Woman exercising
Illustration: Jessica Romberg
Remember that there's one consistent finding in health research: Exercise helps you live longer and better. Five studies confirm what experts keep telling us: Every little bit of effort counts.

1. It wards off Alzheimer's.

In a study of more than 800 elderly adults, Mayo Clinic researchers found that those who engaged in moderate physical exercise two to five times a week earlier in life had a reduced risk of developing the mild cognitive impairment thought to be a precursor to Alzheimer's.

2. It boosts your energy.

Pedaling at an easy pace on a stationary bike relieved fatigue by as much as 65 percent in people who complained of exhaustion, according to a study at the University of Georgia. And that was after only six weeks of three-times-a-week 20-minute workouts. The authors say this dispels the myth that exercising when you're tired will leave you even more fatigued.

3. It slows down aging.

One measure of aging is tail ends of DNA strands, which are called telomeres. Each time a cell divides, the telomere unravels and shortens, eventually dictating a cell's death. When British researchers examined the DNA of more than 1,000 pairs of twins—some of whom were active, others couch potatoes—they found that the most active twin's telomeres were longer on average, equal in length to those of a sedentary individual up to ten years younger.

4. It helps manage menopause.

A daily walking routine can decrease feelings of stress and anxiety triggered by depleted levels of estrogen, finds an eight-year study of 401 pre- and postmenopausal women at Temple University. Benefits were seen even with light to moderate levels of effort—the subjects walked 35 minutes at a pace of 4 mph.

5. It reduces the need for drug treatment.

Walking as little as three to eight miles a week could reduce the chances of having to take medication for diabetes, hypertension, or high cholesterol, according to a survey of more than 40,000 men and women. Even less likely to be at the pharmacy counter are those who go for at least one long walk—more than four miles—once a week.

Source: Mayo Clinic; Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, March 2008; Archives of Internal Medicine, January 28, 2008; Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, January 2008; Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, March 2008.

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As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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