Feeling good and leading a long and healthy life are things most of us want – and there's a lot we can do to increase the chance that we'll have them. The beneficial effects - both physical and mental – of exercise are proven. You're never too young, too old, or too out of shape to get started. 

Exercise can help people at any stage of life. Physical activity provides benefits, regardless of your age, gender, or current fitness level. The benefits of regular exercise include:

Improved Health

• Increased efficiency of heart and lungs

• Increased muscle strength

• Reduced cholesterol levels

• Reduced blood pressure

• Reduced risk of major illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease

• Weight loss

Enhanced Sense of Well-Being

• Increased mental acuity

• More energy

• Improved quality of sleep

• Improved ability to cope with stress

• Reduced tension

To improve overall conditioning, health experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on all or most days of the week. Examples of moderate activity include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or doing home repairs or garden work. If you can't get in 30 minutes all at once, aim for shorter periods of activity - at least 10 minutes - that add up to a half hour per day.

Structured exercise programs bring obvious benefits, but most people can move toward better fitness by changing their daily lifestyle to incorporate more activity. Muscles used in any activity, any time of day, contribute to fitness. Here are some suggestions for incorporating more activity into your daily life:

• Take the stairs wherever its possible.

• Park at the far end of a parking lot and walk to your office or the mall.

• If you ride the bus, get off a few stops before your location and walk the rest of the way.

• Get up from your desk during the day to stretch and walk around.

• Take a brisk walk when you get the urge to snack.

• Increase your pace when working in the house or garden.

• Carry your own groceries.

• Play outside with your children or grandchildren.

When you're ready for more vigorous activity, set realistic goals and expectations. Fitness and a healthy lifestyle are long-term endeavors, so start slowly, and work toward your goal gradually. As your fitness level improves, you can increase your time or distance or change to a more energetic activity.

Taking care of yourself with good nutrition, regular exercise, and conscientious preventive health care can provide tremendous benefits. The most important step is the first one: committing to a healthy lifestyle. Incorporating physical fitness and sensible nutrition into your daily routine can yield a long lifetime of positive results. So, the next time you think about getting fit, don't ask, "Who has the time?" Instead, ask yourself, "Who wouldn’t want to feel better?"

Check with your physician before undertaking a vigorous exercise program, especially if you have chronic health problems (e.g., cardiovascular disease) or if you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50 with risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or obesity.