Regular exercise should be part of any New Year resolution

The human body works most efficiently when it can attain a regular rhythm. A daily pattern should consist of sufficient sleep, regular nutritious meals and periods of exercise. This last component has become increasingly important in maintaining good general health. More recently, exercising regularly has been shown to possibly avoid several chronic conditions.

The definition of "regular" exercise also has presented a dilemma. Recommendations have varied in regard to the amount of time, intensity and type of activity.

Aerobic activities include walking, swimming, running and biking. Resistance fitness consists of lifting weights, using stretch bands or using body resistance. Walking or swimming at a slow pace is considered moderate exercise while running is classified as intense.

The current federal recommendations suggest 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week or 75 minutes of intense exercise as a maintenance amount for fitness. Those numbers should double if weight loss is a goal.

In addition to medication, regular exercise has been part of the prescription for patients suffering from type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. The latest data indicates that these disorders can actually be avoided through regular exercise even in patients who have a family history.

Among the most feared chronic illnesses is dementia. Current estimates indicate that 5.1 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease. This number continues to grow as baby boomers age. Several recent studies have demonstrated that Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive conditions may be avoided through regular exercise.

The protective mechanism is both a direct effect as well as a secondary benefit of increasing blood flow to the brain. Ideally, a regular fitness regimen should begin in mid-life or sooner for maximum benefit.

The arrival of a new year encourages many people to begin a weight loss regimen. Adding an exercise component to that regimen for any length of time may have an added longevity benefit.

Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at

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