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Exercise: find the time for it

The early-morning holiday shoppers of last month have been replaced at the mall by early-morning walkers, some of whom have begun new exercise regimens for the new year.

Marty Martinez, who knows just about everyone who walks at the Towson Town Center, has been walking from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. five days a week for 14 years. Needless to say, the 82-year-old Mr. Martinez is in very good health.

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Muscles, heart rate, strength, motor control — and the brain — all are stimulated by exercise. We know that exercise can alleviate stress, counter depression and prevent disease. But despite study after study showing that exercise keeps people healthier, many are still reluctant to commit to doing it.

Indeed, exercise is for everyone, from toddlers to codgers. Removing physical education (gym) from the curriculum of many elementary schools has been detrimental; children and adolescents need an outlet for their energy. Moreover, regular exercise controls obesity, a major problem in our country today. Poor diet and lack of exercise provide an unhealthy foundation for life. As a result, first lady Michelle Obama has made healthy diets and exercise for children a major project.

You don't even have to leave your house to get a workout. For many years Jane Fonda, now in her 70s, developed exercise videos for use at home; they're still available today. Other exercise videos and hundreds of websites with reviews of these videos are also available. Warning: Don't sit too long at your computer reading about them. Select a video and use it — after checking with your doctor.

And don't let pain be an excuse. Arthritis, often inherited, may show up in middle age and painfully disrupt one's quality of life, especially when it causes lower-back pain (the second most common reason people visit their doctors behind colds) and corresponding leg pain. But exercise is key to alleviating discomfort.

"Low back pain treatment has undergone a sea change since the 1990s. We now appreciate the central role of exercise in treating back problems" says Harvard physician Jeffrey Katz.

Physical therapists can individually tailor treatments and show their clients how to use various machines and do specific exercises. "Some people think they don't have the time to exercise," says Andrew Kunin, a physical therapist at the Green Spring Station Rehabilitation Therapy Services Clinic. "Disciplined people find the time even when they lead busy lives."

If you're injured, don't make the mistake of just practicing your physical therapy exercises in the clinic. Make time for the work at home to truly benefit.

The message? Don't be a couch potato or computer-obsessive. Don't wait for problems to develop. Whether it's square dancing, yoga, golf (without a cart or caddie), swimming, running or walking at a nearby mall, as I do, just keep moving. It's not too late to create a New Year's resolution.

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best, Inc. She is the author of "The Feminine Irony" and "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing" (Basic Books). Her email is lynneagress@AOL.com.

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