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Patrice Barner works on an exercise through the extension service program.

“I need to get in shape but I just don’t have the time”.

That sentence pretty much sums it up for a lot of Americans. But Emporia Medical Associates Family Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Watson said a healthy exercise regimen is a habit that will help us all become healthier, not only physically but mentally as well.

It is pretty well known exercise can help decrease your blood pressure, promote weight loss and it’s good for the cardio vascular and respiratory system in general.

“A regular exercise regimen is more beneficial than most think,” Doctor of Physical Therapy at Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center Sarah Jessee said. “By staying active with exercise, you are increasing mobility of fluids within your body. This aids in the relief of back pain by allowing by discs in your back to exchange fluids which is how the disc receives its nutrition. Fluid exchange will also decrease the swelling/inflammation of soft tissues that surround the discs. This inflammation will cause the discs in your back to become malnourished and degenerated, resulting in back pain if untreated. Consistent exercise will prevent connective fibers of ligaments and tendons flexible, which reduces stiffness and decreases back pain.”

Over the last 50 years obesity and the negative impact it brings to the overall health of U.S. citizens has been a much-discussed topic throughout the medical community and even radio and television shows. According to a 2017 National Center for Health Statistics study, approximately 40 percent of adults were considered obese.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension Service in Emporia, Va. sponsors a class teaching people to lose weight by eating healthier, making small changes and exercising more — a lot more. Those that have taken the class swear by the results.

“I have so much more energy now,” Ann Temple said. “I move better and I feel better. I joined the class because I wanted to move more and become healthier so I can keep up with my grandchildren. It has worked.”

A healthy diet is the other aspect of the program. Class instructor Tia Powell said the average American eats about 22 teaspoons of sugar on a daily basis. That adds up to three times the daily recommended maximum amount of sugar consumption. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to raising the risk of heart disease. Increasing a diet intake of fruits, vegetables and drinking more water helps reduce the risk of heart disease and other illnesses and ailments.

Though Powell was in shape serving the U.S. armed forces in the Navy, she made sure she changed her lifestyle as she grew older through a healthy diet and exercise plan. She said both are needed.

“When I was in the military and got older, I noticed my metabolism wasn’t what it was when I was younger,” she said. “I lost weight by managing my diet better, changing portion sizes and exercising. You can practice good nutrition all you want, but you have to tie it in to exercise somewhere.”

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 9 of 10 Americans eat more sodium than recommended for a healthy diet.

If Americans reduced their sodium intake by 1,200mg daily, it could save as much as $20 billion annually in medical costs.

Exercise is certainly a tool to assist one with a goal of dropping a few pounds. It also helps in ways one may not have even considered when beginning an exercise regimen —mental health.

“Research shows that exercise releases chemicals that are known to improve your mood,” Jessee said. “The release of endorphins and serotonin can reduce your stress and other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Regular exercise could also relieve stress, boost your overall mood, help you sleep better, and improve memory. The combination of healthy tissues within your body and good brain health will aid in an increased life expectancy, all with a consistent exercise regimen.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, exercise might help improve the memory, or at least diminish the rate of memory loss for one suffering from dementia. There is one theory that exercise can also help reduce the risks of some types of cancers, such as colon cancer and breast cancer.

“The correlation between exercising and lowering the risk of cancers is still uncertain,” Jessee said. “However, exercising aids in decreasing chronic inflammation in tissues, lowering insulin levels, and promoting nutrition throughout the body- all of which can be contributing factors to increase the risk of cancer if left untreated.”

According to a study by the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 80 percent of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. The number in the study is approximately the same for adolescents not getting the aerobic physical activity to meet youth guidelines.

An exercise regimen is also a way to reduce the risks of injury. It leads to good bone health as far as maintaining strength in your bones and strength in your muscles. The stronger your bones and muscles, the less prone you are to injury.

“Ultimately, the best way to create a healthy exercise habit is with daily repetition, Jessee said. “With the promise of likely improvements in cardiovascular, metabolic, brain, and musculoskeletal health, it only makes sense to maintain a regular exercise regimen. As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I am fortunate enough to help rehab my patients back to their maximal level of function with a tailored exercise program. I assess the characteristics, comorbidities, and influencing factors of each patient, and establish a home exercise program that patients can continue with far after their discharge from physical therapy.”

Considering exercise helps with back pain, could prevent certain cancers, help reduce, or at least slow the process of dementia, improve mental health and extend one’s life expectancy, the “I need to get in shape but I just don’t have the time” thought process just might need be reconsidered.