Are you the type of person who thinks New Year’s resolutions are a cliché? Or have you already vowed to achieve your most-desired goal in 2016? If you’re in the second category, this issue of School Nutrition is for you—provided that, like 37% of resolution-makers, according to a Nielsen survey, you have dedicated yourself to becoming (or staying) healthy and fit in 2016. If you’re not the type to make resolutions—that’s around 16% of you, according to that same survey—or physical activity isn’t really on your radar for the upcoming year, let’s discuss why you might want to rethink that decision. Heaven knows that finding time to fit physical activity into your daily (or weekly) routine isn’t easy; when your priority list includes work, family, volunteering, “me” time and a social life, among other obligations, going for a walk or heading to the gym frequently falls to the bottom. But if you want to improve your quality of life this year, moving more is one of the simplest ways to do so. We’re not talking power weight-lifting sessions or marathon running, but rather a concerted effort to boost the number of minutes you spend moving each day. Not convinced? Take a look at these 10 ways health experts say that regular exercise can make 2016 a happier, healthier and overall better year for you. 1) Happy Thoughts Engaging in exercise stimulates brain chemicals that can leave you feeling less stressed and in a better mood. It can also boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem, particularly if it leads you to feeling better about your appearance. 2) Sweet Dreams Fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep and awaken less during the night. Does that sound like a pipe dream? Regular aerobic exercise boosts all three of these bedtime bonuses. That deep sleep is the time when your body repairs muscles and tissues, improves your immune system and stimulates growth and development—all essential for a happier tomorrow. 3) Take a Load Off Although exercise is only part of a successful weight-loss formula (with a healthy diet being the other), it’s a vital one. In fact, 89% of members of the National Weight Control Registry (made up of people who have lost weight and kept it off for a minimum of one year) report their success came from a combination of diet and exercise. 4) Chill Out Exercise curtails your body’s stress hormones and escalates the production of endorphins. These just happen to be responsible for feelings of relaxation and optimism that can follow a good fitness session. 5) Mental Giant If you want to stay sharp well into your golden years, exercise is key. It stimulates regions of the brain that focus on memory function, and helps stave off cognitive decline, as well as Alzheimer’s disease. 6) Social Butterfly Who needs happy hour? Any activity can become a social gathering if you plan it right. Catch up with a pal on a weekend walk, take a dance class or join a softball team—there are many ways to meet new friends (or reconnect with old ones) that encourage movement instead of margaritas. 7) Going Strong Regular exercise doesn’t just make it easier to lift weights. The increased muscle power you gain from strength training maintains or improves your ability to carry heavy groceries, hoist a child on your hip, open stuck jars, haul boxes from storage to the prep counter or lug bags of mulch around in the garden. 8) Picture of Health Heart disease, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels are, among other diseases, all too prevalent in this country. Consistent movement abates the risk of these three killers, as well as lessens your chances of suffering a stroke or developing type 2 diabetes, depression, arthritis and certain types of cancer. 9) Limber Up When you incorporate flexibility training into your routine, you improve your body’s range of motion. This means that everyday movements, such as reaching for objects and bending to tie your shoes, will be easier. Improved flexibility also encourages better posture and provides relief from tense muscles. 10) Live Long and Prosper Simply put, regular physical activity helps you live longer. A study published in 2012 found that people who regularly engaged in leisure-time physical activity—no matter what their weight or level of activity intensity—added as much as 4.5 years to their lives. If you need a fitness goal, consider this: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 2 1/2 hours a week of moderate activity (such as brisk walking, heavy cleaning or easy biking) or 1 1/4 hours of vigorous activity (which includes hiking, jogging, singles tennis or basketball). This breaks down to 15 to 30 minutes a day of physical activity, which can then be broken down into shorter increments if that’s what your schedule or endurance level dictates. If you can’t yet meet the federal recommendations, keep this in mind: Slow progress is still, in fact, progress. Editor’s Note: The articles in this issue are intended to provide general information on developing a healthier, more active lifestyle. They are not substitutes for consulting with a health care provider or other fitness expert. Before you begin a new exercise regimen, consult your doctor.
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