Harvard Guide to Exercise - A Program You Can Live With

Harvard Medical School has published a Special Health Report on Exercise – a Program You Can Live With, which provides a comprehensive guide to the enormous health benefits of exercise, how to get started and design an appropriate exercise routine for you (including illustrations of suggested exercises), and tips and resources to help you stay motivated.

The complete Harvard Health Report on Exercise – a Program You Can Live With, a 45-page PDF document, is available online from Harvard Health Publications.

Health Benefits of Exercise – What Exercise Can Do For You

In an introductory chapter, “The inside scoop: Exercise and your body,” the Harvard report provides a medical explanation of how exercise physically affects and benefits the different parts of your body, including heart and blood vessels, lungs, muscles, bones, hormones, and immune system.

Then, a chapter entitled “What can exercise do for you?” presents information, based on scientific studies, about the several proven health benefits people derive from regular exercise.

Here is a headline list of some of the proven health benefits of exercise, which the Harvard report cites and explains:

  • Prevents cardiovascular disease;
  • Lowers blood pressure;
  • Prevents plaque buildup in arteries;
  • Protects the inner lining of artery walls (called endothelium);
  • Makes blood clots less likely;
  • Promotes new coronary arteries;
  • Diminishes diabetes;
  • Offers a dose of cancer prevention;
  • Fights fractures and reduces falls;
  • Prevents gallstones;
  • Eases arthritis;
  • Helps you attain a healthy weight;
  • Extends life span;
  • Improves quality of life, by protecting mobility and vitality, warding off depression and anxiety, sharpening brain function, improving sleep, and even enhancing sex life.

All of these health benefits are explained in detail in the report.

How Much Exercise and What Exercises to Do

The Harvard authors point out that the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), recommend at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activities, per week. In addition, the Guidelines recommend strength exercises for all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdominals, shoulders, and arms) at least twice a week, as well as balance exercises for older adults.

“For older adults at risk for falls, the 2008 guidelines recommend 30 minutes of balance training and muscle strengthening exercises three times a week, plus at least 30 minutes of walking activities twice or more weekly,” the report states.

In the report, the authors from Harvard Medical School explain how to measure light, moderate, and vigorous exercise levels, and go on to provide more specific step by step advice on how to create a personal exercise plan appropriate for you.

Aerobic Exercises

For aerobic exercises, the authors include tips on warm-up and cool-down periods, good exercise techniques, and a proposed 12-week walking program.

Strength Training

For strength training, an appendix provides 12 examples of suggested strength training exercises, illustrated with diagrams and explanatory text. The report recommends strength training exercises two or more times per week. However, the authors caution, “Your body needs at least 48 hours for recovery and repairs between strength training sessions.” Additional tips for safe strength training are included.

Some examples of suggested strength training exercises illustrated in the Appendix to the report include:

  • Standing Calf Rises;
  • Side Leg Raises;
  • Chair Stands; and
  • Hip Extensions

These and other strength exercises are explained and illustrated with diagrams and text.

Balance Exercises

For balance exercises, the Harvard authors suggest heel-to-toe walking or single-leg stance exercises, which are explained in simple language in the report. In addition, the four strength training exercises listed above also improve balance, according to the report.

Flexibility Exercises

For flexibility exercises, the authors recommend stretching exercises, yoga or Pilates. An appendix to the report provides examples of 10 suggested basic stretching exercises, each illustrated with diagrams and explanatory text.

The stretching exercises should not be done before exercising, but after muscles are “warm and pliable,” according to the report. “Stretch when muscles are warm and pliable — so, before stretching, walk for five to 10 minutes, dance to a few songs, or take a warm shower. Or do your flexibility exercises as your post-workout cool-down,” the authors recommend.

Relaxation Exercises

Finally, the Harvard authors also suggest relaxation exercises to help reduce stress and “enhance quality of life and health.” Relaxation exercises may include “mindfulness or meditation,” according to the report. “Or, simply relax into the rhythmic movements of aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, and swimming.”

Other Resources to Help You Design an Appropriate Exercise Routine and Stay Motivated

The Harvard report includes a section with tips, tools, and other suggested resources to help you design an appropriate exercise routine and stay motivated in your exercise.

A planning worksheet is provided to help you set your exercise goals and make a plan before starting. The report also makes suggestions on tailoring your exercise program to exercises you enjoy and times you can sustain, and suggests tools to help you measure your progress — from a pedometer to websites where you can keep score on your progress.

Here are some online resources suggested by the Harvard Medical School authors:

  • American Council on Exercise (www.acefitness.org/exerciselibrary): Provides an extensive library of exercises, organized by ability level, muscles targeted, and equipment needed;
  • Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/videos): Video clips describing the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by HHS, and including some examples of easier strength exercises;
  • Exercise TV (www.exercisetv.tv): Constantly changing selection of free and for-pay workouts, both full workouts and ones targeted to certain areas of the body;
  • Shape Magazine (www.shape.com): Provides a free virtual trainer to help you plan workouts and track progress, as well as free workout videos;
  • Presidential Champions Program (www.presidentschallenge.org): Provides programs to keep you motivated in your exercise, including a program where you earn points for various activities you do, either alone or in groups.

We highly recommend the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, Exercise – A program you can live with. It can be purchased (as a 45 page PDF document) online from Harvard Health Publications.

See Disclaimer below.

More Information

See also the HelpingYouCare™ reports on:

You’re Never Too Old to Exercise

Fitness More Important Than Body Weight in Reducing Death Risk

How To Stay Fit At Any Age

Interval Training May Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke

Find Walking Paths in Your Area Via StartWalkingNow, Campaign of American Heart Association

And, see the HelpingYouCare™ resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including:

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Copyright © 2011 Care-Help LLC, publisher of HelpingYouCare™.

DISCLAIMER: The information linked or posted on this site is for information only. It does not constitute medical or professional advice, and must not be relied upon as such. You should always consult your doctor before embarking on any exercise program, reaching conclusions about any fitness program or advice, taking medications, or taking or refraining from taking any other action. HelpingYouCare™ and its owner, Care-Help LLC, do not endorse or recommend and are not responsible for the content on other websites or in other publications to which we may link, or for any content referred to or posted or linked on this site.

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