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5 Exercises for a Healthy Life Recommended by Harvard Medical School

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Exercise is an essential element of keeping our bodies and minds in peak health—and it doesn’t have to be vigorous—regular, moderate movement is enough.

Engaging in moderate exercise can help prevent diseases and enhance cognitive abilities. In February, Harvard Medical School published an article recommending five of the best exercises for a healthy life: swimming, tai chi, walking, strength training, and Kegel exercises.
Dr. Zheng Yuanyu, former attending physician of the Infectious Disease Department at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, stated in an interview with The Epoch Times that essentially all aerobic exercises are beneficial for improving physical fitness and cognitive function. However, it is important to regulate the intensity of these exercises, as overdoing certain activities can be detrimental to health.

Swimming Reduces Joint Stress and Enhances Cognitive Abilities

Dr. Zheng said that swimming is an excellent aerobic exercise with evident benefits for cognitive function. He explained that essentially all aerobic exercises increase the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that enhances cognitive abilities, learning, and memory. Additionally, these exercises reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, thereby improving mood.

While current research has yet to explain why swimming, as an aerobic exercise, enhances cognitive function better than land-based exercise, consistent results have been observed in both animal and human experiments.

A study on rats found that swimming can improve both short-term and long-term memory. Another study involving individuals aged 65 to 80 discovered that swimming enhances cognitive function and flexibility. Additionally, a comparative study on the effects of swimming and land-based exercise in young adults showed that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity breaststroke swimming improves cognitive function more than land-based exercise, further confirming the unique health benefits of swimming.
Dr. Zheng pointed out that for individuals with joint problems or those who are overweight, swimming may be more suitable than land-based exercises. The buoyancy of water reduces the load on the joints while providing resistance to increase the intensity of the exercise. Additionally, swimming can help asthma patients enhance their breathing and lung capacity, which aids in managing their condition.

Tai Chi’s Disease-Preventive Benefits

Tai chi is another exercise that has attracted academic attention. Despite its slow movements, the health benefits of tai chi have been demonstrated by numerous clinical studies. In addition to enhancing muscle strength, maintaining balance and flexibility, and increasing oxygen intake, tai chi has also been shown to improve conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, degenerative arthritis, hypertension (high blood pressure), and cardiovascular diseases.

A clinical trial published in JAMA Network Open, a journal of the American Medical Association in February found that tai chi is more effective at lowering blood pressure than aerobic exercise.
It is believed that tai chi was invented over 600 years ago by Chinese Taoist Zhang Sanfeng. Initially, it was not just a series of movements but also included mental practices. An article published by Harvard Medical School in January referred to tai chi as “meditation in motion.” Numerous studies have found that mindfulness-based stress reduction programs have positive effects on both physical and mental health.
Dr. Zheng pointed out that maintaining calm emotions and an optimistic outlook can impact the brain and regulate serotonin levels, blood pressure, the autonomic nervous system, and immune function.

The Ideal Weekly Volume for Strength Training

Muscle training is essential for strengthening muscles, as muscle mass naturally decreases with age. One study indicated that older adults typically lose 1 to 2 percent of muscle mass per year, which can significantly increase the risk of falls and fractures.

A meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2022 showed that muscle-strengthening activities can reduce the risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes by 10 to 17 percent. Combining muscle strengthening with aerobic exercise can further reduce the risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, and total cancer mortality.

However, Dr. Zheng stressed that more muscle training is not necessarily better. The meta-analysis revealed a J-shaped relationship between the duration of muscle-strengthening activities and the maximum risk reduction of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and total cancer, with the most effective duration being 30 to 60 minutes per week.

Spending excessive time on muscle-strengthening activities can increase the risk. Specifically, the study found that mortality rates were higher among those who engaged in more than 140 minutes of muscle-strengthening activities per week than among those who did not engage in muscle training.

Optimal Walking Step Count for Health Improvement

Walking is sufficient to activate the core muscles, lower limb muscles, balance coordination, and cognitive functions. (Shutterstock)
Walking is sufficient to activate the core muscles, lower limb muscles, balance coordination, and cognitive functions. (Shutterstock)

Exercise does not always involve going to the gym—walking is also a healthy form of exercise. Dr. Zheng stated that if people do not walk, they are usually sitting or lying down, and this inactivity significantly affects physical and mental health, as well as longevity.

Although walking represents only a slight improvement over being sedentary, it is sufficient to activate the core muscles, lower limb muscles, balance coordination, and even cognitive functions. This activation boosts metabolism and cardiovascular function, putting the body into an active mode. Simply put, getting up and walking is the most fundamental form of activity, and it is highly beneficial for health.

How many steps should one take each day? A 2022 meta-analysis found that the optimal number of steps varies by age. This study, which involved over 40,000 participants, indicated that for adults under 60, the lowest mortality risk was associated with taking approximately 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day, with no significant reduction in risk beyond that range. For adults over 60, the lowest mortality risk was associated with taking about 6,000 to 8,000 steps per day.
A 2023 study published in JAMA Network Open, involving more than 3,000 adults, showed that those who walked 8,000 steps or more for just one or two days per week experienced significantly reduced risks of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Epoch Health welcomes professional discussion and friendly debate. To submit an opinion piece, please follow these guidelines and submit through our form here.

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