Two adults exercise outside together.
Just 30 minutes of exercise five times a week can keep you in good health. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Just give it 30 minutes―exercise, that is.

Federal health guidelines urge us to spend half an hour each day moving with enough vigor to boost the heart rate. But half the U.S. population fails to squeeze in time for it.

To encourage us to make exercise a priority, Thomas Boyden, MD, a Spectrum Health Medical Group preventive cardiologist, details the many ways physical activity can make our lives better.

His top 10 reasons to exercise can provide a little motivational boost to put down the smartphone and pick up the pace.

Routine exercise:

  1. Lowers blood pressure
  2. Lowers blood sugar
  3. Helps control cholesterol
  4. Builds bone strength
  5. Helps prevent dementia
  6. Fights depression, stress and anxiety
  7. Improves balance
  8. Reduces risk for heart attack and stroke
  9. Aids weight control
  10. Helps you sleep better

Exercise does not have to mean running a marathon, Dr. Boyden said. But it should involve activity more vigorous than a leisurely stroll.

“I say walking the dog doesn’t really qualify as exercise,” he said. “I have a dog and I know how often they stop.

“We want the heart rate to increase and we want it increased for sustained periods of time. That’s proven by research to lower your risk of events like heart attack and stroke.”

Those with physical limitations, because of weight, arthritis or other health issues, can still be active, he added.

“Particularly when you get older and have joint problems, I encourage people to figure out ways to do seated exercises, so they can take the weight off the joints and exercise without pain,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to exercise at least 150 minutes a week (two hours and 30 minutes). Doctors often recommend breaking it into 30-minute sessions because it sounds less daunting, said Dr. Boyden.

“It’s possible and usually easy to do 30 minutes of anything,” he said.

Sedentary sickness

More than 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, which can lead to a number of health problems, Dr. Boyden said. These include:

  • Diabetes and high blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of cancer, blood clots, depression and early-onset dementia
  • Problems with menstruation
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Sleep apnea
  • Joint problems, leading to a need for hip and knee replacements

“We are getting sicker as a country because we are getting bigger and more sedentary,” he said.

Excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle drive heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer of both men and women, according to the CDC.

“The strongest data shows if we all maintained a healthy weight, ate healthy, did just a little bit of exercise and didn’t smoke, at least 80% of our country would likely never have a heart problem,” Dr. Boyden said.

“I’m a big lifestyle advocate,” he said. “Everything we do for ourselves is as meaningful, if not more meaningful, than the services provided by a health care system.”