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When I was in my earliest years as a University professor I remember my proud mother asking what exactly it was that I did as 'Dr. Phillips'. I said something like "I do a lot of research to find out what the benefits of exercise are for older people". She replied "Why do you need to do that? Everybody knows that exercise is good for you - especially if you are older". My whole carefully planned research agenda crushed by a loving parent in two short sentences!!

Like my mother you've probably also heard that exercise is 'good for you' and you've probably heard it most of your life. Its one of those 'conventional wisdoms' that 'everybody knows' is true and has always been true. As a scientist I can tell you that, although exercise is certainly an important path to good health and wellness, contrary to conventional wisdom it is not the only path. There is now overwhelming evidence that just being more active little by little throughout the day can elicit great health benefits. Although this is especially good news for older adults - and perhaps somewhat surprising to most people - it is not exactly new news. Way, way back in 1961 two physicians, Hans Kraus and Wilhelm Raab published a book entitled Hypokinetic Disease: diseases produced by lack of exercise. Almost 50 years ago these two physicians were warning against the dangers of inactivity. Here's a quote from their opening chapter:

 "When we analyze our daily lives, we can see how the active function of our muscles has been taken over step by step by labor saving devices. We do not walk, but ride; we do not climb stairs, but use elevators; we do not lift any thing of any weight, but we have devices that do that lifting for us. Most of the chores that used to require a certain amount of physical activity have been taken over by machines. We do not mow our lawns by pushing a lawnmower - it is become motorized. We have push button heating, we have vacuum cleaners, and we have dish washers. In short we do not move at all."

Here's another early quote that really grabbed me:

From the crib to the playpen, to the television set, perambulator (perambulator!!??), and school bus, our children are raised as a sedentary race, domesticated even from the first day of their lives.

Wow this is really 'telling it like it is' - and 50 years later we are still 'telling' the same thing. More positively slanted evidence came some 35 years after Kraus and Raab with The Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health. Published in 1996 this was a massive review of the health and exercise literature which examined and analyzed literally thousands of studies on the health benefits of endurance/aerobic activities of various kinds. Their findings were revolutionary. Not only did they confirm the existing belief that 'fitness' - represented by vigorous exercise - was beneficial to health but (and this was the revolutionary part!) they also found that physical activity at what they called 'moderate intensity' could provide major health benefits for previously sedentary or insufficiently active individuals. This is the summary sentence I used to make all my undergraduates memorize(!)

Every American should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.

What they called "Moderate intensity physical activity" was any activity that felt about as hard as a brisk walk. This could include everyday activities such as household chores, mowing the lawn or raking leaves. If you look for new ways to include these types of activities at this level every day, it will increase your stamina (aerobic fitness) and significantly improve the way you feel. In other words you can, little by little, adopt a more active and healthier lifestyle. All you have to do is 'just a little more'. That's it! Great news for everyone who doesn't like to exercise! Not that my mother would have been too impressed with me telling her what she already knew!

So - as you think about moderate intensity activity - what little thing is coming up for you?

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