peterson advocates exercise. “The best kind of exercise is the one that you’ll actually do.” A lighthearted statement, perhaps, but she’s completely serious.

During hard physical activity, your lungs take in oxygen, filter and diffuse it into the bloodstream and send it straight to your heart, which pumps it out to power the muscles you’re using to walk, run, swim, dance or kickbox.

Exercise training strengthens your heart, enabling it to pump more blood with each beat—and supply your working muscles with more of the oxygen-rich blood they need during exercise. Meanwhile, your muscles are gaining in capacity, consuming greater volumes of oxygen more quickly. Your muscles are like engines, needing fuel to operate. And the fuels they burn are fat and carbohydrates.

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise—a brisk walk qualifies—every day, which is enough to bring about noticeable changes after only a week for most adults. And there are studies that suggest as little as 10 minutes of exercise three times a day can make a difference.

Here’s Peterson’s advice: “Listen to your body. If you are exhausted, take a break. If you thought a workout was too easy, increase the intensity the next time out.”


Read more articles from Innovate Fall 2014.

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