I know, I know, for those of us who aren’t hard-core consistent exercisers, the topic can be one we avoid like last year’s fruitcake. The Psalms tells us, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made”, but many of us have become “scarily and awfully squishy.” Could 2013 possibly, just possibly be a year of change for you — perhaps to something a bit more compact and firm, if not necessarily chiseled? In hopes of that I offer not more guilt, but more benefits to induce both of us to consistently get our feet on the pavement, or in the pedals, or kicking in the water, or wherever they will most help us get the exercise we need. So what are the real benefits shown in studies from actually getting the exercise we all know we need?

  • Increases our energy and overall sense of well-being

  • Helps reduce belly-fat that contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes

  • Weight-bearing or resistance exercise helps fight osteoporosis

  • Aerobic (cardio) exercise helps control blood pressure, increases “good cholesterol” and overall reduces chances of heart disease

  • Fights depression (as well as anti-depressants in some studies)

  • Maintains mobility and reduces falls in older adults

  • Improves skin health and look

  • Can be a good social activity if done as an exercise group or sport

  • Increases overall metabolic rate to help burn fat better.

  • Improves sleep

  • Improves sexual health

  • Enhances immune function, reducing the number of colds, flu and other viruses.

  • Improves blood flow to the brain and improves brain power, especially in the few hours right after exercise.

  • A recent study showed over 1/3 less onset of dementia over a several year period in the group that exercised regularly compared with the no-exercise group.

That’s a pretty good list. We just plain feel better, look better and do better. But we all

start the day early, go hard all day and feel spent at the end of it. And, yah, if it was really easy we’d all be doing it. Still, I think you and I can do it – it’s so worth it. We’ll have to ram it in – that wide open span of time where we feel a huge amount of energy and the weather is perfect will almost never happen. So what should we shoot for in 2013?

If it’s been a while and you’re 40 or over, it’d be best to see your doc before starting an exercise program. The easiest ways to start are to get a good pair of sneakers and just walk. But you have to have a weather-proof plan – a hardy constitution or a treadmill or the mall for nasty days. I recommend some people start with as little as a 5 minute walk 6 days/week if they feel very out of shape and minimally motivated. Then add 1 minute per week until they get to a 30 minute brisk (3-4 mph) walk 6 days/week. Or you can do the equivalent in getting your pulse up for 30 minutes on a stationary bike or even with a water-based program if your joints aren’t up to the walking.

So few people stick with their plans that you can pick up a stationary bike on Craig’s List or ebay pretty cheap. If you get that part down and want to add a little resistance (muscle-toning) to your routine two or three times a week, resistance bands are a safe, inexpensive way to go. Routines for them are readily found on the web.

Be the one who is the exception this year – make a plan and step through it; even if you fall off the wagon now and then you’ll benefit hugely (wagons are always bumpy rides). So as 2013 rolls on, here’s to a less squishy you!

Andrew Smith, MD is board-certified in Family Medicine and practices at 1503 East Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. Contact him at 982-0835