Sometimes in life, you can get too much of a good thing – unless you are exercising.
Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic recently found that the higher your level of cardiorespiratory fitness, the longer you are likely to live.
That conclusion stems from examining around 122,000 patients who underwent exercise treadmill testing, and who were broken up into five performance groups -- elite, high, above average, below average and low.
People who were extremely aerobically fit -- especially those 70 and older, and those diagnosed with high blood pressure -- received the greatest benefit from exercise, and lived the longest.
"We found in our study there is no limit to how much exercise is too much,” said cardiologist Dr. Wael Jaber in a Cleveland Clinic press release.
“Everyone should be encouraged to achieve and maintain high fitness levels,” said Wael, senior author of the study.
By contrast, poor cardiorespiratory fitness poses a risk of mortality comparable to -- or even exceeding --that of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and smoking.
Why is exercise important
Exercise helps keep your body running smoothly. That is especially true for the cardiorespiratory system, says Jonathan Ross, the Annapolis, Maryland-based creator of the fitness workout Funtensity and author of “Abs Revealed.”
"In broad terms, it makes your heart, lungs and blood -- your cardiorespiratory system -- do their jobs more effectively and efficiently for longer," Ross says.
For example, heart attacks occur when arterial plaques break off from arteries and create a blockage elsewhere. Exercise makes such plaques more stable and less likely to break off, Ross says.
Exercise also strengthens your heart muscle, reducing the risk of heart failure.
"Exercise sends a powerful signal to many bodily systems and organs that says, 'Hey, I’m going to keep moving in challenging ways, so you’d better keep everything in working order,'" Ross says.
How to get moving
If you have struggled to exercise in the past, it probably makes sense to rachet back your expectations, at least initially.
Focusing on adhering to government recommendations for exercise -- 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity -- can be counterproductive for some people, Ross says.
"We get discouraged, since we don’t know what those intensities really mean, and we don’t how to break up the individual sessions," he says.
So, rather than pushing yourself to jump into an exercise program of 20 to 30 minutes per session, start with a basic five minutes of activity, or whatever feels manageable.
For example, take a long walk, and insert short bursts of time where you either just walk faster or jog.
"The most important part is to get started," Ross says. "When you begin, you start the process of change."
Tips for making exercise fun
Getting started is half the battle in exercise. Continuing to remain engaged in your fitness routine is the other half.
If you find yourself bored or otherwise unhappy with exercise, try tricks such as:
Choose frequency over duration. It makes more sense for some people to exercise for 10 minutes a day six times a week than to exercise hard for 30 minutes a session once or twice a week.
Focus on something other than the activity. Ross says concentrating on something internal (such as your breath, muscles or posture) or external (cloud patterns, the shapes of leaves, sounds, animals such as birds and squirrels) can make exercise more pleasant.
"The saying 'time flies when you are having fun' applies here," Ross says.
Choose an activity that is fun. Too often, we decide to exercise in ways that don’t appeal to us. "Running for the sake of running really isn’t for everyone," Ross says.
Instead, pick an activity – from swimming to basketball to biking – that you want to do. “If there is a form of exercise you hate, you shouldn’t be doing it,” Ross says.