02/16/2012 02:33 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2012

How to Improve Your Health by Moving

Physical activity, exercise and movement can have a significant impact on your wellness and well-being. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. They report that physical inactivity is an independent risk factor for chronic diseases, and overall is estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths globally.

According to WHO, physical activity is a key determinant of energy expenditure and thus is fundamental to energy balance and weight control. Physical activity reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer in women. There is even evidence to suggest that increasing levels of various types of physical activity may benefit health by reducing hypertension, osteoporosis and risk of falls, improving body weight and composition and decreasing the incidence of musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis and low back pain. Physical exercise also benefits mental and psychological health by reducing depression, anxiety and stress and by increasing control over risky behaviors (e.g., tobacco use, alcohol and other substance abuse, unhealthy diet choices).

The World Health Organization further states that regular physical activity can improve women's health and help prevent many of the diseases and conditions that are major causes of death and disability for women throughout the world. Many women suffer from disease processes that are associated with inadequate participation in physical activity such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for one-third of deaths among women globally, and in developing countries they account for half of the deaths among women over the age of 50. Diabetes affects more than 70 million women worldwide, and experts estimate that this number will double by 2025. Osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile, is most prevalent among postmenopausal women.

WHO recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days per week to improve and maintain health. The 30 minutes can be accumulated over the course of a day in blocks as short as 10 minutes.

We tend to think of exercise as running, playing a sport, swimming, using workout equipment or some other activity that requires extensive physical exertion. There are other options which have a benefit, including walking, low-impact exercise or other mild fitness practices.

In addition to the conventional forms of exercise popular in the West, there is another type of activity that promotes wellness. In China, there are two movement programs that have been used for thousands of years and are becoming very popular in Western cultures: t'ai chi and qigong. Although these programs benefit everyone, they are particularly useful for people who don't like to exercise or who have problems with conventional exercises because of physical ailments. These programs impact not only the body but also the mind.

T'ai chi (pronounced tie chee) is an ancient program of gentle, slow, fluid movements and coordinated breathing. The movements are designed to stimulate the flow of the energy force (chi or qi) and to promote balance in mind and body. T'ai chi originated as a martial arts style and has been adopted as a movement program because of its health benefits.

The opening ceremonies to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, included 2,008 t'ai chi experts demonstrating its graceful and fluid movements. In parks in China, it is common to see groups of people practicing t'ai chi in the morning.

Qigong (pronounced chee gung) is another ancient movement program based on gentle movements with coordinated breathing that includes visualization. It has been described as a self-healing art that, like t'ai chi, cultivates the energy force within us and plays an active role in maintaining health.

When gentle movements are integrated with full, relaxed breathing and deep relaxation of mind, the body enters an especially healing and restorative state. This has a positive effect on the blood, the nervous system, the immune system and oxygen metabolism.

Incorporate additional physical activity or exercise and movement into your routine and see what you notice. How does your body react? What changes do you note in your thinking, emotions and mood? How does it affect your sleeping? What effect does it have on any symptoms you may have been experiencing? What changes does it make in how you handle stress?

Physical activity, exercise and movement are available to you to promote the natural healing of your body, and you are empowered right now to use them if you choose.

For more by Marc B. Levin, click here.

For more on fitness and exercise, click here.

You can learn more about this topic and other self care/personal empowerment topics in Marc Levin's book Eight Shifts for Wellness: Practical Transformative Steps to Enhance Health, Wellness, and Well-Being and at