Don't Just Exercise ... Compete!

Any exercise is better than no exercise, and moderate exercise is even better than that. A simple daily walk can help most people reduce their risk of heart disease and feel better at the same time. But recent studies show that vigorous exercise (defined as working at 60 percent or more of aerobic capacity) reaps significantly more health rewards than a low-intensity workout (40 to 60 percent of aerobic capacity). Not only does high-intensity exercise lower your risk of heart attack by 24.5 percent, as compared to 14.5 percent with a low-intensity workout, it also lowers body-fat percentages.

And no matter how many calories low-intensity exercise burns, vigorous exercise is still better for glucose control, which predicts the risk of diabetes. So, while joining a gym and working out a few times a week is a smart choice, joining a swim team, running club or other group may be even smarter. Training for and competing in organized sporting events is a good way to maintain a high-intensity exercise routine. You will have teammates and perhaps even a coach to work out with and help keep you motivated. You will have goals—times—to shoot for and may well push yourself harder than you would if you were working out on your own.

However, vigorous exercise is not for everyone. Consult a health professional before starting a new workout regimen. And don't think you can go straight from the couch to the starting line. If you haven't been exercising, take your time and build up gradually. Look around your community for more information about adult sports leagues and teams.