Once again it's that time when many Americans will resolve to lose weight. Health clubs will run membership specials, hoping to draw in legions of people freshly committed to making 2006 the year they finally shape up and slim down.
But if history repeats itself, most people will have fallen off the weight-loss wagon before spring — some even before the Super Bowl.
More than half of people who begin exercising drop their program within three to six months, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
We know why. Exercise is work, and weight loss doesn't happen overnight. People get frustrated because they don't see immediate results, and they hit the couch.
That's precisely why health and fitness experts say it's important to remember that exercise does a lot of other good things for us, things that aren't measured in pounds but that still are key for our overall health and well-being.
The last year brought some new and interesting findings that are worth taking note of as we ring in 2006 and recommit to our health. Here are six reasons to exercise that go beyond the quest for smaller-sized jeans:
A recent study on exercise and longevity found that people who were active on a regular basis lived longer than their couch-potato counterparts, and the more they exercised the longer they lived.
The analysis, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that participants who reported exercising the most had a life expectancy at age 50 that was more than three years longer than those in the lowest activity group.
Make work more tolerable
A British study of about 200 workers at a university, computer company and life insurance firm found that people who took exercise breaks during the day said they felt more productive and more tolerant of job stress than when they didn't exercise.
Even half an hour was enough to do the trick, and the exercise didn't have to be strenuous. Participants typically spent 30 to 60 minutes at lunch engaging in yoga, aerobics, strength-training or playing sports like basketball.
In the study, presented at a meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., 60 percent of workers said their time management skills, mental performance and ability to meet deadlines was better on the days when they exercised. The overall improvement was about 15 percent.
Help out your heart
Another study in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirmed that exercise is heart-healthy — and that you don't have to run a marathon to derive benefit.
Even briskly walking for half an hour on three or four days a week improved cardiovascular health, according to the study of nearly 500 sedentary adults.
Two-thirds of Americans with type 2 diabetes do not have their disease under control, which puts them at risk for early death, blindness and limb loss, according to research released this year.
Diabetes cases have soared in recent years, as people have become more sedentary and overweight. Experts say most cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented with a healthy diet and regular exercise. In people who already have type 2 diabetes, exercise can help lower blood sugar and prevent the disease from worsening.
Build a better back
Being a desk jockey takes a toll on our backs. So get moving to keep your spine in shape.
Yoga, in particular, seems to help, according to a study of about 100 people with chronic low-back pain.
While other forms of exercise also eased back pain, yoga did so more quickly, according to results published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Get rid of the hidden fat
OK, so this one is about weight and fat. But it's not the fat you can pinch; it's the deep, even more dangerous kind that accumulates around internal organs and contributes to diabetes, heart disease and other problems.
But just like the fat that leads to belly rolls and love handles, internal fat — called visceral fat — also can be prevented and eradicated with regular exercise.
Duke University research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that overweight, sedentary adults who began exercising lost visceral fat or at least didn't pack on more. Those who didn't exercise, however, gained more in just six months during the study.
So there you have them — six more reasons to get off the couch in 2006. Keep them in mind as you embark on your fitness plan in the new year, and remember them if you find yourself making all sorts of excuses for not exercising.
Smart Fitness appears every other Tuesday.